May 1, 2003
JUST WATCHED BUSH’S SPEECH FROM THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I’m not crazy about it. The speech was actually good, stressing the changes in warfare that technology has brought (“the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent” was a good line, and so was “men and women need liberty like they need food and air”), and the setting was fine: he was telling these guys what they’ve been fighting for, which is a President’s job. Overall, a better-than-average performance.
The jet-pilot arrival, on the other hand, rang false. The whole leader-who-flies-jets thing seems, somehow, Third World to me. People say that it’ll make great campaign footage in 2004, but I actually doubt it — or at least, I think it will backfire if they do too much of this. The President is commander-in-chief, but he’s a civilian leader, and Americans want him to be one.
UPDATE: A lot of email in response to this post already. Most readers seem to disagree with me:
The jet landing didn’t ring hollow at all to me. On the contrary: if a 33-year-old man may be permitted to use this phrase, it was cool.
Why? Well, why not? There was nothing false about it, because a carrier landing is no walk in the park. But I don’t think it was a stunt. Bush is a piolt, and I’m sure he loved getting behind the controls for a brief moment – it was an expression of who Bush is, not a PR stunt.
Well, that’s not my impression. I’ll be interested to see how it shakes out. Donald Sensing has a transcript of the speech.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, Jeff Jarvis thinks I’m wrong, too. Well, hell, maybe I am. But I still didn’t like the jet-pilot thing. But reader Gavin Kirk says:
I read your analysis of Bush landing on the U.S.S Lincoln opining it was “too third world”. I think you miss what I saw. I saw a guy having some fun after what must have been 3 hellish months of tension as he navigated our country through war. My initial reaction was not all that different from yours, but as I saw him eagerly walk the flight deck shaking hands and having his photo taken I saw a smile on him that I had not seen for a while. That made me feel good.
I’m getting a lot of mail like this, for whatever it’s worth. And another reader suggests that it was sending a message:
The landing thing was supposed to be third world, its for Al Jazeera and Co. Bush is remembering to talk to the rest of the world here, its his bit for those that don’t dig the nuances of 1st world foreign policy. Quick translation: I’m the “swingingest” alpha male on the block, all that stuff about American cowardice by Al Queda, et al was as accurate as Bagdad Bob’s press conferences.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Sheesh, everybody so far thinks I’m wrong about this. I still say that this is right out, though.
YET MORE: Now Sullivan says he’s getting hatemail over agreeing with me from people who call him anti-Bush and anti-American. I didn’t really get any email that took quite that harsh a tone (the closest was “you don’t get it because you’re a professor,” which is dumb, but not terribly mean).
Nick Denton emails that this is the kind of thing you can expect from a country that elects ex-generals as President. But that’s actually my point: when Eisenhower was President, he made it very clear that he was an ex-General. I don’t object to Bush’s taking a ride on a jet, which I’d do too if I could. And I’m sure that the troops love it. It’s the blurring of the lines that bothers me here. The President is the civilian commander-in-chief of the military, not a part of the military himself. (Clinton, you may recall, tried to argue otherwise in order to use the Soldiers and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act to stall off the Paula Jones suit, and was quite properly laughed out of court.) Yeah, it’s not a big deal — but it will be if he does it very often.