The President’s Amusement?


Richard W. Crockett



If you are going to start a war, you will undoubtedly have to take some flack for it.  President Bush has received his share of it, and deservedly so.  Congressman Pete Stark, Democrat from California’s 13th District, in an impassioned rhetorical flourish in the House of Representatives, commented that the President and the Republicans in Congress were unwilling to spend monies in behalf of children’s health care while spending billions on a war, and sending young Americans to Iraq to “get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.”  Is this remark reprehensible or closer to the truth than many people care to acknowledge? 


The Republicans in congress have seized upon this remark as an “I gotcha” kind of political opportunity, but perhaps to no avail. When the CNN morning program ran a poll requiring their viewers to respond on the CNN website, the question was asked, “Should Stark apologize for his remark?”  Eighty seven percent of the respondents said that he should not apologize, even though CNN presented the story in a form, which implied condemnation and implicit disbelief and with the clear intent to embarrass the Congressman. Somewhat to their amazement the public saw it differently, in spite of the fact that the mode of their presentation of the event should have set the public up to be critical of Congressman Stark.


While this kind of survey is clearly not a precise reflection of the national public opinion, it is at least a crude representation of the opinion of news junkies who are able to tolerate a moderately conservative bias in their news source. What the incident reveals is that many in the American electorate regard the folly of President Bush’s reckless war, which has cost nearly 4,000 American lives and thousands of Iraqi lives as being far more serious than the folly of a marginally over-the-top, partially true political remark by an obscure Democratic Congressman. 


“Partially true,” you may ask?  In this sense, the President is busy “being President” and is full of himself.  When Bush and Cheney went into this misadventure their glib perspective betrayed that they had no clue as to the real costs of the war, and with what pleasure and amusement it must have been to be at the helm of a most powerful ship of state. With arrogance and with the larger mission in mind, and with a vulnerable public before them, they used the tragic events of 9-11 as a pretext, and they proceeded eagerly with an utter lack of sensitivity to the personal risk and hardship for the soldiers and marines putting their lives at risk.  Lack of military service in combat in the case of both Bush and Cheney combined with their flag waving, pseudo patriotism permitted an understanding of war akin to schoolboys at play. Unfortunately the medical personnel in Iraq are unable, as much as they may want to, to “fix up” a fallen soldier or marine by emitting a clicking sound from their mouth and a brush with their hand on a motionless warrior and a pronouncement that the victim is “OK,” as is possible with child’s play.  Well, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, it is not that way.  If your early amusement with the whole misadventure has begun to fade, and the folly is beginning to sink in, I would be relieved, but your continued efforts at justifying our presence in Iraq, and efforts at tweaking the mission, suggest that it has not.


Richard Crockett is a retired professor of political science at Western Illinois University