Watching President George W. Bush take the podium and deliver his State of the Union was like witnessing a man on trial-so much brooding animosity to his right, his supporters sitting patiently to his left.
The moment that stands out, that seems to transcend partisan politics and ideological talking points, is when Bush honored Dan Clay, a Marine Staff Sergeant lost in his war in Iraq. Clay’s family members rose and Bush sent them a wink out of a John Wayne movie. His eyes squinted and seemed glossy-it could have been the flashing cameras or the bright lights, but it came off as a genuine moment outside of the grotesque pettiness that has so dominated contemporary politics.
No matter what you think of the president, give the man some credit. He has never, not for a second, tried to ignore the deep, personal underbelly of the lost lives that make war an intrinsic tragedy.
“Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices,” he said. “(They are) showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear. They know what it is like to fight house-to-house in a maze of streets … to wear heavy gear in the desert heat … to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb.”
A man that has been labeled a ruthless tyrant by his liberal opponents has repeatedly honored the men and women that fight the war that he’s invested in. He never points to the death toll, now over 2,000 lost, as a comparatively low statistic. He never mentions his fight for freedom without admitting that lives are lost along the way. He has set out a plan to protect the public from terrorism while coping with very personal tragedy.
He has visited fallen soldiers in hospitals and still, somehow remains rooted in his plan to place the public ahead of the person.
He has essentially placed the many ahead of the few despite attending their funerals and seeing their broken families.
Cindy Sheehan, who was invited to the State of the Union, attended the event in a t-shirt portraying an anti-war slogan. She has continually protested the war after losing her son in Iraq, and who can completely blame her.
She is so immersed in the personal and so detached from the public. Sheehan is so attached to her lost, loved son, as she should be. She, unlike Bush, has placed the individual, the soldier, his mother, father, brother, and sister, ahead of an ideal. Bush is an idealist, one who has pledged his presidency to the pursuit of freedom.
Bush has attempted to see the forest, while Sheehan can not help but focus on her fallen tree.
Critics have a fair shot at the president’s universal approach to domestic and foreign policy. His war has killed Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers. His Patriot Act has compromised the rights of the individual for safety’s sake. His terrorist surveillance program has compromised his image in the light of the individual.
Safety is a necessity, and Bush has made conscious decisions on what to do when safety is threatened.
The middle ground is often ambiguous and the moderate often makes for a weak leader. We, standing outside of policy making and away from the Sheehan household, have the ability to understand both sides.
Let’s save our citizens, but never forget about Dan Clay’s family.
Let’s mourn for our lost children while fighting to maintain objective reason.
Appreciate the Dan Clays of the world, the men and women who fight so others do not have to. Bush has taken the Dan Clays into account and has removed them from the political crossfire of senseless wartime debate.
Bush explained that troop withdrawal in Iraq was a possibility, one to be determined by military commanders, not politicians in Washington D.C. In such a fashion that allows the individual to be legitimized through experience, I’ll leave the last lines to a letter written by Dan Clay in his final moments. He has earned at least that.
"I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to…. Never falter! Don’t hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting."