It's Christmastime, which means I've had a chance to shake hands with President George W. Bush for the last time before Barack Obama succeeds him. On the way into the White House press party this month, guests passed risers being constructed for the inaugural parade. The peaceful succession process is a beautiful thing, even when it means I won't be invited to next year's Christmas party. That's more than fine, especially because I received a great gift from the president this year -- more proof of his moral leadership. He's had his flaws, of course, but he's always led with an ear to his conscience and his heart, consumed with the burden of not only protecting and defending but also loving the people who are so integral to what America is, has been and will be -- and whose lives are directly and dramatically changed by decisions he makes.
A friend of mine told the president that night about how grateful she feels toward him. She's the mother of an Iraq War veteran -- one of those countless, intensely proud moms who prayed and worried about their children overseas. When she finally welcomed him back home, she knew he had seen and done things from which any mother would want to protect her son. If anything can help a mom in that situation besides faith, it's knowing that her commander in chief takes his responsibility deadly seriously. And that's a fact the troops on the ground know -- even when others in Washington shamelessly decried the war effort, the commander and sometimes even the troops.
Still, I can't imagine the pain and worry suffered by the troops and their families. I haven't experienced the sacrifice firsthand. But I sure do give thanks for all those who shed blood for the rest of us. And I sure am grateful for a president who fully appreciates that sacrifice and who fully understands his pivotal role in war, peace, stewardship and leadership. Every time I've ever seen the president over these past eight years, he's managed to talk about the keepers of the flame of freedom. Every time I've seen him give an address to military audiences, I've seen in the crowd a great respect for him and our country -- a real enthusiasm informed by experience. The respect President Bush feels for soldiers and their families is mutual, as my friend told him during these last weeks in Washington, D.C. The love is mutual, she said.