The final chapter in President Bush's staged aircraft carrier publicity events
Senior White House correspondent Helen Thomas penned a sad commentary in the waning days of the failed presidency of George W. Bush. She titled her article, "History Cannot Save Him." In her article Thomas makes a prediction regarding the 43rd president's legacy: "They say that journalism is the first draft of history. So I am going to predict that those future historians will not deal kindly with the Bush presidency." But the President begged to differ: "Not to worry, Bush says he isn't concerned about how history will view his militant eight years in the White House."[i]
Not to Worry. This makes one wonder what Dubya and his political handlers have up their sleeves. For his final act, does Bush believe that he is going to rewrite history by using the same "perception management" sleight of hand that got him into the White House in the first place? Does he actually have a plan in the works at this time to salvage the Bush family name?
When presiding over the commissioning ceremony of America's newest aircraft carrier, CNN-77, President George W. Bush characterized the ship as a gift to its namesake, his father and 41st President of the United States of America George H.W. Bush. "What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed?" asked President Bush from aboard the Navy's newest ship. "Well, an aircraft carrier... It's the perfect gift for an old Navy flier - 1,092 feet of flattop."[ii]
This bothered me. As a concerned former Naval aviator, I had written to the Armed Services Committees of both the House and the Senate before the event encouraging Congress to change the name of the vessel to something other than "Bush," out of concern for the well being of the pilots and crew who will be stationed on the carrier. What I found peculiar was Dubya's use of the word "gift." Since Navy ships are paid for by taxpayer dollars and owned by the country as a whole, how could a warship be considered a "gift" to any one individual? It was only after reflecting on investigative journalist Russ Baker's work in his new book Family of Secrets, The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America that it dawned on me what the President was referring to. In his book, Baker persuasively documents Karl Rove's construct of a "legend" for Dubya Bush[iii]. Although the religious conversion ploy worked well enough to get him into office, Dubya's subsequent missteps created the need for a second round of damage control - one that would manufacture a more flattering legacy for the country's 43rd President. Bush's handlers had obviously taken in the movie "Top Gun" and realized the unprecedented opportunity the aircraft carrier afforded image makers. In the film Tom Cruise, after wasting the "bad guys" in an aerial dogfight, is greeted to a hero's welcome by his shipmates upon landing on the flight deck of his aircraft carrier. The impact of this film on the Country cannot be over emphasized. In the aftermath of the film's release applications to attend my alma mater, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, increased more than ten fold. According to The Celluloid President: Images of Presidential Leadership in Hollywood Movies "The image Bush conveyed [by impersonating a Navy pilot] was carefully designed to both bolster and capitalize on his newly-assumed role as a wartime president... This...Bush-as-fighter-pilot display" represents...a phenomenon that Bruce Miroff has termed ‘the presidential spectacle'".[iv] But according to the New York Times the spectacle was backfiring on the Navy Carrier Pilot Impersonator as "...criticism (was forthcoming) from Democrats on Capitol Hill who said Mr. Bush had indulged in a political stunt that demeaned the military. Some said Mr. Bush could have arrived by helicopter or small cargo plane without the flight suit (incorporating the rolled up sock bulge so admired by G. Gordon Liddy) and helmet, and that his decision to make a ''Top Gun''-style entrance had turned the carrier into a campaign prop." "I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw," Senator Byrd commented on the Senate floor.[v] Although the contrived "Mission Accomplished" fiasco backfired on him, Dubya's handlers never lost sight of the power of the aircraft carrier to bestow hero image status on an undeserving politician. They were in fact determined to "get it right" the next time they employed this technique.
After reading Russ Baker's conclusions it occurred to me that that "next time" opportunity to employ an aircraft carrier in a PR stunt might be for the purpose of salvaging Dubya's father's reputation. Remember that Poppy Bush had reason for concern about his own legacy as well as Dubya. During his political heyday George H.W. Bush was not known by the "handle" or "call sign" typically assigned to a hero aviator. "Have Half George" was nowhere referred to deferentially as "Maverick," "Iceman," "Flack," or "Ace." This raised the specter of Dubya's "gift" of an aircraft carrier being part and parcel of an effort to reinvent his father George H.W. Bush, "the Wimp," as George H.W. Bush, the "hero Fighter Pilot"? About this time right wing talk radio show hosts began "mistakenly" referring to Poppy Bush as having been a carrier "fighter pilot" in World War II. The timing of the aircraft carrier commissioning event also seems to suggest such a ploy, since it had to be done before W. loses his grip on the reigns of power. It is telling that the commissioning ceremony was held prematurely, just days before Dubya leaves office, even though the ship will not be completed or deployed for several more months. Staging another aircraft carrier PR stunt of this nature seems to indicate that the gift Dubya was giving his father was not the ship itself--it was the gift of a counterfeit legacy, a makeover of his father's less than stellar image.
Contesting the Wimp Factor:
According to George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, by Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin:
George H.W. Bush detractor William Loeb (the outspoken publisher of the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire), hated Bush and worked doggedly for his defeat in 1980. Loeb had said about him: "hypocrite...double-standard morality, involved up to his neck in Watergate...unfit to be the Republican nominee...incompetent; liberal masquerading as a conservative; a hypocrite...a spoon-fed little rich kid who has been wet-nursed to success," In 1988 Mrs. Loeb called presidential candidate H.W. Bush "a preppy wimp, part of the self-appointed elite," and wrote: "George Bush has been Bush for 63 years. He has been Ronald Reagan's errand boy for just the last seven. Without Ronald Reagan he will surely revert to the original George Bush. Republicans should flee the presidential candidacy of George Bush as if it were the Black Plague itself." A Doonesbury comic strip follow-up asserted that Bush "had placed his manhood in a blind trust."
"Displays of this type began to inspire a more general public contempt for Bush during 1987. Bush was coming across as "deferential almost to the point of obsequiousness," "too weak, too namby-pamby." George Will, anxious to pick a winner, began to ridicule Bush as a "lapdog." The "wimp factor" was beginning to torment Bush. Old Bill Loeb was still making Bush squirm. Two veteran observers pointed out: "Reagan's own physical presence and self-confidence made Bush in contrast seem even weaker, and Bush's penchant for the prissy remark at times cast him as the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the campaign trail..." Bush said he was running a negative campaign so as not to leave the Democrats a monopoly on "the naughty stuff."
All of this culminated in the devastating Newsweek cover story of October 19, 1987, "Fighting the 'Wimp Factor." The article was more analytical than hostile, but did describe the "crippling handicap" of being seen as a "wimp." Bush had been a "vassal to Kissinger" at the United Nations and in Beijing, the article found, and now even Bush's second term Chief of Staff said of Bush, "He's emasculated by the office of vice president." To avoid appearing as a television wimp, Bush had "tried for the past 10 years to master the medium, studying it as if it were a foreign language. He has consulted voice and television coaches. He tried changing his glasses and even wearing contact lenses. [...] Bush's tight, twangy voice is a common problem. Under stress, experts explain, the vocal cords tighten and the voice is higher than normal and lacks power." According to Newsweek, 51% of Americans found that "wimp" was a "serious problem" for Bush. The magazine offered various sophomoric psychological explanations of how Bush got that way, mainly concentrating on his family upbringing. Here Bush was allegedly taught to conceal his sociopathic drives beneath a veneer of propitiation and sharing, as in his childhood nickname of "Have Half" George.
The Newsweek "wimp" cover soon had Bush chewing the carpet at the Naval Observatory. Bush's knuckle-dragging son George W. Bush called the story "a cheap shot" and added menacingly, "...I'd like to take the guy who wrote that headline out on that boat,"( i.e., the Aronow-built Fidelity in which Bush was depicted on the Newsweek cover), which sounded very much like a threat. George W. Bush also called Newsweek Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas to inform him that the Bush campaign had officially cut off all contact with Newsweek and its reporters. The decision to put Newsweek out of business was made by candidate Bush personally, and aborted a plan by Newsweek to publish a book on the 1988 campaign. The press got the message: portray Bush in a favorable light or face vindictive and discriminatory countermeasures."
George H.W. Bush - a fitting namesake?
The party line justification for the naming of our newest carrier is that George H.W. Bush deserves naming rights because he was a popular "War" President who had served as a courageous Navy torpedo bomber pilot during World War II.
But neither of these false premises holds water. Bush was not highly regarded as president - he was turned out of office after only a single term. His reasons for making war against Iraq remain controversial, as the primary beneficiaries were his political sponsors, the Saudi Royal Family and Kuwait's billionaire emir Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah. His stint as a Navy pilot is also clouded by controversy, particularly as pertains to the event about which he's often referred to as a hero, the downing of his three man crew Avenger aircraft in 1944. Eyewitness Chester Mierzejewski, a crewmember in another squadron plane that was directly in front of and had a clear view of Bush's bailout from his plane, maintained that Bush abandoned his aircrew in order to save himself. Mierzejewski, who is a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, is nonpolitical and only spoke out when he became upset that Bush was making himself out to be a hero during his presidential campaign in 1988. As documented in Russ Baker's book, Bush himself says on tape that he looked back and saw his gunner "slumped over", while on other occasions he claims not to know whether his crewmember got out of the plane or not. [vi] Bush's own contradictory claims only serve to deepen suspicions that he acted in a cowardly manner. Although the facts cannot be established for certain at this late date, it is undisputed that Bush saved himself and that both of his crewmembers perished. So whatever interpretation one chooses to accept, Bush's conduct can hardly be considered laudatory or commendable. He certainly did nothing "heroic" that would recommend him as namesake for a Navy aircraft carrier.
We do know for certain that there is a long tradition in the United States Navy. The Captain is in sole command of his ship and is personally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of its crew. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the old adage that usually comes to mind: "The Captain must go down with the ship." That is utter nonsense. What is expected and in fact required of a Captain is that he be the last living soul to depart the sinking ship. His first and foremost responsibility is to see to it that all crewmembers abandon ship--including the sailors trapped below deck, and the wounded and the infirm to the extent possible--before he even thinks about saving himself.
With the advent of the aircraft carrier, this concept of "command" responsibility carried over from ship captains to Naval pilots. The flyer in the airplane with the stick and throttle in his hands was designated "Pilot in Command" while others manning the guns, bombsights, navigation and communications gear were designated "aircrew"--they had no control over the flight of the plane and were in essence just along for the ride. As Pilot in Command, Naval Aviators are held to the same level of accountability as the Captain of a ship. In the event of damage or malfunction of the plane, the Pilot in Command's first and foremost responsibility is to see to it that his crewmembers evacuate the plane BEFORE he does. The reason for this is self evident: if the pilot bails out first, who will fly the plane during the time it takes the crewmembers to un-strap, open their hatches or canopies, and position themselves for bailout? A pilotless plane can exert g-forces making it impossible for the remaining aircrew members to escape. That is why it is absolutely imperative that the pilot bail out LAST.
When my own Navy fighter jet went out of control, the first thing that I did as Pilot in Command was to order my back-seat radar intercept officer to bail out. He ejected at over 10,000 feet in altitude, giving him ample cushion to allow for his chute deployment, seat separation, life vest and raft inflation, and leisurely descent to a controlled water landing. Struggling to regain control of the aircraft, I rode the fighter down to the very edge of the ejection envelope before bailing out myself. At about 1,200 feet, with the aircraft in a steep nose down dive, I was pushing the envelope. After ejecting I had only a half swing in my chute before hitting the water perilously close to the burning ring of fire that had only seconds before been my F-4 Phantom II fighter jet. Neither my life vest nor raft had been inflated prior to my entry into the choppy water. I relate this incident not to make myself out to be a heroic figure; rather, I am making the point that my conduct was simply SOP - Standard Operating Procedure. This is what honorable Pilots in Command are expected to do and did in fact do in every case that I know of--except that of George H.W. Bush.
A Navy pilot who panics in an emergency and saves himself at the expense of his crew would most likely have been court marshaled and dishonorably discharged from the Armed Services of the United States. But then again, your average Naval Aviator does not have a high profile advocate covering for him (nor a father who is close friends with individuals in the highest levels of government and the intelligence business). At the time of this incident, Bush's brother's father-in-law was Commander of the Pacific Fleet. As a result of this, Bush was given special treatment[vii], notwithstanding the deaths of his aircrew.
Presidential pardon --Pardon me Son
It appears that the intent of plastering George H.W. Bush's name on one of the most awe inspiring, intimidating warships in this country's arsenal and rewriting the story of his Navy service in WW-II is to convert Poppy Bush's history as a run of the mill torpedo bomber pilot into the legend of a highly acclaimed "fighter pilot." Dubya and the right wing spin-meisters have constructed a counterfeit resume that makes Dubya's father look like a cross between John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was the same perception management technique used to describe Duby's "Mission Accomplished" performance in college study entitled The Celluloid President: Images of Presidential Leadership in Hollywood Movies. What was needed to complete this hat trick was to stage a high profile, public ceremony to publicize and create a public record of the coronation event. All that remains to be done now is to selectively steer grant funding to obsequious "historians" who agree to memorialize the contrived record by incorporating it in both text books and history books. As soon as these wheels are put in motion; voila - H.W.'s political fixers will have finally succeeded, once and for all, in torpedoing Bush's objectionable call sign - The Wimp. Although the makeover of his Father may be the final insult from a corrupt and inept Administration, it certainly explains Dubya's lack of concern over Helen Thomas' prediction that "History Cannot Save Him." Because the Decider-in-Chief has already put these legacy building subterfuges in motion, he is confident that the history of his Administration, and that of his Father, is being rewritten at this very moment in a manner that will portray the Bush Family in a favorable light.
My objection to the naming of our nation's newest aircraft carrier "Bush" is not intended to bring further disrepute upon George H.W. Bush's conduct as a pilot in WW-II, disparage his service record, or create another "Swift Boat Vets" smear campaign. The point of my letters to Congress is that it is unconscionable to endanger the lives of over 5,000 kids for the sake of a legacy-building exercise intended to embellish what by all available eyewitness accounts appears to have been the less than commendable conduct of Bush '41 when confronted with a pressure situation. The troubling facts make it clear that this is precisely what is at work here - Dubya is giving Daddy an image makeover as a going away present. Removing the wimp label from his Father's legacy is the real "gift" that President Bush is bestowing upon his Father -- a Presidential pardon of sorts.
True to form, the Bush family is using a position of public trust for self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. If George H.W. Bush had one iota of respect for the officers and sailors serving in the United States Navy, he would direct that his name be removed from association with
CVN-77. In fact, if he would do the right and honorable thing, instead of what is self-serving and politically expedient, people might actually stop thinking of him in terms of Wimp - even without the contrived PR schemes.
Bill White is a former Navy fighter pilot who went into business with Dubya's Air National Guard buddy Jim Bath. When White refused to participate in the cover-up of the Bush family's secret business dealings with the Saudi BinLaden family he was threatened with, and endured, personal attacks staged by Bush family lawyers, prosecutors and judges in Harris County, Texas. Concerned former military personnel, organizations and readers concerned about the preservation of our Constitutional Republic....
[ii] Deb Riechmann, Gift fit for an ex-president, The Associated Press, 11Jan09
[iii] Russ Baker, Family of Secrets, Dec08, P383
[iv] Voorhees, Matthew, PhD. The Celluloid President: Images of Presidential Leadership in Hollywood Movies, Department of Politics, Whitman College, Mar06, P2
[v] Ken Guggenheim, Byrd Rips Bush's Aircraft Carrier Use, Associated Press, 6May03
[vi] Russ Baker, Family of Secrets, Dec08, P20
[vii] Russ Baker, Family of Secrets, Dec08, background research