Back Home, More Frustration
Sunday, August 12, 2007
BRUNSWICK, Maine The woman stood waiting amid the lunch counter clatter at the Grand City Variety Store to confront Olympia J. Snowe.
"We need to get out," Stephanie Slocum told Snowe, one of Congress's most conflicted members over the war in Iraq. It was the Maine Republican's first week of her summer break, and Slocum was among the first of many constituents who would tell her the time to act is now.
The self-described "proud mother of an Army cavalry scout," Slocum is taking Iraq personally. She told Snowe in a matter-of-fact voice about her 27-year-old son, who is now home but shouts angrily at her, whose body trembles, who at times feels he is still in Iraq and who, if Congress does not begin to redeploy troops by September, will be sent back. She spoke of her son's leave that never came, the goggles to protect him that she had to buy herself and the mental health treatment he has just given up. Because, he told his mom, "what's the sense" if he has to go back.
"Outrageous," Snowe said of the problems. "I would encourage him to continue to get his care."
"I do, but you know how it is," Slocum said. "In the Army . . . if you get the therapy, it's shame on you."
As she spoke, Slocum's poise slipped, and her voice shook. She was frustrated, most of all, with the failure of Washington to make it end -- and frustrated, too, with Snowe's careful hedging on Iraq. "I think you've changed your position a little bit, and we're very appreciative of that," she told her senator. "But it doesn't seem like whatever we think -- as the majority of people in Maine and across the country -- it doesn't seem to have any impact."
Snowe has changed her position. A believer that the war was a lost cause, she had nonetheless remained loyal to President Bush and against calling for a firm deadline for a troop withdrawal, which congressional Democrats had been demanding. But last month, she gave in to her concerns about a war that appeared without end and became one of only two GOP senators to join Democrats in calling for a timeline to bring troops home, an effort that so far has failed.
This stroll along Brunswick's red cobblestone main street was the first extended time that Snowe has spent in her home state since her decision. She won reelection to a third term last year with 74 percent of the vote after telling people that she favored "no open-ended commitment to the war."
During her visits this week to Brunswick and Portland and towns in between, her constituents told Snowe that what she said last year, or even last month, was no longer enough. In tales of outward pride and private grief, they nearly all demanded that the war end now.
Snowe turned to Slocum and told her that what Mainers think about the war does matter. "I know it doesn't seem that way. But there is a lot of movement, I think," she said. Snowe said that a progress report on the war due from the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, in mid-September "will be a catalyst for change."
Slocum said she hopes so. But this war, she told Snowe, "just doesn't make sense to people like ourselves."
Nor does it seem to to Gary Lawless, the long-haired, bearded proprietor of Gulf of Maine Books, a poet who told Snowe that he is teaching writing to combat-stressed veterans "to get their stories literally out of their bodies, so they're not carrying them around by themselves."