On Thursday night's 11pm EDT The Situation with Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter recommended that President Bush meet with Cindy Sheehan, calling him "stubborn" for not doing so already, and contended that what the current "anti-war movement" wants from Bush is for him to be the "public mourner-in-chief" and to be "more publicly responsive to the suffering."
Alter believed that meeting with Sheehan again would help Bush politically, suggesting that if she still refused to go home after a second meeting, "the press will legitimately be able to ask her, 'Look, you got what you came here for. Isn't it time for you to go home?' And then she'll move offstage," as if the media were interested in fairly challenging her attacks on the President in the first place.
Alter, who appeared from a remote location, also argued that it is not enough to privately console grieving families, speculating that "I think that part of the attention that Cindy Sheehan has gotten is just a kind of a cry from a certain segment of the American public for the President to be more publicly responsive to the suffering." A complete transcript of the discussion from Thursday's show, guest hosted by Alison Stewart, follows:
Alison Stewart: "Let's head back to this country. Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch will go on without Cindy Sheehan, at least for a while. Hours ago, she announced that she was leaving the Lone Star State due to a family crisis."
Cindy Sheehan: "I'll never get to see him again. I'll never get to hear his voice again."
Stewart: "For those of you who didn't know, Cindy Sheehan's mother apparently suffered a stroke, and she left Texas to go be with her family. Jonathan, would it be wise for President Bush to extend well wishes to the Sheehan family at this point?"
Alter: "Well, I think it would be wise for him just to meet with her, as she's requested, even though they've met before. You can make all sorts of arguments that, you know, it's not necessary for him to do this because he doesn't meet with families twice, and so forth. But as a political matter, Alison, it would just be smart for him to do it because all she's doing is rallying the anti-war efforts. She's a real burr in his saddle, and he doesn't need this right now. He's way down in the polls. He's less popular than any second-term president, except for Richard Nixon. So why does he need this? He's just being stubborn about it. And the easiest thing for him to do, the smartest thing for him to do is when she comes back from attending to her mother, he should just have a meeting with her. And then, at that point, she can go home. And if she doesn't, the press will legitimately be able to ask her, 'Look, you got what you came here for. Isn't it time for you to go home?' And then, she'll move offstage."
Stewart: "Something I've been sort of noodling about when I think about Cindy Sheehan is that folks who were anti-war are likely still anti-war. At least when John Kerry was running, they had somewhere to channel their anger. They had a voice for it. And then, after he lost the election, there seemed to be nowhere to express themselves. And I'm wondering if Cindy Sheehan is becoming that person for the anti-war movement."
Stewart: "They haven't gone anywhere."
Alter: "Absolutely. There really hasn't been much of an anti-war movement, and she became a symbol, a kind of catalyst for that anti-war movement, which doesn't really have very coherent goals right now. It's not as if everybody wants an immediate pullout from Iraq or some sort of fixed timetable. What they do want is a sense of the President playing that more traditional role for a president of public mourner-in-chief. In private, we've got an article in Newsweek about this this week, he's been very helpful to a lot of families and shown a lot of compassion in private. But that's not really the role for a president in the 21st century. That's not enough. And I think that part of the attention that Cindy Sheehan has gotten is just a kind of a cry from a certain segment of the American public for the President to be more publicly responsive to the suffering."