America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation's wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence.
-- Gerald R. Ford, April 23, 1975
And so the old man's body will be brought along the wide boulevards and monuments, and the shadows of the caisson will flicker off the cold marble. A lone horse will be led riderless, boots turned backwards in the stirrups and the guns will fire their salute. This is how we mourn our dead commanders in chief.
The last time we did this, the war was young and the casualty count was low. And we were burying a President who according to common legend, lifted the nation's collective spirit in the post-Vietnam era, the venerated creator of a national political movement that governed absolutely on that Washington DC day two years ago.
Just two years later, that movement is in ruins and disgrace; the Reagan revolution has been forever discredited; its formula of trading winked-at intolerance for tax-cutting power and wealth led to corruption and to the current White House disgrace. Two years ago, we buried the movement conservative, the great man who lifted the nation out of the malaise of a failed war. Two months ago, voters buried his movement. Now, we bury the moderate deal-maker who brought the troops home the last time America failed on a grand scale overseas.
Yet, the war drones on. The number rises always. The injured and maim return. And our disgraced President faces two more long years in office with no plan, no support, no movement, and no strength in his political parties. George W. Bush refuses the reality that Gerald Ford embraced, even after his neo-con wizards recanted their dishonorable spell in Vanity Fair and hung the sign of cowardice around their own, wrinkled necks.
As a nation, we refuse to join together to mourn the nearly 3,000 American men and women who have died for the neo-cons' grand adventure, for George Bush's divinely-inspired dream.
The plastic flags no longer flutter from car windshields and the magnetic Support the Troops bumper ribbons are all mangled and soiled by exhaust fumes and road grime. There is no national sacrifice; in spirit, we are all the free-spending Bush twins, tossing back Cosmos and enjoying our freedom heedless of what a roadside bomb can do to a body.
Mission Accomplished has morphed into Stay the Course, which has become the New Way Forward. The Maoist Republican phrase-makers demand lockstep mind-marching by the legions even now, even as silly as it now seems, even with their party in splintered ruins, the "movement" now synonymous with humiliation.
So they'll wheel the old man through Washington one more time and our current President will stand at attention in a smart gray suit, purse his lips and scowl. The nation will mourn, he will decree.
Let us step forward instead to honor the sacrifice instead of the ritual. As we bury the man who ended the Vietnam War, let's make his funeral the National Day of Mourning our soldiers have not received.
Nearly, 3,000 dead and no national prayer service, no national day of remembrance, no national honors. Yet all the flags will be ordered to half mast and the bands will play their mournful tunes for a moderate, mediocre national leader. Where is our sense of scale, our sense of justice, our sense of duty?
George Bush is taking his time, being a deliberate Decider; he's closeted at Camp David sketching out the alternative course. Then he will return to bury a Republican forebear who slashed his policies in a death-embargoed interview with the Power Jackal of the Washington Post.
Why not watch that long march, the line of Senators, the President with the hand over his heart and say a silent thanks for the young men and women who have died in this adventure?
Better yet, write about it. Blog about it. Use Ford's funeral dirge to play a nationwide recessional for the cost of this war. Don't mourn a 93-year-old who became President and enjoyed a quarter century of long drives and birdie putt. Mourn the young soldiers dying in Baghdad, in Anbar, in Diyala. Remember the 2990 as of today.
What better way to honor the politician who finally ordered the last generation of cannon fodder out of Southeast Asia - the one who admitted the lost cause?
UPDATE: Jim Wolcott gets off the best line on this: "A flag-draped coffin is acceptable viewing only if a dead president is inside." Indeed.