The things seem inextricably linked: an SUV, a man’s arm cocked out the driver’s window, Bush-Cheney 2004 bumper sticker. Message: President George W. Bush is the candidate of Manly Men. But why do Manly Men support him?
Is it because…Bush was a war hero? No, he avoided Vietnam by joining a National Guard squadron, certain never to leave the Home Front.
Is it because…Bush was a jock? Well, no. He barely played sports in school. Instead, he was a cheerleader.
Because…he dominated the business world? Again, no. Rich friends bailed him out of his oil ventures. Taxpayers bought the new stadium when he co-owned the Texas Rangers. As Byron York wrote in the conservative National Review Online, Bush’s business career is “a complicated tale of family connections, hard work, and sweet deals, topped off by a taxpayer-subsidized baseball bonanza that may leave some Republicans feeling queasy about how their candidate got rich.”
But hard work appears the least of it. According to York: “If one superimposes a timeline over the Bush career path, one sees that his rise in business coincided with his father’s rise to the highest levels of government.”
I can’t find anything in Bush’s past that should cause Manly Men to admire him. Could it be they admire his invading Iraq? But Iraq had no means to threaten us and could barely defend itself. Bush showed little mettle when an Iraqi official suggested that Bush and Saddam Hussein face off in a duel in lieu of war. Through a spokesman, Bush refused, treating the offer as if it were a joke. But if he believed it wasn’t serious, why didn’t he manfully accept the challenge, and watch Saddam chicken out?
W did, however, dress up like a fighter pilot and declare “Mission Accomplished” after Baghdad fell. It turns out that the whole photo-op was dress-up. It took place not in Iraq but safely near California. And more than 80 percent of the 1,000 US soldiers who have died in the war were killed since then.
It looks like it all comes down to talk: Bush talks tough. After 9-11, he grabbed a bullhorn (like a cheerleader) and declared from Ground Zero that he would bomb “the people who knocked down these buildings.” He said he would “smoke out” the terrorists, and get Osama bin Laden, “dead or alive.”
Bush’s specific brand of talk, his admirers say, shows that he’s “decisive.” The Bush campaign seized upon this idea and has relentlessly attacked John Kerry — a combat veteran who says he can win the Iraq war — as indecisive, a wimp, a “flip-flopper.” The worst thing about flip-flopping, apparently, is not that it might show dishonesty, but that it reveals weakness. The tactic seems to be working. The label has stuck to Kerry so much that you can buy “John Kerry flip flop sandals.”
But a look at Bush’s record reveals that HE’S a flip-flopper. Bush wanted Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” Six months later, Bush said, “I truly am not that concerned about him.” Candidate Bush said gay marriage was an issue for states to decide. As president he pushes to amend our Constitution to outlaw gay marriage nationwide. Bush opposed creating the Independent 9-11 Commission. Then, under pressure, he supported it. First he promised that we’d win the war on terror. Then last month, he said that the war is “un-winnable” ñ but the next day said it is not only winnable, but that we’re winning it. None of these flip-flops, however, has punctured the myth that Bush is “decisive.”
Apparently, the MYTH that W is manly matters more than REALITY. Perhaps Manly Men stand by him because they are so afraid of flip-flopping themselves? How else can we explain why Manly Men cheer for Bush while he wastes billions of their hard-earned dollars in an unnecessary war? Why Manly Men have cheered Bush as he burned a budget surplus into a projected $400 billion deficit? Why Manly Men salute Bush while he leaves our seaports and nuclear power plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks? Why Manly Men SUBMITTED when the Bush Administration took away their — and their wives and children’s — constitutionally based freedoms?
Being a pom-pom boy for Bush is easy, especially when all the other boys are doing it. On the other hand, citizenship is hard work. Protecting our Constitution requires vigilance. Standing up for America takes guts, especially against cowardly bullies who gang up and claim our flag as their own, jail people based on mere suspicion, and denounce anyone who disagrees as a “traitor.”
Do Manly Men have the guts to look past the rhetoric of their Cheerleader-in-Chief, and judge him on his actions?
BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law. He can be reached at email@example.com.