A few days after 11 American soldiers were killed in Iraq, I opened the mailbox to find along with the Pottery Barn holiday catalogue and other seasonal items a letter from the National Guard. Addressed to my 16-year-old son. I have no idea how they got his name and address. That's not true. I know perfectly well how they got it. They got it the same way Bush is getting personal information about the rest of us in the guise of fighting "the terrorists." They tapped into some secret database and up popped my son's name. It was right there under the category: Potential Cannon Fodder for Iraq.
I felt like I'd been sent a letter bomb in the mail.
This administration has no respect for families. It never has. Why else did Bush with the eager support of the Senate ban news photos of flag-draped coffins of soldiers coming home? Many of them as young as 18. Did they think we wouldn't notice the rising death toll? That families who lost sons and daughters would simply view it as the regrettable cost of war? Pretend it had all been a bad dream and then carry on? Not talk about it?
Bush likes to blather on about how much he "understands" what families are going through. Most of the time his posturing has been simply annoying. Another example of his Teflon sincerity. But last week in the wake of the Iraq Study Group's blistering report his pretense of caring hit a new low.
This happened at Bush's press conference when a reporter challenged him. I wish I could remember his exact question, and I am probably going to bungle it here, but it went something like this: Mr. President, What would you tell families worried about their loved ones in Iraq this holiday season now that the war has been declared incredibly dangerous and a disaster?
A decent politician, even an astute one, might have shown some compassion. Might have been able to summon some empathy. Instead Bush got testy and defensive and launched straight into one of his it's-all-about-me tirades. "I understand" what families are feeling, he bristled. "I understand" what sacrifices families are making, he fumed. And to prove just how sensitive he was on the point, he announced, "I talk to the families who died!"
My son will not be joining the National Guard. But on Saturday he went through another memorable rite of passage. He went to his first winter formal wearing his first grown-up suit. It was pearl gray with tiny orange pinstripes. Trust me, it was gorgeous.
The day before the dance I took him to our neighborhood florist to buy a corsage for his girlfriend. Boy was he a wreck. We stood at the counter flipping through photos. What color dress is she wearing? I asked. What color shoes? "Do you think she'll like this one?" he asked finally. He pointed to a wrist corsage of white roses and orchids.
The next night, I snapped photos of the two of them in our living room as he tied it on her wrist. This is what young men should be doing. Tying corsages on the wrists of pretty girls. Going to dances.
Perhaps I should email some of those photos to Bush to remind him.