Sympathy for the exploitive class is not within the usual range of my emotions, yet I must admit I felt more than a tinge of pity last week as I watch George W. Bush twisting and squirming and praying for rain as he was eaten alive by his more polished debate opponent, John Kerry.
There he was, our "war president," commander-in-chief, POTUS himself, without his cue cards, without his vice president at his side or a military man with a chest full of ribbons, without a press secretary, and, worst of all, without a friendly, slavering audience prepared to clap and cheer wildly at the slightest hint of an applause line.
The absence of that worshipful audience may have been the cruelest blow of all for a man who has been insulated from reality his entire life. More than once I saw him repeat one of his tried and true applause lines and then look up as he waited hopefully for the response. Nothing. He got nothing. And nothing could get a politician defeated in just four short weeks.
When he expected applause and didn't get it, the look on his face was heart-rending. An audience whipped into respectful silence by Jim Lehrer is a marvel to behold, and such an audience proved devastating for a man whose ego depends on the enforced acceptance of others.
I felt sorry for him.
Bush is a man who has done much wrong in the last 45 months. He has been so wrong so often that, if he were a character in a novel, he would be unbelievable. Imagine, if you will, a fictional president who alienates most of the world, starts an unnecessary war he has no plan to finish, just flat out ignores the threat of global warming, thumbs his nose at medical research, lowers taxes on the rich while the national debt is climbing ... you get the idea. Who would believe such a character exists?
But none of this is what I planned to write about this week. I planned to write about Bush's insistence that we are fighting a "war" on terror. I see that terminology as yet another of Bush's mistakes.
In that belief, I am joined by someone far more knowledgeable than myself, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Samuel V. Wilson.
Gen. Wilson, who lied about his age to join the Army during World War II (he was 16), worked his way up to head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the late 1970s. After his retirement, he became an educator.
Here's what Gen. Wilson was quoted as saying by The New York Times on Sept. 11, 2002, one year after the terrorist attacks:
"It's a pseudo-war, like the war against drugs, or the war against international criminals. It isn't a war in the classic sense that we understand.
"And when we call it a war against international terrorism, we tend to legitimize someone, when what we need to do is keep them pinned down as cornered criminals, and not give them the status of co-belligerents."
That's my point. The thugs blowing up women and children and old people are certainly not soldiers. They don't deserve to be called rebels or insurgents or freedom fighters or even enemy combatants.
They're just plain criminals, like Richard Allen Davis or Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.
Those criminals who intentional kill themselves while committing their horrendous crimes, are not brave or heroic. They are stupid. They believe that such suicide will give them eternal grace in an afterlife, but common sense tells me what it ought to tell them, that killing defenseless innocents is not the ticket to glory in any religious belief.
If we claim to be at war with these people, we are, as Gen. Wilson indicated, giving them status they don't deserve.
The only way we will defeat Islamic-inspired terrorism is to win the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims, by far the majority. When the average Muslims lose their tolerance for the mindless murderers among them, the violence will begin to abate.
George W. Bush, who would like to win the hearts of those who oppose us, expresses some very noble thoughts about winning their hearts, but he seems incapable of backing up those thoughts. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, he wants to install new governments, but they are governments of our choice, not the choice of the Afghans or Iraqis.
He wants to rebuild Iraq, but only if his rich corporate friends can make money in the process.
And so on. That's why my pity for Bush's ineptness during last week's debate was only fleeting. He's an unfortunate little man, and one can pity him, but that is no reason to keep him on as president.
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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