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October 30, 2009

Taking Comfort in Ignorant Hatred

As the wife of a deployed career Marine and daughter of a career Naval Officer, I've never understood the ignorant malice of the antiwar Left.

I grew up during the Vietnam era. It was a troubled - and troubling - time. The nation was rocked by protests, riots, and civil unrest. All this was understandable, even to a small child of 6 or 7. Though my father and my friends' fathers were fighting a war many Americans opposed, I could understand the pain and the passion of those who wanted us out of Vietnam. Anyone who appreciates the terrible cost of war must understand those troubled by that cost.

What was never understandable to me was the vicious spite and hatred of those who lined up outside military bases screaming epithets like, "Baby killer" to men who had been drafted. You would think we might have learned something as a nation in the nearly four decades since we abandoned the South Vietnamese to the tender mercies of a Communist-led genocide. But sadly, hate is alive and well in modern America:

This is what a president does.

US President Barack Obama has paid his respects to 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan, the first time he has honoured the fallen in this way.

NPR notes that,

The dramatic image of a president on the tarmac was a portrait not witnessed in years.


His predecessor, George W Bush, visited the families of dead troops but never received the bodies at the base, in Dover, Delaware.
Mr Bush also did not go to military funerals, telling the military newspaper Stars and Stripes three years ago that he preferred to meet families privately.

Notice how no one at Firedoglake wonders what took President Obama so long? The ban, after all, was lifted in February. Obama could have visited Dover at any time during the past 8 months - 10, if you take into account the fact that there was no need to have the press document his visit for the TV cameras. But I don't think the facts matter to these people at all. Their hatred is so strong that it blinds them to anything but simmering anger and poisonous contempt. To them, fallen warriors are nothing more than cannon fodder, conscripted against their will - even in death - to fight an obscene war against a President who is no longer in office. Consumed by hatred, they just can't let it go.

What they cannot understand is that unlike Barack Obama, who makes sure the few sops he throws to the military are well documented by the press, George Bush understood our wish not to be used as photo ops. It ought to be simple to understand why George Bush was never photographed at Dover: under George Bush, the press were not allowed at Dover. So there would be no photograph. But more importantly, President Bush understood that the families of the fallen had given enough. The last thing grieving families want is to have a camera or a microphone shoved in their faces; to have legions of Secret Service, White House aides, and other support staff invade an exquisitely private moment that ought to be reserved for those who knew and loved the deceased. Our funerals are not public spectacles, but private observances of grief. Our last President, unlike the antiwar left, understood and respected that.

To gain an idea of just how military families view having the President turn the homecoming of their loved ones into a photo op, one need only look at what happened when the families whose loved ones came in on this flight reacted to the news of Obama's visit.

Of the 18 families involved, 17 declined to allow the media to photograph the return of their loved one. But more than that, 6 of the 18 (that's one third) were undecided until they learned Obama would be there. According to the article, nearly two thirds of Gold Star families have allowed the press to be present.

...11 of the 17 had already reached a decision against coverage before they were notified that Obama would be there, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

The knowledge that the President of the United States planned to attend seems to have reduced the number of families willing to allow press coverage from 67% to 5%. It's hard to think of a more damning indictment of the idea that the families of the fallen want to be used as political props.

What takes more courage? To stand on a deserted tarmac in the dead of night and salute for the cameras? Or to meet with the families of the fallen - even those who don't support the war?

If the reality based community weren't afraid to venture out of their bubble, they might try talking to Rachel Ascione about whether the President grieves for our fallen warriors, whether he just brushes their grief aside lightly:

Ascione wasn't sure she could restrain herself with the president. She was feeling "raw." "I wanted him to look me in the eye and tell me why my brother was never coming back, and I wanted him to know it was his fault that my heart was broken," she recalls. The president was coming to Florida, a key swing state, in the middle of his re-election campaign. Ascione was worried that her family would be "exploited" by a "phony effort to make good with people in order to get votes."

Ascione and her family were gathered with 18 other families in a large room on the air base. The president entered with some Secret Service agents, a military entourage and a White House photographer. "I'm here for you, and I will take as much time as you need," Bush said. He began moving from family to family. Ascione watched as mothers confronted him: "How could you let this happen? Why is my son gone?" one asked. Ascione couldn't hear his answer, but soon "she began to sob, and he began crying, too. And then he just hugged her tight, and they cried together for what seemed like forever."

Ascione's family was one of the last Bush approached. Ascione still planned to confront him, but Bush disarmed her in an almost uncanny way. Ascione is just over five feet; her late brother was 6 feet 7. "My whole life, he used to put his hand on the top of my head and just hold it there, and it drove me crazy," she says. When Bush saw that she was crying, he leaned over and put his hand on the top of her head and drew her to him. "It was just like my brother used to do," she says, beginning to cry at the memory.

Before Bush left the meeting, he paused in the middle of the room and said to the families, "I will never feel the same level of pain and loss you do. I didn't lose anyone close to me, a member of my family or someone that I love. But I want you to know that I didn't go into this lightly. This was a decision that I struggle with every day."

As he spoke, Ascione could see the grief rising through the president's body. His shoulder slumped and his face turned ashen. He began to cry and his voice choked. He paused, tried to regain his composure and looked around the room. "I am sorry, I'm so sorry," he said.

But this is more 'reality' than the reality based community is ready for. It conflicts with how they wish to see the world - a stark, black and white version of The Truthiness in which it becomes more comforting to believe that our leaders are callous and cold (no matter how many military families say that's untrue), that they lie (no matter that the official record says otherwise), that they are using our military (no matter that our armed forces are all volunteer and that they keep volunteering).

When hatred is so strong that its adherents fear the truth, no factual rebuttal is likely to pierce the wall of lies that surrounds the willfully ignorant. But the truth remains, regardless of their stubborn refusal to admit it.

I was lucky enough to meet the President of the United States not once, but three times during my husband's last deployment to Iraq. The third time he was slightly late.

You see, he'd been talking with a Gold Star family in the Oval Office just moments before he met with us and appeared on national TV. And just as he did when he met with Rachel Ascione, he gave them all the time they needed.

No one who has ever seen the President in the company of our armed forces or their families could doubt the genuine love and respect he felt for us. And that feeling was mutual. It mattered. It gave me comfort during those long, dark months when my husband was on the other side of the world. And that's a comfort I no longer feel from a President whose idea of supporting the troops consists of turning their homecoming into a photo op.

Posted by Cassandra at October 30, 2009 09:40 AM

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I tear up every time I see (saw) him with the troops and hear the stories. God bless a good man.

Posted by: richard654 at October 30, 2009 11:05 AM

That was written just right, Cass. Thank you for putting into words what I had been thinking.

Posted by: airforcewife at October 30, 2009 11:18 AM

Cassandra, you've hit the proverbial nail directly on it's head with this post! It was so good, and your analysis so right on, that I linked to it on my blog...but I don't know how to do the trackback-thingy; so I'll just tell you here.

Posted by: lela at October 30, 2009 11:40 AM

He was a good man, Richard. And he felt utterly comfortable with the military.

It is sad that some people are so desperate to hold onto their hate that they stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to consider the possibility that they are wrong. No amount of evidence will convince them.

But I refuse to cosign their lies.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 11:42 AM

First, there is something the political Left just cannot seem to get their hands on, and that happens to be class. Regardless of what your personal opinion of W might be, he had class.

Second, it has been a couple of months since the President received the recommendations for operations in Afghanistan. He sent a man who could be, arguably, the best man for the job to compile the recommendations. Now, that he has them, he wants the thoughts of other General officers. In other words, a certified expert in the field is no longer an expert in field.

Third, when you are going to cut bait and run, start using the casualties of war as an exit strategy.

We have made it pretty clear that we are not all that happy with the present government over there - shades of our early years in Viet Nam. Does anybody feel that this President, and his Party, no longer that this is the "right" war to fight? Doe this administration not realize that the boots on the ground are bright enough to figure out why they should be making sacrifices for a Commander in Chief who has no concept of just what real sacrifice is?

Posted by: RIslander at October 30, 2009 11:47 AM

Thanks Cass. Mansour's Video Clip was very poigniant, and right on the mark.

Posted by: Humbled Boquisucio at October 30, 2009 12:09 PM

One of the things I will never forget, Boq, is the memory of seeing the President of the United States drop to his knees to talk to the children of the military wife standing next to me.

That was the morning of the Va Tech massacre. He had just learned of it moments before.

None of us had any idea until we left the White House hours later and heard on the news that he had been briefed just moments before he greeted us. I remember thinking how tired he looked that morning, but I doubt it even entered his mind to cut his visit with us short.

We were only wives and children of deployed servicemen, but we were treated as though we were the most important visitors the White House had ever had. That attitude extended from the highest official to the lowest staffer.

That only comes from the top.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 12:18 PM

A very, very good man.

Posted by: Foxfier at October 30, 2009 12:59 PM

What has always been funny to me is to see deranged people angrily screaming "we're the reality based community." Their very actions belie their claims. The term "babykiller" is a case in point. It's use is intended only to arouse a visceral response, not a reasoned one. A reasonable, sane person can find a means to support their viewpoint without resorting to that kind of method.

The current discussion about what to do in Afghanistan is relevant to this. I have had many discussions with people who hold completely different views on what to do. The only ones I dismiss out of hand are those that tie into the supposed thoughts President Obama has. I think one could make a reasonable case for a huge increase in troop strength, or pulling out completely without resorting to personal thoughts on Obama.

Posted by: Allen at October 30, 2009 01:07 PM

Here is a quote from that story that supposed to make one genuflect or hurl: "Now it is no more. Obama saw it directly, and the press bore witness."

Now the press is given to stealing ideas and metaphors from Holy Writ.

Posted by: Cricket at October 30, 2009 01:08 PM

I think one could make a reasonable case for a huge increase in troop strength, or pulling out completely without resorting to personal thoughts on Obama.


What bothers me more than anything is to see so many people who seem willing to say or do anything if it bolsters "their side", without regard for what's good for America.

I, too, would listen to a reasonable case for either outcome in Afghanistan. But that case needs to be made on national security grounds and not those of political expediency.

If this is suddenly NOT a war of necessity, say so and pull out. If it is, then we ought to be bending our will to winning it.

The White House is not doing either right now, and as someone whose husband is in harms' way I have a problem with that.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 01:11 PM

Cass, I teared up when I read your post. Badly. I believe that Bush did struggle with this and met privately because he wanted to let these families know that these kinds of decisions do not come easily to those who know what the cost must be. He has respect for the military because he was one of us at one time.

Allen, it is personal when the POTUS uses Dover as a photo op for his agenda. And in that regard, we reserve the right to critique his actions.

Nowhere on this blog has Obama been personally attacked. His policies and his actions, yes. His person, his looks, his family, NO.

Posted by: Cricket at October 30, 2009 01:15 PM

Dang it Cassandra. Your post got me all wee wee'd up. Now my eyes are going to be red for the rest of the day.

Posted by: Nice Deb at October 30, 2009 01:53 PM

Cassandra, I'll have to disagree with you on the political aspect to this. By nature it's very political, if he goes in for the long haul he's going to have to sell it to the American people for years. If he pulls out he has to accept the potential downside and sell that to. I agree with you that the status quo won't cut it. I am hopeful that his delay in the decision is due to the gravity of the choice he has to make, not some other consideration.

Cricket, I probably didn't explain myself very well. Of course it's right and proper to criticize the President on his actions. I just don't want to see folks attribute to malice on Obama's part when it's based on assumptions about his character. That's what they did to Bush for so long.

At any rate, I wouldn't wish this decision on any President. Afghanistan is a cruel and hard place. I spent time there many years ago, and it's not a given that even if we surge it will work out. One thing I am certain of is that if we do go long, we're going to be there for years, and we have to go with everything we've got. The list is long, combat, roads, hospitals, a whole government, a functional economy, all in sight of a very distrustful people.

Posted by: Allen at October 30, 2009 02:18 PM

...if he goes in for the long haul he's going to have to sell it to the American people for years.


Sadly, though, he's made over 140 speeches on health care.

How many has he made about the war so far? When even Dana Milbanks notices you could only spare a few seconds for the war in a speech to the American Legion (for Pete's sake), it's bad. Very bad.

War is politics by other means but that quote was meant to apply to politics between nations, not to domestic politics. That's where this President is going wrong, in my humble opinion.

Americans volunteer to serve in order to protect this country and prosecute its foreign policy objectives and I think that's the only purpose for which they should be asked to risk their lives.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 02:34 PM

Because you don't like Obama doesn't mean he was at Dover for nefarious reasons. His going to greet the caskets of fallen soldiers was a decent thing to do. He is, after all, the president.

Do you really believe the hatred from the Right for Obama is one bit less the the hatred of Bush from the Left was? Yet one you find abhorrent and the other you condone.

Posted by: Pug at October 30, 2009 02:51 PM

I was asked yesterday (by someone who was not being in the LEAST antagonistic, but was fostering a discussion) if the fact that this brings attention to Afghanistan in a news cycle might be a good reason for President Obama to make sure there's a picture of him saluting the returning fallen on the front page.

Someone may think this. I do not. By his very nature, the President - any president - becomes the story wherever he inserts himself. The story is no longer about that brave man who came home after giving everything he had to his country. He is a mere afterthought. In fact, in many of the pictures I've seen, the soldiers and the coffin in the foreground are slightly out of focus - it was not the subject of the photo that was the president president behind them.

That is, in my mind, a travesty and the ultimate disrespect. That a fallen soldier is a mere frame of photographic elements? Repugnant. If anything it should be the other way around.

The President could have done the same, but refused to allow them to photograph him. That would have been honorable.

And what it comes down to most of all for me is this, who benefits from this picture? The military? Or the President?

Who are we all discussing - SGT Dale Griffin, or President Obama? I think that your answer is right there.

Posted by: airforcewife at October 30, 2009 03:00 PM

Still sore that America rejected conservatism? Get used to it. This man is cleaning up YOUR mess, and you thank him by dissing him? Shame on you.

Posted by: Del Wasso at October 30, 2009 03:05 PM

The picture of Prez O at Dover is offensive on so many levels. Not the least of which is this is seen by the left as a good thing. They don't get it. He sees the troops, at best, as set decoration for photo ops. His predecessor, the evil and hated W, knew and loved the troops. He would NEVER use a fallen hero as a political tool.

Please tell all your friends in the service that when they retire, they can have their "thanks for your service" letter signed by any living President. They just have to ask...

Posted by: Spike72AFA at October 30, 2009 03:11 PM

This man is cleaning up YOUR mess

Except he's not, is he?

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 03:17 PM

Good post, though I disagree with a few things.

I'm not sure it's realistic to single out specific actions by someone like the POTUS as political posturing or what have you. The POTUS is a political figure. Everything he does is political. Everything seen now, or seen later in the case of these stories of George W. Bush's family visits, shapes his legacy. Maybe this was a "photo op" -- or maybe it was just a visit to Dover. Also, I don't think we can draw the conclusion you suggest about why 6 additional families declined press coverage after learning Obama would be there; the article gives us no details. Personally, I think it is more likely that they simply did not want the additional coverage and scrutiny that comes with the President's presence, as opposed to the already dubious coverage they were expecting, or perhaps they expected they would be even more emotionally stressed by (any) president's visit. Perhaps other sources give more detail about this, but there isn't in the linked article, anyway.

It's funny because a lot of what you state about attacks on Bush are the same as for the attacks on Obama. In the current political climate, Obama could rescue a baby from a burning building and Fox News would crucify him for not extinguishing the flames while he was in there.

I've used some harsh terms to describe the Bush presidency, but my personal gripe is with the policies and decisions made, not with any perceived lack of character on his part. My impression of Bush is that he is sincere and was doing what he thought right -- I mean, what president sets out to do things wrong? However, as someone mentioned above, we (I) do judge based on actions and results, and in that regard I am bitterly disappointed with many things that happened on his watch.

At the risk of sounding like an Obama apologist (too late?) I think he's made 140 speeches on health care because he's been attacked 487* times by the GOP on the topic ;)

Iraq and Afghanistan are urgent topics, no doubt about that, and I, too, am wondering when we'll see decisive action on them. I agree with Allen's assessment of the region, which apparently hasn't changed much since Kipling wrote about it a century ago:

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Don't know if you guys saw this over on the Washington Post, about the guy resigning his Foreign Service post over the conduct of the war in Afghanistan (US Official Resigns Over Afghan War>. Instead of trying to hush it up, it sounds like they are trying to retain him because they know it isn't working and they value his insight.

*: 98% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Posted by: MikeH at October 30, 2009 04:51 PM

I'm not sure it's realistic to single out specific actions by someone like the POTUS as political posturing or what have you. The POTUS is a political figure.... Everything he does is political.Maybe this was a "photo op" -- or maybe it was just a visit to Dover.

FWIW, I don't argue that I *know* this was a political gesture, Mike. Because I can't know that.

What I do know is that casualties are the highest in Afghanistan that they have ever been.

I know that 8 months have passed since the Dover ban was lifted, and 9 months since this man took office.

And he just now found time to visit? At a time when he's being criticized for dithering and procrastinating on Stan McChrystal's troop request?

This is the most media savvy administration I've ever seen. It is my opinion - and my opinion only - that every move is carefully calculated for effect. This is a man who took time out of his schedule to host a Beer Summit between Henry Louis Gates and that police officer.

That was "important".

He was not, on the other hand, thought the war of necessity was "important" enough to merit more than a 20 minute last minute meeting with the commander in theater tacked onto his failed bid to get the Olympics for Chicago.

It is the context and the sum of his prior actions that makes me question his motivation.

I think it is more likely that they simply did not want the additional coverage and scrutiny that comes with the President's presence, as opposed to the already dubious coverage they were expecting, or perhaps they expected they would be even more emotionally stressed by (any) president's visit.

But that is exactly the point I intended to make, Mike. Not that they had any objection to Obama, per se. But that the additional burden of having the President there was more than they could handle at a difficult time.

That is EXACTLY what Bush said. Of course, that was "evidence" that he was a coward or an uncaring jerk. That's the only reason I brought that up.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 05:11 PM

This is the most media savvy administration I've ever seen. It is my opinion - and my opinion only - that every move is carefully calculated for effect.

I agree about being media savvy, I'd like to think not every move is calculated to the nth degree.

For the most part, though, this is where future politics is heading. The 2008 election, and the right's subsequent reaction to it, has changed everything in the arena of American politics. Obama rewrote the book on "grassroots" politicking and how to leverage the Internet. Groups like the teabaggers and Scott's CPR, etc. are basically copying the things that worked so well for Obama's campaign.

Wait till you see how BOTH parties roll in 2012... I'm not looking forward to it.

Posted by: MikeH at October 30, 2009 05:24 PM

I'm not sure the right reacted any differently than the left did in 2000. Even before 9/11 things were very nasty.

I don't like to see it, but I think you're right - the cycle of insult and retribution has spiraled out of control

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 05:40 PM

Well said.



Posted by: Stephen D. Oliver at October 30, 2009 06:34 PM

The 2008 election, and the right's subsequent reaction to it, ... Groups like the teabaggers and Scott's CPR, etc. are basically copying the things that worked so well for Obama's campaign.

I can see you're all for a "civil discourse" /sarc

Posted by: Stephen D. Oliver at October 30, 2009 06:42 PM

I decided to let that go, Stephen.

It offends me too, but if I spent all day getting offended I'd never get anything done. Some day, perhaps we'll learn to substitute meaningful arguments for crude sexual insults.

I don't see that happening anytime soon, though.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2009 07:01 PM

Thank you so much for your post. I have been so angry and upset about has become glaringly obvious - that President Obama used this very private and sad moment as a propaganda photo-op, and the left has been using it as another weapon to club President Bush with. Your blog made me cry, but it also put things back into perspective. Thank you, and thank your family for their service. God bless!

Posted by: Anna at October 30, 2009 11:02 PM

As I've said elsewhere, Obama's trip to Dover wouldn't bother me so much (as to the true motivation behind it) if he had gone when there would be no media present, and all we heard of it were words alone in a news report. I, too, question why it has taken so long for him to make SOME gesture towards the fallen. Yes, it was a tough week in Afghanistan, and 18 KIA came in on that one flight. But, I have to ask: what makes the sacrifice of THESE 18 more important than any of the others since Obama was sworn in, who came back in ones and twos? Why were those others unworthy of a presidential visit?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at October 31, 2009 01:17 AM

Kind of ironic that the Left called *us* baby-killers while they were mindlessly supporting the side that was actively killing the babies...

...and the parents, and the grandparents, and the teachers, and the doctors, and the religious, and the college students, and the farmers, and the shopowners, and...

Posted by: BillT at October 31, 2009 01:56 AM

The 2008 election, and the right's subsequent reaction to it, ... Groups like the teabaggers and Scott's CPR, etc. are basically copying the things that worked so well for Obama's campaign.

I can see you're all for a "civil discourse" /sarc

I'm sorry, that wasn't meant to be offensive (or sexual) -- I honestly thought that's what everyone calls participants in the tea party movement these days? I thought I first saw the term in use by participants, who frequently wave tea bags or hurl them, and then the term went into wider use by the movement's critics. But, if that term is generally offensive, I will stop using it in discussion. Is "tea-partier" more acceptable?

Posted by: MikeH at October 31, 2009 03:27 PM

I think so, Mike. I'm not up on all of that stuff but I don't think the folks who began by calling themselves teabaggers had ever heard of the street meaning (I know I hadn't!).

The problem is that since so many on-air pundits made it perfectly obvious they *did* know and thought it uproariously funny to intentionally call them something that had a different meaning, it became something of a perjorative.

Some world we live in, no?

Posted by: Cassandra at October 31, 2009 03:35 PM

Madame Cassandra,

I have only one small quibble. You said that GWB was a good man. Nay, he IS a good man, and ergo, the fact remains, despite the caterwauling of the left, the spineless and the traitorous who take up space in the country, that he IS a good President.

The aforementioned groups, while unwilling to fight for our collective rights and are willing to protest those of us who DO fight for their rights, will gladly submit to any interference with the constitutional rights of others just AS LONG AS IT DOES NOT AFFECT THEIR PURSUIT OF DEVIANCY, DEBAUCHERY AND DESIPCABLE PRACTICES. That would be just too much.

And BTW, orders are AGAIN modified. Off to the litter box. Spousal unit is wee wee'd off to a point I have not seen her before. Fortunately, she will get over it and we will do our duty.

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at October 31, 2009 11:10 PM

MikeH. - the Tea Party protesters called themselves just that as a reference to the original Boston Tea Party. Teabagging, as it was not so subtly alluded to by those who first created the association between the two, is indeed a very derogatory and, for some inflammatory, term.

But, if that term is generally offensive, I will stop using it in discussion."

Thank you.

Posted by: DL Sly at November 1, 2009 03:51 AM