No basting Bush for going to Vietnam

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Recently, the writer of a letter to the editor lumped me together with what he called "Bush haters" at the paper, hurting my feelings, such as they are.

Just to set the record straight, I am not a Bush hater. And in a week when so many turkeys are being basted, I thought I would prove that proposition by serving you, the hungry readers, a delectable pro-Bush dish with all the trimmings (in my recipe, mashed facts with irony and sarcasm stuffing).

In order that you do not think ill of my gravy, I must admit that I am not a Bush admirer either, so the letter writer was half right, as so many letter writers are.

I will further admit that my skin creeps every time I watch Mr. Bush on TV, but that merely indicates a very fastidious epidermis. It's not like I have an insane hatred of the president. Just because you can't stand a person doesn't mean you are sufficiently bothered to hate him.

Indeed, I am persuaded that Mr. Bush has many fine qualities, including being kind to children and dogs. (Why, sometimes the dogs write me e-mails telling me so.)

I also admire his continuing determination to master the English language. As soon as he grasps that syntax is not "sin tax," he will surely succeed. (Mr. Bush famously dislikes sin and taxes both; for my part, I think it is a shame to save money and then not use it to have any fun.)

My attitude to Mr. Bush is that hate is a very strong emotion and it shouldn't be wasted on politicians. When it comes to hate, I have my standards.

Yes, his administration has made this nation reviled by much of the world, it has spent money like a drunken sailor, led the vital pursuit of terrorists into a cul-de-sac called Iraq, ridden roughshod over constitutional protections and been contemptuous of the environment, but I agree with my critics that it would be awfully picky and irrational to hate the president for this.

After all, we all know that it's not his fault. He comes from a privileged family and went to some of the most exclusive schools in the country. No wonder he has no grasp of reality.

As it happens, Mr. Bush has done something in recent days of which I heartily approve: He went to Vietnam.

As a Vietnam veteran myself, I am not here to tell you that it was about time. If I had been given the opportunity to fly jets in Texas during the time of the Vietnam War, as Mr. Bush did, I would have jumped at the chance.

I don't reproach Mr. Bush at all. As the old saying has it, they also serve who but stand and wait. The young Mr. Bush stood at attention, he waited, then he waited some more, and finally he got tired of waiting and sort of wandered off without a word being said. In the meantime, he saved Texas from the Reds and presumably flew over some fields and woke up some cattle.

I am glad of the president's trip to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City because Vietnam, back in the day, was all about reality and the reminders of that time can still teach a life lesson to those who are open to it. Ah, you may say, there's the rub.

But having been back twice since the war, I can say that there's no escaping the ironies in booming, present-day Vietnam, even if you are a president who seeks the common touch by appearing a couple of bricks shy of a load, or, as they say in more refined circles, a couple of Republicans short of a country club.

While Mr. Bush sought to avoid comparisons between the Iraq morass and the Vietnam quagmire on his visit, he managed a few inanities for the sake of his fans. He said that Vietnam's progress gave him hope for Iraq and that the lasting lesson of America's defeat more than three decades was that now "we'll succeed unless we quit." Actually, Vietnam succeeded after we quit, but hey! Can't hate a man just because he is historically confused.

The best moment of the trip was when the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference were gathered together wearing colorful Vietnamese "ao dai" silk tunics.

In the picture run by The New York Times, Mr. Bush is whispering something to Russian President Vladmir Putin, both of them looking fetching in blue. In front, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in pink with a traditional hat, looking apprehensive, as if some clown is about to descend and give her a back rub. For all the world, it could be the family picture at a gay wedding.

All in all, a Happy Thanksgiving indeed.


Reg Henry can be reached at rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.


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