His is a administration and party that presided over an embarrassing attempt to cut veteran benefits while we’re at war, vetoed a children’s health bill while his own bill wouldn’t even fund his own program, and partied as the poorest of the poor wallowed in Katrina’s aftermath.
While being a child of privilege might have made it difficult to relate to the poor, no matter how compassionate a conservative your campaign claims you are, why is there such a dramatic disconnect when it comes to the insensitivity shown to those who served and continue to serve honorably; to those who left part of themselves on the battlefields defending the country he now leads; to those he once served with...his brothers in arms?
Why does he condone torture techniques that John McCain, who endured years of suffering in Viet Nam, says doesn’t work?
Why did Rush Limbaugh’s "phony soldier" and "suicide bomber" comments describing veterans receive a tepid, "the President doesn't agree with the underlying sentiment and wouldn't have used those words," offered by this spokesperson, when he found Moveon.org’s ad against General Petreaus to be "disgusting" and wanted Democrats to speak out more strongly against Moveon?
Why is it so difficult to relate to those who served honorably, especially those who served when he did?
Why did he tolerate being swiftboated into office on the back of a slanderous campaign against a veteran’s war service?
Why did he not chastise those who denigrated disabled veteran Max Cleland’s courage?
Why did he stand by and let his campaign fabricate stories of an out-of-wedlock black child fathered by former POW John McCain?
The vow "to leave no one behind" has long been the time-honored pledge made by one American soldier to another, doesn’t end at the battlefield’s edge. The failure to do so dishonors all who served...including the one doing the dishonoring.
A cynic might say that politics trumps brotherhood, and that you would actually have had to face combat for the pledge to have any credence.
But the psychology of this failure goes much deeper than that and can be found in how Bush and his White House see the plight of the soldier.
Look at this quote by retiring White House aide, Meghan O'Sullivan, who served as an adviser to initial U.S. occupation Administrator L. Paul Bremer in Baghdad before Bush brought her to the White House, where she became deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan
"No one who works on a war should be free from thinking of the sacrifices that come with it. You're always thinking: Is this worth it? Is this going to be worth it? What justifies the level of sacrifices on both the U.S. and Iraqi side? I believe as long as the possibility of being successful's there, you can justify continuing the effort."
Possibility trumps sacrifices. Of whom? Not those at 1600. The sacrifice is suffered by those troops and their families who have lost all possibility.
Former Bush, right hand man, Dan Bartlett, believes the White House is a victim of circumstances.
"As far as how the presidency has gone," he said, "these are the cards we were dealt, these were the decisions we made. I learned too much in that job -- you can't second-guess every decision you made."
"...cards we were dealt."
Who was dealing those cards? Certainly not those who lost their lives and futures. It was President Bush and his White House who determined our troops would be the ones making the ultimate sacrifice. The rest of us were told to shop and visit Disneyworld. Those who dealt the cards - some would say they use marked cards - get to retire, write books and use their resume for bigger and better card games. The house never loses, whether Vegas or White.
Learning from failure and adversity creates steppingstones to success, but first you have to be willing to admit that you actually made those mistakes. Excuses and blaming your circumstances on others, neither breeds real understanding nor an ability to make better decisions. And when the adversity from your actions falls on others, empathy and learning is all the more difficult to grasp.
President Bush may have served in the military, but unlike our troops and veterans who serve in combat and have their tours extended ad infinitum, he not only never went into battle, but was also allowed to exit his service early. His lack of any real sacrifice keeps the suffering of those genuinely in harm's way at arm's length, much like how the children of the poor and the victims of Katrina escaped his compassion.
The President and his aides say they are willing to live with their decisions. Four thousand and counting won't. Tens of thousands are left with their worlds, physically and emotionally, forever scarred.
And the President was the one who dealt those cards.
Steve Young is author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful...Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success" (www.greatfailure.com)