Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The weight and the gap

President Bush took flak for much of what he said in the final days of his presidency as he went on his Legacy Rehabilitation Tour. Most of it was deserved. But one of the things he said was entirely reasonable:
Even in the darkest moments of Iraq, you know, there was -- and every day when I was reading the reports about soldiers losing their lives, no question there was a lot of emotion, but also there was times where we could be light-hearted and support each other.

I have no love for this man. But we should all hope that Bush could find ways to stay "light-hearted."

Last night, a friend told me that he thought all the parties surrounding the inauguration were too much. In times like these, what is President Obama doing dancing at ten parties, basking in the glow of so much adulation?

I think this is an apt time to reflect on the weight we place on our presidents. Many criticized Bush for not attending military funerals and not seeming to mourn military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. And perhaps, as a leader, he ought to have made more public displays of sorrow. But this belies a different question: how bad should he have actually felt?

I don't know why anybody wants to be president. I don't know why anybody wants to carry that weight. Because yes, you have to seem as if you care a great deal, when you make decisions and people die.

But presidents need the fortitude to make those decisions, decisions that spell death on a horrific scale. And after they make those decisions, they need the fortitude to make them again and again, without stumbling, without stopping to take a breath, without blinking.

So, let's be clear about what we ask of these people. We ask them to stand on the right side of the narrow gap between heroes and monsters. So, we shouldn't be surprised if they find ways to stay "light-hearted" or throw themselves a few big parties in difficult times. Better a party than a pogrom.

Better a light heart than one made of stone.

No comments: