Newsweek Gives the President a Fair Shake

Thanks to Irish Pennants, the Compassionate Conservative and the Anchoress for pointing me to this great Newsweek story.

President Bush was wearing “a huge smile,” but his eyes were red and he looked drained by the time he got to the last widow, Crystal Owen, a third-grade schoolteacher who had lost her husband in Iraq. “Tell me about Mike,” he said immediately. “I don’t want my husband’s death to be in vain,” she told him. The president apologized repeatedly for her husband’s death. When Owen began to cry, Bush grabbed her hands. “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he said, though his choking voice suggested that he had worries of his own. The president and the widow hugged. “It felt like he could have been my dad,” Owen recalled to NEWSWEEK. “It was like we were old friends. It almost makes me sad. In a way, I wish he weren’t the president, just so I could talk to him all the time.”

Bush routinely asks to see the families of the fallen when he visits military bases, which he does about 10 times a year. It does not appear that the White House or the military makes any effort to screen out dissenters or embittered families, though some families decline the invitation to meet with Bush. Most families encourage the president to stay the course in Iraq. “To oppose something my husband lost his life for would be a betrayal,” says Inge Colton, whose husband, Shane, died in April 2004 when his Apache helicopter was shot down over Baghdad. Bush does, however, hear plenty of complaints. He has been asked about missng medals on the returned uniform of a loved one, about financial assistance for a child going to college and about how soldiers really died when the Pentagon claimed the details were classified.

At her meeting with the president at Fort Hood, Texas, last spring, Colton says she lit into Bush for “stingy” military benefits. Her complaints caught Bush “a little off guard,” she recalls. “He tried to argue with me a little bit, but he promised he would have someone look into it.” The next day she got a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who said the White House would follow up. “My main goal was to have him look at my son, look him in the eyes and apologize,” says Colton. “I wanted him to know, to really understand who he has hurt.” She says Bush was “attentive, though not in a fake way,” and sometimes at a loss for words. “He didn’t try to overcompensate,” she says.