Many Bush-haters have been attacking Bush for not attending servicemen's funerals and for refusing to meet with Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq and who is camping out outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. But Bush has already met with Sheehan once and has met with many family members, off camera and without publicity, as this week's Newsweek story makes clear.
Did Franklin Roosevelt attend the funerals of any of the more than 300,000 Americans who died on active duty in World War II? I doubt it. But Roosevelt, like Bush, did meet quietly with family members of those who died. And he met, as Bush has done, with wounded servicemen.
In Hawaii in 1944, writes Hugh Gregory Gallagher in FDR's Splendid Deception, Roosevelt
took the opportunity to visit the many hospital wards filled with wounded American men, including Japanese-American casualties wounded in Europe. The Secret Service advised Roosevelt not to see these Nisei soldiers on the grounds that one of them might prove disloyal to the United States and threaten the life of the oresident. FDR's one-word response to this was, "Nonsense!"
In the past, at hospitals, as at other public gatherings, Roosevelt had allowed himself to be seen in but two ways: standing or seated in an open car. Now in the presence of wounded boys the age of his own sons, FDR did a remarkable thing. He had himself lifted from his car into his wheelchair. And he had himself, President and Commander-in-Chief, wheeled on his wheelchair through the wards of amputees. He rolled slowly so that they could see him. He was as crippled as they were, and he wanted them to see that.
Roosevelt understood what these men were undergoing. He had gone through it himself. He was, by all reports, deeply moved by what he saw, and so were the men. The President had heard specifically of one man who had amputated his own legs in order to save his life. As he rolled up to this man's bed, Roosevelt said, "I understand you are something of a surgeon." And then, after a pause, "I'm not a bad orthopedist myself."
George W. Bush seems to be doing his duty in the same spirit. Let John McCain, speaking on Fox News Sunday, be the witness. "Look, I've been with the president of the United States when he has met with the families of those brave young men and women who have sacrificed. I have seen his compassion, I have seen his love, I have seen his concern. So any charge of insensitivity or uncaring on the part of this president, is absolutely false. He cares and he grieves. . . . I have seen him, I have seen his care, and I have seen him grieve. And I'm sure he wouldn't like to hear me say this, but I saw him afterwards. He was very, very grieved. And that's the job of the president of the United States. He fully appreciates the tragedy of the loss of these brave young Americans."
Question: How much coverage would the press have given a World War II-era Cindy Sheehan who camped outside Hyde Park or Warm Springs demanding to meet with President Roosevelt?