Saletan expresses my feelings perfectly here when he asks "Where, indeed, is the heroism in anything Bush has done before 9/11 or since?"
It's a wonderful question, especially considering the fact that the Bush administration has now been inextricably linked to the Swift Boat Veterans for Bushit's attack ads on Kerry's service.
But let's take Vietnam out of the equation completely (please!).
The one thing that our fawning press has given Bush over the last three years is this undeserved status as "9/11 hero" who guided the country through tough times after al Qaeda attacked us. He's running largely on that status because, well, he hasn't got anything else. The economy is sputtering for all but the wealthiest Americans; Iraq is an unnecessary disaster; Afghanistan is a disaster when it shouldn't have been one; more people have moved into poverty; fewer people are employed; we're not safer as a nation. All he has left is the attempt to frighten us to the point where we believe that only SuperBush can protect us.
But what has he done that was so heroic?
Bush partisans point out that he did do things in the 9/11 aftermath. In his convention address last night, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik recalled Bush's famous visit to New York, "inspiring a nation as he stood on hallowed ground, supporting the first responders."
OK, so Bush stood there. He "supported," in a Clintonesque sense, the people who were doing something. He touched the mayor. As Rudy Giuliani told the New York Times over the weekend, "When he got off the helicopter, he put his arm around the back of my neck and said, 'What can I do for you?' It was a personal thing: 'I know what you've been through, and what I can do to support you?' "
Now, assume for a moment that this support equals a heroic act (forgetting that it demeans the meaning of the word "heroic"). Wouldn't an even more heroic act have been ensuring that New York got the money it needed for first responders and rebuilding? Wouldn't it have been more heroic to make sure that New York's air was actually safe before New Yorkers were allowed to go back into Ground Zero? Wouldn't an even more heroic act include actually securing the weak points that al Qaeda exploited to get into the US and then running them to ground?
It would to me.
The only moment of physical bravery any of last night's speakers could find in Bush's life was his secret trip to Iraq. "As I think about his leadership," Kerik recalled, "I think of the courage it took for our commander in chief to land on an airstrip in the dark of night, a world away, to be with our troops on Thanksgiving."
Thanksgiving? You mean, six months after we captured the airport and Bush declared victory?
And isn't "the dark of night" normally a term we use to describe the preferred arrival and departure time of people who aren't exactly overflowing with courage?
Or is Kerik pointing out the difficulty of landing a plane in the dark? Is he unaware, perhaps, that Bush wasn't flying the plane? That once again, as in Vietnam, somebody else was doing the hard part and Bush was along for the ride? That Air Force One has more security systems than any other vehicle on Earth? That Bush went to Baghdad to "be with" the troops in the same way he went to New York to "be with" the firefighters? That waiting for a safe time and place to "be with" people who have braved unsafe places at unsafe times is the difference between heroism and a photo op?
Maybe Bush's courage is moral rather than physical. Maybe it lies in the conviction Giuliani extolled last night: "President Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is."
Calling terrorism evil? Answering a deed with a word? This is courage?
Not fair, says the Bush camp. Bush has answered terrorism with far more than words. "He worked effectively to secure the cooperation of Pakistan," McCain pointed out last night. "He encouraged other friends to recognize the peril that terrorism posed for them and won their help in apprehending many of those who would attack us again and in helping to freeze the assets they used to fund their bloody work."
Ah, diplomacy. Now, that's courage.
The ultimate testament to Bush's manhood, supposedly, is the two wars he launched. As McCain put it, "He ordered American forces to Afghanistan" and "made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq." But the salient word in each of those boasts is the verb. Bush gives orders and makes decisions. He doesn't take personal risks. He never has.
And there's the ultimate point to all this--Bush never does anything himself. It's always someone else who has to get bloody, and as long as he has any say whatsoever in the political processes of this country, it always will be. Bush is no hero.