One nation under Bush.

Dispatches from Campaign 2004.
Oct. 29 2004 1:44 AM

One Nation Under Bush

At a campaign rally, Republicans recite the "Bush Pledge."

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—"I want you to stand, raise your right hands," and recite "the Bush Pledge," said Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt. The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: "I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."

I know the Bush-Cheney campaign occasionally requires the people who attend its events to sign loyalty oaths, but this was the first time I have ever seen an audience actually stand and utter one. Maybe they've replaced the written oath with a verbal one.

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This may be the first and only time the "Bush Pledge" has been taken at an event I've attended (or any event for that matter), but I'm not the best witness. One of the unfortunate drawbacks of traveling with a presidential candidate is that you arrive at a political rally when he does, which means you arrive right before he speaks. Neither President Bush nor John Kerry spends a lot of time waiting backstage while the warm-up acts address the crowd. Those speakers are timed to end when the candidate arrives (although, given that Kerry is habitually late, I wonder if they tell the introductory speakers to go long), so the traveling press typically misses their remarks.

Because I've been traveling "outside the bubble" of the campaign planes for the past week, I arrived at a Thursday rally for Laura Bush before it began, and I sat with the local press. For only the second time, I witnessed a Bush campaign event in full. It wasn't a particularly notable experience, except for the fact that it opened with that weird pledge of fealty, reminiscent of the cultlike cheer that Wal-Mart forces its employees to perform. There were a few good lines, such as this one from Florida state Sen. Mike Haridopolos: "Our president likes to sign the front of your check. His opponent likes to sign the back of your check." But the second-most memorable event was a remarkably mendacious speech given by U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida's 16th District.

Foley had the gall to condemn Kerry for his "reckless disregard for the facts" in a speech in which the least of his errors came when he sloppily claimed that John Edwards has served in the U.S. Senate for four years, rather than six. The main target of Foley's attack was Kerry's criticism of the president for allowing the al-Qaqaa weapons dump to be looted, presumably by terrorists, during a war that was designed precisely to prevent such an event from occurring. "The senator from Massachusetts immediately grabbed onto that without doing any checking, any fact-checking. He didn't even call Dan Rather," Foley said. But "NBC News followed up saying, oh-ho, not so fast. We don't have all the facts yet. Yet he went on national TV and announced, with reckless disregard for the facts, that somehow during George Bush's administration, these weapons were stolen." Foley's right in one sense, that we still don't have all the facts. But here's a fact that emerged after Foley's speech: Former weapons inspector David Kay said on CNN after viewing the footage of the site filmed by ABC News, "There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken. And quite frankly, to me the most frightening thing is not only was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called Pottery Barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security."

Foley continued, "Well, folks, one thing it does prove: There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before we went there." Well, um, there were weapons. The explosives weren't biological, chemical, or nuclear. And they were locked up by the international weapons inspectors derided by the administration, and they were "liberated" by the president's war. But instead of concluding that the war was a mistake, or at least that it should have been conducted differently, Foley declared, "The other thing it proves is that Saddam Hussein was the most important weapon of mass destruction to remove, and this president took him down." If we invaded North Korea and that country's nuclear weapons ended up in the hands of al-Qaida, would that prove that the invasion was a success?

But if you don't believe the Iraq invasion was justified, you can still vote for President Bush because he hugs little girls and, most important of all, he threw a baseball. After telling the audience of his personal experience of Sept. 11, Foley revisited the story of Bush throwing out the first pitch of the World Series in 2001, which received a hilariously somber treatment in a video narrated by Fred Thompson at the Republican convention. Like any tall tale, the story has become more and more embroidered with time. In Foley's version, the president boldly strode to the mound "without a bulletproof vest." But the entire point of the convention video was that throwing the ball from the mound was so difficult because Bush's arms were restricted by a bulletproof vest.

I'm not sure which is crazier, thinking that al-Qaqaa proves that the Iraq war was justified, or that President Bush stood on the mound at Yankee Stadium less than two months after 9/11 without wearing a flak jacket. Based on his speech, Mark Foley is either delusional or he has a serious problem telling the truth. But you can't blame him. He's probably angling for a job in a second Bush administration.

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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