The Unfeeling President
by E. L. Doctorow
The East Hampton Star, September
I fault this president for not knowing
what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds
who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944
General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers
he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable
war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival,
the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.
But this president does not know what
death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the
press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction
he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to
the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened
crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.
He does not mourn. He doesn't understand
why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech
written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave
young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
But you study him, you look into his eyes
and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the
depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does
not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men
and women who wanted to be what they could be.
They come to his desk not as youngsters
with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer
to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships
and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come
to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is
not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from
How then can he mourn? To mourn is to
express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that
his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by
the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's
aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He
does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war
in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled
youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.
He wanted to go to war and he did. He
had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to
those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do
not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the
only option; you go not because you want to but because you have
Yet this president knew it would be difficult
for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator.
He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem
to have a mind for only one thing -- to take power, to remain
in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and
A war will do that as well as anything.
You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent
becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he
is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving
parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not
feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not
feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not
feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he
does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or
for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime
at time-and-a-half to pay their bills - it is amazing for how
many people in this country this president does not feel.
But he will dissemble feeling. He will
say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent
of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest
of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake
of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in
coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving
workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because
this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the
And this litany of lies he will versify
with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just
what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the
life out of it.
But there is one more terribly sad thing
about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and
around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary,
that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended
national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the
only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all
over he world most of the time.
But the cry of protest was the appalled
understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its
role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception
that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue
nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning
its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing
not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but
to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the
Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring
their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.
The president we get is the country we
get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually.
He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes
not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our
lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast
in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his
Finally, the media amplify his character
into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky,
the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the
United States of America given the stupid and ineffective war
making, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal
economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of
such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.
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