How Bush Deals with Grieving Families

Newsweek has an interesting story about how President Bush deals with grieving families. You can find the full story over here. Here are two excerpts that I found interesting.

“Bush likes to play the resolute War Leader, and he has never been known for admitting mistakes or regret. But that does not mean that he is free of doubt. For the past three years, Bush has been living in two worlds—unwavering and confident in public, but sometimes stricken in private. Bush’s meetings with widows like Crystal Owen offer a rare look inside that inner, private world.

Last week, at his ranch in Texas, he took his usual line on Iraq, telling reporters that the United States would not pull out its troops until Iraq was able to defend itself. While he said he “sympathized” with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, he refused to visit her peace vigil, set up in a tent in a drainage ditch outside the ranch, and sent two of his aides to talk to her instead.

Privately, Bush has met with about 900 family members of some 270 soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The conversations are closed to the press, and Bush does not like to talk about what goes on in these grieving sessions, though there have been hints. An hour after he met with the families at Fort Bragg in June, he gave a hard-line speech on national TV. When he mentioned the sacrifice of military families, his lips visibly quivered.”


The most telling—and moving—picture of Bush grieving with the families of the dead was provided by Rachel Ascione, who met with him last summer. Her older brother, Ron Payne, was a Marine who had been killed in Afghanistan only a few weeks before Ascione was invited to meet with Bush at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Fla.

Ascione wasn’t sure she could restrain herself with the president. She was feeling “raw.” “I wanted him to look me in the eye and tell me why my brother was never coming back, and I wanted him to know it was his fault that my heart was broken,” she recalls. The president was coming to Florida, a key swing state, in the middle of his re-election campaign. Ascione was worried that her family would be “exploited” by a “phony effort to make good with people in order to get votes.”

Ascione and her family were gathered with 18 other families in a large room on the air base. The president entered with some Secret Service agents, a military entourage and a White House photographer. “I’m here for you, and I will take as much time as you need,” Bush said. He began moving from family to family. Ascione watched as mothers confronted him: “How could you let this happen? Why is my son gone?” one asked. Ascione couldn’t hear his answer, but soon “she began to sob, and he began crying, too. And then he just hugged her tight, and they cried together for what seemed like forever.”

Ascione’s family was one of the last Bush approached. Ascione still planned to confront him, but Bush disarmed her in an almost uncanny way. Ascione is just over five feet; her late brother was 6 feet 7. “My whole life, he used to put his hand on the top of my head and just hold it there, and it drove me crazy,” she says. When Bush saw that she was crying, he leaned over and put his hand on the top of her head and drew her to him. “It was just like my brother used to do,” she says, beginning to cry at the memory.

Before Bush left the meeting, he paused in the middle of the room and said to the families, “I will never feel the same level of pain and loss you do. I didn’t lose anyone close to me, a member of my family or someone that I love. But I want you to know that I didn’t go into this lightly. This was a decision that I struggle with every day.”

As he spoke, Ascione could see the grief rising through the president’s body. His shoulder slumped and his face turned ashen. He began to cry and his voice choked. He paused, tried to regain his composure and looked around the room. “I am sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said.”

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  1. Mirty August 18, 2005 at 11:41 am

    Disabling anonymous commenting (an option in Blogger) will get rid of the spam. (Worked for me anyway.)

    Right now, I am just incensed about the Cindy Sheehan situation. Not so much her at this point, but the conglomeration of people hooking onto her and promoting themselves around her.

    You should see the scene at Crawford. It’s a festival of vultures. People here in Austin say things like, “I’m going to Crawford for the demonstration” — they don’t even know or care what they are demonstrating about or why. It’s just some big lolapalooza.

  2. Jack's Shack August 18, 2005 at 5:22 am


    I am not a big fan of people who exploit their grief this way and I do feel like she has gone above and beyond what is reasonable.


    I’ll have to pay more attention when I delete comments. Thanks.

  3. Bad Maria August 18, 2005 at 4:45 am

    i agree – I keep checking thinking you might or someone else might be actually responding to something I’ve brought up – not that it ever happens….hmmm, I guess I’ll make my comment and check in a few days to see what your other posts are….

  4. Stephen (aka Q) August 17, 2005 at 11:48 pm

    When you delete comments, you should be presented with an option to “delete forever”. If you do so, the deleted comment disappears completely, so people won’t wonder whether you censor half of the comments you receive.

  5. Jack's Shack August 17, 2005 at 6:47 pm


    It has been spam city here. I delete spam on a regular basis. Comments fall into a different category. Unless they are patently offensive I usually let them stay.

  6. dorothy rothschild August 17, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    You getting a lot of spam to day, Jack, or just trolls (I hope it’s not fellow lefties leaving nasty comments)?

  7. Sanora August 17, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    The interesting thing about Cindy Sheehan is that President Bush did already meet with her face to face last year. Her family has sent out a letter saying that although they sympathize with her they don’t approve of what she’s doing because Bush did take the time to meet with her and it was very much as has been described in this post. They feel she is denigrating the memory of her son (their brother, grandson, nephew).

    I can’t say that I support the war or Bush in general but I agree that at this point we can’t just pull out. It’s a conundrum.

  8. michael August 17, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Very nice posting Jack.

    I like how you layed it out in simple terms and let it speak by itself.

    I am undecided about President Bush right now. Was Iraq a mistake? I am unsure considering Sadam’s butchering of thousands of people.

    Pull the troops out now? Let more chaos erupt in the Middle East would be the only alternative to a vary shaky situation that could cause even further problems in the future. So let Iraq build a democracy in its own way. Just let the United Nations be able to provide support if called upon by the new Iraqi government.

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