The more I read and hear about President Bush, the more he reminds
me of a fictional character in the novel that convinced me that I should
become an English major.
The novel is "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, and the
character is a guy named Robert Ackley who lives in a Pencey Prep dorm
room next door to Holden Caulfield, the novel's narrator.
Ackley hangs out a lot in Holden's dorm room. That where he goes
to clip his fingernails. Holden can't stand him.
Ackley snores so loud that Holden can hear him even with both
"He had sinus trouble," Holden tells the reader, "and he couldn't
breathe too hot when he was asleep. The guy had just about everything.
Sinus trouble, pimples, lousy teeth, halitosis, crumby fingernails. You
had to feel a little sorry for the crazy SOB."
What gets me are those last two sentences telling us that despite
(or maybe because of?) Ackley's flaws, you still had to feel a little
sorry for him.
Holden's line has stayed with me for more than half a century now.
And to my surprise, it bobs up to the surface of my memory every time I
hear Our President speak. Which makes me feel a little sorry for him.
I don't want to brag, but I'm beginning to think that mine is
definitely a minority opinion. Every time I read a newspaper or watch or
listen to the news lately, I run across people not feeling sorry for the
President. For example:
In Washington last Monday, 51 people got arrested for
demonstrating against the President on the third anniversary of the
beginning of our war with Iraq. On the same day, 17 people were arrested
in San Francisco for blocking traffic on Market Street while they
protested the war. And in Cleveland, about 150 war protestors protested
the President's speech to the City Club of Cleveland.
In all three places, there was a marked absence of people feeling
sorry for the president. The Cleveland signs said "Bush incompetent
failure," "Bush step down," and "No blood for oil."
No signs said "Let's feel a little sorry for our leader."
Or how about that guy, Ayad Allawi, who used to be the Iraqi
prime minister? He told BBC a week ago Sunday that, despite President
Bush's assurances that there's no civil war going on in Iraq, the death
toll every day is on average 50 to 60 Iraqis"if not more."
"If this is not civil war," Allawi said, "then God knows what
civil war is."
Why couldn't he just have said "Some Iraqis are killing 50 to 60
other Iraqis every day. Despite its uncanny resemblance to a civil war,
we believe it is just an outbreak of temper tantrums that will very soon
play themselves out."
Wouldn't that have been a nicer thing to say?
The Truth, Mainly
And then there's Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother whose son,
Casey, got killed in battle just five days after he got to Iraq. She had
a piece on the internet on the third anniversary of our invasion. It
raised a questionable-taste question: "George Bush didn't finish his
commitment to the country when he went AWOL from the Alabama National
Guard; why hasn't he been called back up to go and fight and die in his
own 'noble cause'?"
Bad taste, I say, especially when it comes on the anniversary of
the President's invasion. And then there's the provocative way she ends
the piece: "Honor the dead. Protect the living. End the war."
Can't she feel just a little sorry for the President?
And how about that old witch of a journalist, Helen Thomas? Where
was her respect last week for the highest office in the land when she kept
asking President Bush questions he didn't want to answer?
"Why did you really want to go to war?
What was your real
reason? You have said it wasn't oil
.what was it?"
And the President's answer: "I think your premisein all due
respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalistis thatI
didn't want war."
He went on to say it all grew out of the 9/11 attack on the twin
towers. "And that's when I went into Iraq."
But, Ms. Thomas said, "They didnt do anything to you, or to our
"They did," the President answered. "The Taliban provided safe
haven for al Qaeda."
To which Ms. Thomas snippily said, "I'm talking about Iraq."
And the President said: "That's whereAfghanistan provided safe
haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they
plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of
Americans. I also saw a threat in Iraq."
You know what it all sounds like to me? Sounds like there are way
too many people out there who don't feel sorry enough for the president.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail