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She's Paid For Her Access In Blood

Cindy Sheehan deserves to meet with the president as much as those forking over the big bucks.

ROSA BROOKS
August 20, 2005

LAST WEEK, the Bush motorcade sped by Cindy Sheehan on the way to a Republican National Committee fundraiser, literally leaving her and her fellow protesters in the Crawford dust. Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, was left wanly waving her hand-lettered sign: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"

She should have known that this is how it works in America. Only those who fork over the big bucks can count on getting an invitation to President Bush's Texas ranch. That's why Republican donors struggle to raise the $200,000 needed to gain the coveted RNC honorific of "Ranger."

The major donors who met with Bush in Crawford understand that it's all about getting access. Like Sheehan, they want some face time with the president. In fact, they're exactly like Sheehan — only richer, and without the dead son.

So far, Sheehan — who must not have noticed that "compassionate conservatism" isn't really the administration's thing anymore — has tried to appeal to Bush's humanity. Maybe it's time for her to change tactics.

Here's my advice. Sheehan should do just what all those RNC "Rangers" plan on doing: Cash in on her past donations and demand the access she's owed.

After all, Sheehan has been one of the Bush administration's largest contributors, though no one seems to have noticed. The Rangers raised money for Bush, and gave their donations in the form of cash, checks and securities. Sheehan raised her son, Casey, and gave Bush her donation in the form of Casey's life.

If you think Casey's death wasn't the same kind of donation, think again. American society routinely attaches a monetary value to human life. Every time a jury gives out an award in a wrongful-death case, for instance, it has to calculate the monetary value of the lost life. Awards are often based on the dead person's expected lifetime-earnings potential, which can be viewed as "lost income" from which the heirs would otherwise have benefited.

So let's calculate the approximate monetary value of Cindy Sheehan's donation to the Bush administration. Casey was a 24-year-old Army specialist when he died. Given military pay grades, we can probably assume that Casey earned at least $26,000 a year. If he hadn't died in Iraq but instead worked until retiring at 65, his lifetime earnings would have totaled more than $2 million, assuming modest annual salary increases.

In other words, if Bush had run over Casey while driving drunk, Cindy and Patrick Sheehan, as Casey's heirs, could have gone to court and requested compensatory damages equal to their son's $2 million in lost earnings potential. A jury probably would have ordered Bush to give it to them.

Granted, the heirs of soldiers killed in Iraq receive a one-time "death gratuity" of $100,000 from the government, along with up to $400,000 from their loved one's government-subsidized life insurance policy. Assuming half went to her estranged husband, Cindy may already have been "reimbursed" for up to $250,000 of her $1-million share of Casey's lost earnings. But she's still out $750,000 for donating her boy to George W. Bush's war in Iraq — an amount large enough to make her an RNC "Ranger" almost four times over.

Of course, Sheehan won't get far if she tries to take Bush to court over Casey's death. Various statutes and legal doctrines bar a dead soldier's family from suing the president for his death — even if it was the predictable result of a badly planned, badly executed war and even if the president's own misrepresentations and negligence helped cause his death.

Trying to place a monetary value on her son's lost life is an appalling calculation for any mother to have to make. But with an eternally vacationing president who can't be bothered to meet with non-donors, it's the only language he'll understand.

When asked by reporters how he could find time for biking, fishing and napping when he had no time for the grieving mother camped on his doorstep, Bush responded, "I've got a life to live, and will do so."

He doesn't get it. This isn't about his life — it's about the lives of the young men and women who go to war on his command. It's about the nearly 1,900 U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq. It's about the grieving families they leave behind, and the angry Americans who no longer trust their president.

So what do you say, Republican National Committee? Sheehan donated her son's life — and his lifetime earnings potential — to Bush, and he squandered both. She's not asking for a refund, or a "Ranger" badge, or a favor for her oil company, just a meeting. Isn't she entitled to a few minutes of her president's time?

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

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