How Bush Impressed a West Point Cadet

This editorial is the sole opinion of its author and is not endorsed by the United States Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Military Academy ("West Point"), nor does it constitute or reflect an official opinion of the same.

In the midst of the 2008 presidential campaign, I discovered that my own political sensibilities had been slowly shifting towards a state of apolitical apathy. After non-stop news coverage, mudslinging, politicking, and blatantly empty promises, I realized that I was not particularly enthusiastic about the upcoming election. Politics -- which has occupied my interest ever since my parents taught me the meaning of the word "propaganda" fifteen years ago -- no longer held the appeal it once did. If anything, it has made me a more cautious skeptic when I hear anyone speaking at any length about any national policy.

Therefore, it was with some measure of reserve that I anticipated a certain meeting on Tuesday, December 9, 2008. The week prior, the dean's department -- and by extension, most of my instructors -- were somewhat flustered by a sudden change in class schedules and lesson plans. "Something's happening on Tuesday and I'm not sure if I'm allowed to tell you," they cautiously whispered to us. "Someone big is coming." I thought I knew the secret already -- the presidents of the Patriot League universities were scheduled to come to West Point for a conference the following Monday, December 8. But surely the administration wouldn't upset a week's worth of classes because a few university presidents showed up at the Academy -- even the secretary of the Army doesn't draw that much fanfare.

So on the Friday prior to the December 6 Army-Navy game -- lo and behold -- the tight-lipped officers finally spilled their secrets: our surprise visitor would be the president of the United States.

Now it's no secret that George W. Bush was unpopular; it's also no secret that he was probably more popular within the ranks of the military's officer corps than in any other sub-group of American citizens. Thus, his last-minute appearance at the Academy, a mere month prior to the inauguration of the next president, was somewhat unexpected and met with a mixture of unbridled enthusiasm and suspicion. Was he trying to make a "state of the presidency" address at the Academy? Was his appearance at the 2008 Army-Navy game another move at garnering support from the military, perhaps to build resistance to what many Republicans feared would be an abandonment of the Iraq reconstruction by soon-to-be-President Barack Obama?

On the bus ride down to Philadelphia, the president's pending visit was a favorite topic of conversation. When he appeared on the field, all of the energy we normally reserve for taunting Navy instead focused on getting his attention. Cadets leaned over the concrete railings, almost falling onto the playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field, all in an attempt to win a presidential handshake. For the second time in four years, the corps shouted, albeit not as wholeheartedly as in 2004, "George Bush rocket! George Bush rocket!" while trying to convince the commander-in-chief to perform the traditional West Point football cheer.

Bush, of course, declined -- he still had to sit with the Navy fans during the second half of the game.

After suffering another ignominious defeat at the hands of our archrivals, one bright spot in the calendar remained: the president's Tuesday visit. At first, the plan was to move classes around his arrival time, brief all the cadets and faculty at once in Eisenhower Hall, and then dismiss us to continue our normal routine. However, to the surprise of the faculty, the president's advisors returned the following Monday with a new plan: he would brief the underclassmen in Eisenhower and the soon-to-be-lieutenants (the "firsties" or seniors) in Thayer Hall's Robinson Auditorium during a separate meeting. This second meeting came with some strings -- only firsties would be permitted to attend. The Academy's administration knew that the first class, by itself, could not fill all of the auditorium's seats, and in a move to ensure that no seat would be left empty for the president, mandated attendance for several of the academic departments.

The president's staff demurred once more. President Bush's instructions were explicit: only senior cadets would be permitted to attend. Not only that, he wanted as much time with us as he needed. The Academy brass then made the only logical move and canceled all Tuesday classes.

Needless to say, we were positively gleeful. Class here doesn't get canceled for anything; most living Academy graduates would not be able to recall such a thing as a snow day.