Skip to comments.George W. in the Flight Suit: Continuing a Precedent of the first George W.
Posted on 05/08/2003 7:54:48 AM PDT by xsysmgr
It's driving liberals nuts the image of President George W. Bush in a flight suit on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. There he was, slapping officers on the back, posing for pictures, joking with sailors and aviators. You can bet your bottom dollar these images will be used during the 2004 campaign they'll make Bush harder to beat. But those who are complaining loudest, who are fixated on the political use of the images, are apparently deaf to their historical resonance.
Historically, Americans tend to elect presidents with military experience, the more heroic the better. Consider:
Of the 42 men who have been president, 27 served in the armed forces (64 percent).
Of the 27 presidents who were in the armed forces, at least 12 served with distinction (Washington, Monroe, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H. W. Bush).
Of the 12 who served with distinction, at least 8 became heroes in their day. (Most lists would include Washington, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.)
The officer corps of the Union Army proved to be a veritable farm club for presidents: five generals (Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison) and one major (McKinley) ascended to the White House.
This trend of Americans electing commanders-in-chief who have been veterans has strengthened over time. Since World War II, there have been 11 presidents. Ten of them are veterans. The exception: William Jefferson Clinton.
Against this background, liberals are now saying there should be a wall of separation between commanders-in-chief and their prior military experience. Recently the Senate's senior Democrat, Robert Byrd, blasted Bush for flying out to the Lincoln in a fighter jet. He denounced the action as "self-congratulatory" and "flamboyant showmanship." (Byrd is just jealous that Bush's showmanship comes off better than Byrd's in Gods and Generals.)
Over in the House, Rep. Henry Waxman, in flamboyant contradiction to his entire career, is suddenly concerned about government spending: How much did Bush's flight cost the Treasury?
More ominously, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman warns that "Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition" when he donned a flight suit; that his "Top Gun act" was "scary"; that American presidents just don't wear uniforms or military accoutrements. (Never mind that the president had to wear a flight suit to go up in an S-3B Viking jet, and that after mixing and mingling with the sailors, he got out of his flight suit and put on civilian clothes for his public address.) [posted on FR at Man on Horseback.]
Let's test Krugman's assertion by turning to the greatest authorities in matters presidential, our Founding Fathers. Consider the Father of Our Country. Our nation's first commander-in-chief was certainly alive to the fact that everything he did could set a precedent. Washington was as image conscious as they come. Shortly after the first Inauguration, he wrote: "I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent."
There is no question that Washington was committed to civilian control of the armed forces. He knew that our experiment in self-government could fail if he had a serious lapse of judgment. The new republic could falter if he became militaristic. So how did our image-conscious first president handle his military past? Well, the first thing he did was sport a sword at his inauguration. During a subsequent crisis, he squeezed into his old uniform and met troops on a mission to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. Finally most brazen of all he strapped on his sword to address Congress. (Tom Daschle, take note!) None of these sartorial details is conjecture; each of the events is well documented and was illustrated by contemporaries.
By the way, Washington preferred to be addressed as "General," even when he served as president. And his official portrait, by Gilbert Stuart, depicts that same darned sword, his hand on it no less. (Egads!)
Another Founding Father merged the presidency and military in even more dramatic fashion. As Rick Brookhiser points out, during the War of 1812, when the situation looked bleak for Americans, President James Madison rode out to Bladensburg, Maryland, and personally oversaw the early stages of the battle against invading British soldiers. It was the first and only time in U.S. history that a sitting president exercised his constitutional authority in battle. This, mind you, by the Father of Our Constitution.
An interesting aside: not far from Madison at Bladensburg was his secretary of state, James Monroe. The future president donned his old revolutionary uniform to lead troops into battle. To get the full impact of that historical scene, imagine Secretary of State Colin Powell next to President Bush in combat.
There are other instances in which presidential politics mixed with the military, and never did they raise the dust liberals are kicking up today. For example, in June of 1952, when General Eisenhower began to seek the presidency in earnest, he wore his Army uniform and even paid a courtesy call to President Truman in his duds.
In historical perspective, when George W. put on a flight suit to fly out to the Lincoln, he was not creating a precedent; he was continuing one. Admittedly, he has far to go before he matches the specter of the first George. (What is the 21st-century equivalent of strapping on a sword wielding an M-16?)
On the talk shows, Bush-bashers haven't helped their case any in fact, they've looked monumentally small. Not one of them has criticized the Democratic politicians who flew out to the Lincoln in a helicopter following the president's visit. (How much did that cost?) Not one of them has said why the president shouldn't act like what the Constitution requires him to be: commander-in-chief. Not one of them has conceded that the attacks on Bush reveal a party in desperation. Last night on MSNBC, Chris Mathews rhetorically asked: "Why are the Democrats so stupid to attack the best presidential picture in years?"
Desperate as liberals are to make President Bush look like a dunce or a danger to the republic, their criticism won't stick. His tail-hook landing on the Lincoln elicited no hue-and-cry from the heartland. On the contrary, the American people were thrilled to see their president give a victory speech to the perfect audience the people who achieved the victory. Bush genuinely connects with our fighting men and women, and they with him.
That's what galls his detractors. Democrats who distrust the Pentagon, liberals who loathe the military, Bush-bashers who still can't get over Election 2000 all these types were on the sidelines during a great American moment; they were not at the victory party on the Lincoln. It slays them that this president has come into his own; that he has grown as a leader in the war on terrorism; that his instincts on Iraq were proven right; and that the majority of Americans are behind him. The image on the carrier conveys all that is strong and hopeful and confident in the man.
And it's driving liberals nuts.
Gleaves Whitney is editor of a book of wartime speeches by American presidents, to be published later this year by Rowman & Littlefield.
All together now - somebody call a waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambulance!!!
The Dems are shrieking, screeching hyenas who have totally lost all sense of reality. Look at who they're sending out to criticize - Nostrildamus Waxman, "Sheets" Byrd, Whiny-Voiced Conyers, and Shrieking "Mad Max" Waters. Could they have ever conjured up any less attractive faces to slam our President?
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