This will be the last of a series of three public letters Winston has written on behalf of all of us here at The Last Chance Democracy Café. This one, like the one before, is directed to George W. Bush. It’s too bad he isn’t much of a reader, isn’t it? Who knows? He might even learn something.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 40: The Letter George W. Bush Should Have Sent Cindy Sheehan
by Steven C. Day
To the Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States (under protest)
Dear President Bush:
To put it plainly, Mr. President, we here at The Last Chance Democracy Café are baffled by the boneheaded way you’ve handled the Cindy Sheehan affair. As awful a job as we think you’ve done in just about everything else, when it comes to partisan politics, you, or at least those around you, have generally played a near flawless game of chess — full contact chess that is — at least until now.
But, man, when you folks go tone-deaf, you go tone-deaf. A Gold Star Mother against a vacationing president and you thought you’d come out on top?
And to be honest, the implications of this tone-deafness — what it suggests about the state of your mind — kind of scares us.
Would it really have been so awful to spend ten minutes with the lady?
And we’ll let you in on a little secret: You didn’t absolutely even have to meet her. A letter something like the one to follow (written to reflect your view of the Iraq War, not ours) would probably have sufficed.
* * *
Dear Mrs. Sheehan,
I know you want to visit with me again. Speaking now, not as George W. Bush the person, but as the President of the United States, I have concluded this would be inappropriate under the current circumstances. But I do want to send you this letter.
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout, “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” Mrs. Sheehan, there is no way I can ever walk in your shoes, or fully comprehend the degree of your loss. I have never lost a child, thank God, let alone experienced the horror of losing one in a far away war.
But as the father of two daughters, I do think I have at least some idea of your suffering.
I suspect that when you look at the picture of that proud young American wearing the uniform of his country, you see much more than the one snapshot; more like a waterfall of images — of a baby’s first breath, a toddler’s first step, a young child full of questions, a student exploring a new world, an athlete testing his mettle and finally a strong young man ready to grab hold of his future and swallow it whole; a future now denied him.
And while it is beyond my power to lessen your loss, I will at least try to provide the best answer I can to the question you have asked.
As I understand it, you want to ask me why your son had to die. I know you have at times posed the question in stronger terms, but I think that fairly states the substance of it.
A tough question, but a fair one, I think. So here is my answer:
Mrs. Sheehan, your son died because he had the courage and the honor to serve in the armed forces of his country — to put his life on the line to protect and defend this great nation. He died because the President of the United States, in consultation with the Congress, determined that the safety of our citizens demanded that Saddam Hussein be removed from power in Iraq.
And I would never shame your son’s sacrifice, and that of the hundreds of other fine Americans who have died and been injured in Iraq, by trying in any way to shirk my personal responsibility in this matter. The bottom line, Mrs. Sheehan, is that your son died in large part as a result of a decision I made; a decision based upon my best judgment of what was in the national interest. That is a burden I will carry for the rest of my life.
The powers of the office I hold are awesome ones. And notwithstanding my firm belief in the rightness of our course, there is, of course, no guarantee the path I have chosen for this nation will ultimately prove to have been the correct one. I have never claimed to be infallible, and while my faith in God is the guiding principle of my life, I would never claim to know God’s mind or the Divine purpose.
I know that you strongly disagree with my decisions regarding Iraq — as do many other Americans. While I believe with all my heart that what we have done, and what we are continuing to do, in Iraq is not only right and proper, but absolutely essential to the safety of our citizens, I respect your viewpoint.
In the end, history will decide whether I have been a wise steward of America’s interests in these dangerous times. But whatever history’s judgment, I accept full responsibility for the decisions I have made and for their consequences.
And whatever our disagreements, Mrs. Sheehan, never doubt that together with all Americans, I honor your son’s service and his sacrifice.
George W. Bush
* * *
Think of how differently things might have played out if you had sent such a letter: A picture of compassion and humility, instead of one of arrogant and callous disregard.
And it would have been so easy.
Mr. President, it took five of us less than an hour here at the café to pen this letter on the back of a cocktail napkin. It would have taken you only about five seconds to sign the (much better) letter your staff could have drafted; and it would have taken no more than 10 minutes if, by chance, you had decided to do the classy thing and rewrite it in your own hand.
You were on vacation, Mr. President. You had the time.
Now, the truth is, of course, that you don’t believe a lot of what’s written in our sample letter — especially the humility stuff. But why not send it anyway? So there’s a little untruth in it, from your standpoint. Come on, Mr. President, we’re all big boys here: Since when have you let a little untruthfulness get in the way of making a politically beneficial claim?
And the political benefits could have been incalculable.
While it’s almost certainly too late now, delivering a letter like this at the very start of the confrontation would have cut the legs out from under Sheehan’s protest. The mainstream media would have eaten it up. Sure, liberal soreheads like us would still have screamed over your refusal to see her personally, but the story would have gone nowhere. You could have turned what has become a major political negative into, at worst, an even draw, and perhaps even a political plus.
So why didn’t you do it?
I mean, if a collection of nobodies like us were able to come up with this, surely your crack political team should have at least considered it. Couldn’t Karl Rove spare a few minutes from his busy schedule of sliming your political opponents — along with the occasional outing of a CIA agent — to figure out the political pluses such a letter (or better yet personal meeting) could offer?
What are we missing here, Mr. President? Where’s the logic in your response to Mrs. Sheehan from a political — not to mention a Christian — standpoint?
Well, to be honest, we have a theory of our own here at the café.
It may have escaped your notice, though more likely you see it as a point of pride, but the fact is, Sir, there’s a certain rigidity, or bullheadedness, if you prefer, which saturates your public personality; a refusal to change course, back down or even reconsider the wisdom of your actions — even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that storm clouds are forming.
To offer just a couple of examples, when your first round of tax cuts for the wealthy resulted in a ballooning national debt, with little economic good to show in return, you responded, not by scaling back the reductions, but, incredibly, with round after round of additional cuts; then, of course, there’s the way when faced with the growing scientific consensus that global warming, caused by human conduct, constitutes the single greatest environmental threat in the history of humanity, you have staunchly refused to even seriously entertain the possibility your current head-in-the-sand approach may be flawed.
In the case of the Iraq War dead, you made the decision very early on that the best way to handle the unpleasantness of dead and injured GIs was simply to ignore them. No photographs of returning body bags; no presidential attendance at funerals. Nothing but happy faces and happy stories.
Heavy on the ink stained fingers; light on the blood soaked bodies.
And it worked remarkably well and for a long time.
Then along came Cindy Sheehan and suddenly the strategy made no sense at all — a fact that surely should have been apparent to any seasoned politician, let alone to the political maestros who work for you. But when it came right down to it, Mr. President, you just didn’t have the flexibility to change, did you? You were damned if you were going to let Cindy Sheehan or anyone else push you around. So, instead, you fell back on your all too familiar modus operandi in dealing with political enemies: Attack and destroy.
Joe Wilson, Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, Max Cleland, John Kerry and on and on through the long dreary list.
The message couldn’t be clearer: Don’t screw with George W. Bush.
And now it’s Cindy Sheehan’s turn in the barrel, as the right wing attack dogs dutifully commence snarling in unison.
But surely you can see, Mr. President, it isn’t going to work this time. Not a chance.
As others have noted, even if you’re successful in assassinating Mrs. Sheehan’s character, you’ll still lose. Ask Karl Rove, he’ll tell you: In politics, image is everything. And your public image right now is of that man in the limousine, roaring down a dusty road in route to a political fundraiser, ignoring the mother of a fallen hero standing courageously by.
Good luck on getting that one out of people’s minds.
And it was so predictable, so obvious: But you weren’t going to back down, were you?
Not you. Not George W. Bush.
And to be honest, Mr. President, that is what is most frightening. Because there’s a war going on right now in Iraq that’s pushing our country further and further into hell. And “staying the course,” isn’t going to get the job done.
We need new ideas. We need flexibility. We need a willingness to admit error and to change ground.
And, God help us, all we’ve got is you.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at [email protected].
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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