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Bush asks for my help

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President Bush has apparently decided to run for re-election. I know this because I received a letter recently from him asking my financial help to "get my campaign off to a good start."

Although I suppose he didn't personally compose this missive, I was nonetheless flattered to receive it, and I tried to pay close attention to his choice of words as an indicator of his priorities for the nation. He twice mentions the importance of "grassroots" support. I guess this is because he doesn't want to be beholden to big business in his fund-raising.

The fact that he uses the words "compassion" or "compassionate" four times in the letter shows where his heart is. He particularly wants "to change the culture from one that too often said, 'if it feels good, do it,' to a responsibility [sic] society where people know they are accountable ... for loving a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves." (I hope he's not being literal here; we all got enough of that with Clinton.)

I was a bit surprised to read about his "agenda." I thought "agendas" were schemes hatched by people like gays or gun-control advocates to undermine American institutions and values. Not that any thinking person could object to the president's "two big goals": expanding peace and freedom (militarily) and helping our country become "more compassionate and prosperous."

Everyone knows that the president is a religious guy. Most of us recognize the important role that religion played in his personal struggles with alcohol and cocaine. More power to him. Sometimes, though, I wish he wouldn't say that "we're all sinners" the way he did the other day, but I guess he's not advocating a particular religious basis for morality. That, after all, would be uncomfortably similar to those evil terrorists.

Anyway, the letter that the president sent me did contain a couple paragraphs in which he goes on about "a painting I selected for the oval office [that] portrays a man on horseback, leading a charge up a steep hill." The painting is cleverly titled "A Charge to Keep," based on a Methodist hymn of similar name. I take it that this is the way the president sees himself.

Well, as you can imagine, receiving such a clear statement of the president's intentions for a second term made me want to immediately reach for my checkbook so that I can be among the first to send "a strong vote of confidence" in his leadership. But, I thought I ought to respond in a more personal way than just sending back the form with my $1,000 contribution:

Dear President Bush,

Thanks for your letter. I'm eager to be a part of your grassroots campaign. I just had a few questions:

1. According to news reports, you have collected $34 million in July alone for the 2004 campaign, on your way, I understand, to $200 million. Why do you need what little I have to give?

2. Are you concerned that you are the first president since Herbert Hoover to show a net decrease in jobs during your administration?

3. Karen Hughes ghostwrote your autobiography and titled it A Charge to Keep. You then ghostwrote her autobiography and called it To Keep a Charge. I get them mixed up. Is this related somehow to that painting in your office?

4. When you say in your letter "I have worked to bring dignity and honor to the White House ..." are you thinking about your State of the Union misstatement concerning Saddam's attempts to get uranium from Africa?

5. Your letter talks about your attempts "to change the tone in Washington." How's that going so far?

6. How did we go from a $236 billion budget surplus to a projected $400 billion deficit since you took office? Are tax cuts really the best way to deal with this?

7. When you made that campaign appearance on the aircraft carrier a couple months ago to announce the end of the war, I noticed some signs that said "Mission Accomplished." Could you refresh my memory about what the mission was exactly?

8. Why do you have so few press conferences, only nine since you took office? I understand your dad had more than 60 by this point in his administration.

9. Are the 1 billion dollars and 7 American lives that we are spending in Iraq each week making us more secure? Are we working on another mission?

10. Where are those weapons of mass destruction?

Thanks for all you're doing. Have a great "working" vacation in Texas.

Gordon Livingston is a West Point graduate who served as an Army doctor in Vietnam. He became an antiwar activist, and is now a psychiatrist in Columbia, Md.

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