The Undepth of George W. Bush
The Unfeeling President
E. L Doctorow
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-
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
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 Iraq.
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 to.
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 their friends.
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
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 professional class.
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 the world most of the
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-
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 characteristic trouble.
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 warmaking, 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