Because I Said So

Posted by Melvin Bray on October 4th, 2004 filed in Home-Training

“I decided the right action was in Iraq. My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn‘t a mistake!” —President George W. Bush

Like many of you, I was sitting there glued to my television set last Thursday evening engrossed in the first Presidential “non-debate” of the 2004 election season. I had long awaited a square-off between the Republican incumbent and his Democrat challenger. I was more than a little perturbed at the reports that actual debating had somehow been negotiated out of the 2004 Presidential Debates, but I was interested in what would become of the evening nonetheless.

Throughout the evening I remained somewhat amazed at how quickly each candidate was able to maneuver the answer to any question right back to his best stump speech catch phrases. I must admit I was also a bit annoyed at Pres. Bush’s lack of eloquence in doing so. It’s tough enough to listen to two people say the same things over and over again for an hour and a half. The least they could do is vary it up, use different words, finesse it a little.

Upon hearing for about the seventh time Pres. Bush’s derision of John Kerry’s criticism that Iraq was “the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What’s the big deal? Why is he bringing that up yet again? So what Kerry criticized the war? Isn’t that what opponents do? Why does it bother Bush so much?” And it did bother Pres. Bush a great deal. He spoke with increasing, audible and visible disdain regarding Sen. Kerry’s opposition to the war.

Then all at once it hit me. I began to reconstruct in my mind the statements Pres. Bush had made thus far about Sen. Kerry’s disparagement of the war:

My opponent says . . . the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So what‘s the message going to be: “Please join us in Iraq. We‘re in a grand diversion. Join us for a war that is the ‘wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time?’” . . . I know how these people think . . . They‘re not going to follow somebody who says, “This is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.” . . . You cannot lead the world if you do not honor the contributions of those who are with us. He called them coerced and the bribed. That‘s not how you bring people together . . . Now, my opponent says he‘s going to try to change the dynamics on the ground. Well, Prime Minister Allawi was here. He is the leader of that country. He‘s a brave, brave man. When he came, after giving a speech to the Congress, my opponent questioned his credibility. You can‘t change the dynamics on the ground if you‘ve criticized the brave leader of Iraq.

Everything suddenly seemed so clear. At different times I have believed Pres. Bush to be a tyrant, a dictator, a fascist, but in this moment of quite unexpected commonality I realized that Pres. Bush like myself is simply a daddy! I could hear in his statement about Prime Min. Allawi, how he truly feels about himself. He takes no real issue with the merits of John Kerry’s criticism—he never once in the debate offered evidence in rebuttal of Sen. Kerry’s characterization of the war—what Pres. Bush takes issue with is the criticism itself. How dare Sen. Kerry ever question Daddy’s decision to go to war?!

Now, of course, Pres. Bush’s aversion to being challenged is nothing new. It’s a matter of public record. It’s partly the reason his people worked so hard to ensure that the debate didn’t involve a third party candidate or any real debating. It’s the reason that protestor’s aren’t allowed within visual distance of any place the President appears. It’s the reason he is so adamant about preserving the unchecked powers that the Patriot Act has granted to our Executive Branch of government. Pres. Bush truly believes that he is on the side of right and as such should not have to justify himself. He has even said as much. In an interview with Bob Woodward he declared, “I’m the Commander. See, I don’t have to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

None of that was new. What was new for me was that—for the first time—Pres. Bush actually made some sense to me. In that brief moment I understood where he was coming from. He’s a daddy. As a daddy myself, I understand the daddy mentality when I see it (“Great minds…” and all that).

In my home, I like to think that my word is law. I love that line from the movie Crimson Tide, “We are here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.” To a daddy’s mind that’s exactly how a home should run. On days I’m feeling especially good about myself I strut around my home issuing orders, fully expecting that all who hear will fall in line because “Daddy” has spoken. Now, mind you, we call that attitude “entitlement” which is just another word for pride, and the Good Book reminds us that “pride comes before a fall.” Besides, my daughter is not quite 2 yet so she can barely understand me (but looks at me with the deepest pity in her eyes). The young folks I work with, who are often in my home, are teenagers so half of what I say barely rates for them. And my wife… well, she’s my wife. Thus, even in my home, the one place I want to believe that “because I said so” is generous as far as explanations go, even as Daddy I find myself explaining certain things, if for no other reason, to ensure that things around the house are done on the strength of relationship and not simply out of fear.

As surprising as it is for me, I can understand Pres. Bush’s “Daddy mindset”. But George W. Bush is President of the American people; he’s not our daddy. This means Pres. Bush has no right to resent Sen. Kerry’s criticism of his decision to invade Iraq. That’s what members of a democracy are supposed to do—challenge each other to be better today than we were yesterday. Even as John Kerry did his fellow soldiers fighting in Vietnam no disservice by opposing that war and telling the truth about its atrocities, he does his fellow citizens (even those presently fighting) no disservice by speaking out against this current war in Iraq. If anything, speaking out renews our hope that democracy in America is alive, even if not quite as well as we would like it to be.

For me, it’s just basic home-training. Momma always said, “The world doesn’t owe you anything.” Who would ever step out of his home expecting that he were going to be treated with the same deference that his family gives him? When kids do this, we tell them they need to get over themselves. What should we tell parents—who double as world leaders—who do it as well?


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