Humility important for president

By David Conard

Cindy Sheehan waited for President George W. Bush in the blistering Crawford, Texas sun this month. She waited nearly two weeks for an explanation why her 24-year-old soldier son was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

Bush met her two months after her son’s death. But he won’t meet her now.

How Bush handles a grief-stricken mother, and the difficult war her son was killed in, is vital.

It is vital to us in Illinois because 76 of our citizens have died, according to a CNN casualty count.

To find out if Bush is doing well, one can look at history.

Another Republican president had to deal with rebellion, mobs of anti-war protesters rioting in major cities, thousands of grieving mothers and even terrorists destroying a major museum in New York City.

That president was Abraham Lincoln, who was troubled by all the young men killed in his war.

“Lincoln’s anguish over the war dead is well-known; he walked the White House floor every night,” NIU assistant history professor Rose Feurer wrote in an e-mail.

Lincoln’s heartache is exposed in a letter he sent to another mother, Lydia Bixby of Boston, who lost five sons in battle.

In the letter, Lincoln wrote, “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.”

What shows in Lincoln’s words is his humility; his knowledge of his own inadequacy to comfort this woman. History has marked Lincoln for this humility.

Bush seems less humble. In an April 2004 press conference, Bush was asked by several reporters to cite his biggest mistake since Sept. 11?

He couldn’t think of an answer.

Bush wanted to go into Iraq because he thought Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction – then none were found.

A little humility is good for a leader. As Lincoln biographer William E. Barton wrote, “Every truly great man recognizes his own limitations; Lincoln was painfully aware of them.”

Wisdom comes from humility.

A person who knows their shortcomings but still is in a position of great responsibility will soon learn caution, forbearance and sound judgment. Otherwise, he or she will lose their ability to lead.

But Bush seems comfortable with (or unaware of) all his mistakes.

That’s not the only thing which is different. There is also the time element.

Lincoln’s letter is beautifully written and must have taken him several hours at a time when he was worked to exhaustion running a war.

This August, Bush had almost two weeks to meet with Sheehan but chose not to. He should have had time; he was vacationing at his ranch.

Bush found time to ride with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. I can see why. Why should he meet with a heartbroken mother when he could be riding with a champion cyclist?

Even fellow Republican and Vietnam War veteran Rep. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is quoted in a Friday CNN article saying Sheehan “deserves some consideration, and I think that should have been done right from the beginning.”

That’s one major difference between the two presidents. A humble Lincoln spent time trying to comfort Bixby. Bush, with his callousness and hubris, left Sheehan to sit in the baking sun.

What makes a good war president? Ask a mother.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.