The Truth, Mainly - 03/28/2006

Feeling sorry for the president
by Leon Satterfield

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 doors closed.

"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?

•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?

Questions like:

"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 premise—in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist—is that—I 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 country."

"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 where—Afghanistan 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 address is:

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