William F. Buckley

Stolberg continues: "Mr. Bush was asked last week if he had experienced any pain, given his own acknowledgment that things in Iraq had not gone according to plan. He spun the question toward the military families' pain -- 'My heart breaks' for them, he said -- before turning it back to his own: 'The most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives.'"

It isn't possible to leach from the mind the human element that travels from the executive order to the wounded private. But it should be possible to disdain as contemptible public references to it. To approach a president at a press conference and ask him to explore, step by step, (1) his act as commander in chief, and (2) the final moments of men who obey his orders in a foreign land is to abuse the powers of the press. A civil society supposes -- has to suppose -- that normal reactions affect our leaders. But there is the phenomenon of such as General Patton in high glee as heads are smashed and bombs explode. It can be said to be human to take pleasure from the theatricalization of war.

"Being commander in chief," writes Ms. Stolberg, "means learning to cope with stress. Abraham Lincoln went to the theater to relax. Franklin D. Roosevelt, paralyzed from polio, lulled himself to sleep by imagining himself as a boy sledding down a snowy slope at Hyde Park."

It isn't right to ask a president, or his wife, how they manage to take their minds away from the bloody frontiers of national life.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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