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October 31, 2006

Three For The Road


by Chris Maynard

After a 50 minute videoconference with Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, assuring him that his country was not an American client state, President Bush arrives at Andrews Air Force Base Saturday for a short campaign trip.

In the way photographs paint pictures, this one makes Bush look like a small boy in the back of an SUV, although it’s only the usual armored limo. Maybe because he stares  from the shadows, or because all we see is his face, he’s disembodied, a small icon imbedded in a large hunk of black steel and bulletproof glass. He’s untouchable and unreachable, shut off from the surrounding quotidian world.


Then it’s onto the tarmac, and suddenly the scale flips.

Now he’s bigger than life, the alpha dog bounding up the stairs, his figure popping in the sunlight. If he were the sculpted marble hero at a memorial site, that left hand, instead of gripping the railing, would be clutching an unsheathed sword.

One does wonder exactly to whom he’s waving, since Andrews AFB is a transport stop for ranking figures, and for security reasons, is off-limits to the public. For all we know it’s just a conditioned response to news cameras, or maybe he’s waving to Barney, who still supports him. There is an unsettling sense that the scene is off in a hidden corner somewhere, far away from the rest of the country.

What’s striking here is how out of proportion he looks, until we realize that Air Force One, for this trip, is a Gulfstream G5 instead of a 747.

We get so comfortable with the trappings of the office that we forget that somewhere deep in that cocoon is just another guy who woke up as President.                                                                 



After finding an aroused audience in Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District, where 4,000 tickets were given to guests selected by workers for Rep. Mike Sodrel, a first-term Congressman in a close race, President Bush then travelled on to Charleston AFB in South Carolina, where several hundred members of the military and their families waited.

He strode out from a cluster of giant C-17s, perfectly triangulated on the airstrip, to a soundtrack of emotional music. And instantly, Mr. Bush was back in miniature, a tiny figure almost lost against the grey fuselages. There was no “Mission Accomplished” banner this time, and no dancing of jigs in a flight suit, but the hulking transport jets did say “Commander-in-Chief” in large thought balloons.

Backed up by military muscle like this, Mr. Bush felt comfortable saying “We have a plan for victory,” knowing that no one would snicker. But even as he spoke he took on protective adaptation, spreading his arms like the slanting wings behind him. It looked like a plea to “fly with me,” even as poll numbers nose dive.

Imagine this photograph without the airplanes, and it would look like a crowd ambling home after the tractor races, no longer listening to the barker. In campaign shots, too many props so often indicate nothing to say; if his party’s record were of achievement rather than division, the man might look a lot taller.

“Kleider Machen Leute”, as the old German proverb goes: “Clothes make the man,” especially if they fit.

(image 1 & 2: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/A.P.  Oct. 28, 2006.  Andrews Air Force Base, Md.  Via YahooNews.  image 3: Mary Ann Chastain/A.P.  Oct. 28, 2006, in North Charleston, S.C.  Via YahooNews.)

  • marysz

    Bush is certainly a solitary figure in these photos. Doesn’t anyone want to be seen in public standing next to him? Considering the fact that Laura is much more popular with the public than him, it’s surprising that she didn’t come along to help generate some enthusiasm. I think everyone at the White House (including the president) is being left to fend for themselves these days. It’s all about rats and sinking ships.

  • ummabdulla

    You’ve pretty much already said everything that I thought about these photos… but that top one is great. He looks like a poor little rich kid who’s well-protected but has no friends. And the car looks very utilitarian, not at all like a luxurious limousine.

  • Bluegrass Poet

    I wouldn’t exactly say he woke up president. In fact, I’d say he woke up not-president and had to snatch it like a playground bully.

  • Ksue

    I agree, marysz. Bush was in Houston yesterday. Stumping for Tom DeLay’s Republican replacement. Laura was elsewhere. He flew on AF1 to Ellington AFB, then on Marine One, flanked by “5 or 6″ other Marine helicopters, to the Sugarland airport where he made his speech inside a hangar. He was a solitary figure in most footage I saw, except for the first 30 seconds after landing at Ellington where he presented the Official Bush Greeter, a woman with stage-four breast cancer, who still volunteers a tremendous amount of time for the underprivileged, “even on her worst days,” with some stupid AmeriCorps medal for her many years of volunteerism. She was starry-eyed and verklempt about it all, but no one else seemed to want to be seen with him.
    In his speech out in Sugarland, Bush told everyone to be sure and take a pencil with them into the ballot box because Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is a “write-in” candidate, since they couldn’t take Tom DeLay’s name off the ballot here. Take a pencil with you? We’ve had e-slate machines in TX for how many years now?
    And the big finale, according to the local 10:00 news, was the awe-inspiring military precision with which the 6 or 7 Marine choppers took off from Sugarland after Bush was finished … AND the exciting fireworks display that lit the sky afterward.
    You said it best, BAG: “In campaign shots, too many props so often indicate nothing to say”

  • Aunt Deb

    What is that expression you see on Bush’s face more and more frequently these days? I can’t tell if it’s sneering or something more defensive. He often appears to be squinting now, too. I suppose, as President, you can’t wear sunglasses — too reminiscent of Democrats people liked, I guess. Oh, and it wouldn’t go with the weathered good ole cowboy image.
    You know, I could almost work up a bit of pity for this man, if he weren’t rabid and so clearly awaiting the chance to bite back.

  • momly

    I think the reason Bush looks like a little boy in the first picture is because of the cow-lick in his hair. He looks like either he just woke up from a nap or he had been goofing around in the back of the limo and someone told him to stop it and look out the window.
    Man, how depressing is it that the leader of our country can so easily and regularly be reduced to looking like a juvenile?

  • ummabdulla

    My kids walked by and saw this top picture, and they thought it was hilarious. They said he looked like a baby in a carseat. His head does look small, especially since much of it is obscured by the shadow.

  • Gussie

    I dunno, in the second picture, with the pink tie, I thought you were going to say that he looks like the leading lady descending a staircase in some vintage musical. About to leap from the stage and be borne aloft by the men, and woman, in uniform …

  • jt from BC

    1, disembodied head floating in formaldehyde
    2, robotic posturing and one bright pink tie
    3, heavy lifting to protect America from —-

  • Jack Frost

    What’s up with the paint-job on the limo?
    It seems scratched and streaked like it’s been in a sandstorm, which, to me, also seems indicative of all the knicks and cuts from the myriad scandals swirling around Dubya and Pals. It’s almost like a physical manifestation of Dubya’s bubble or Reagan’s teflon…
    And there he is sitting insulated and protected in the middle of it all with that shit-eating smirk plastered on his face yet again.
    Do you have a bigger, better resolution image of Dubya boarding the plane? It would be interesting to get a closer look at what’s being reflected on the fuselage and find out to whom he’s actually waving.
    And in the picture with the planes, Dubya’s got his arms outstretched with his hands facing up which, to me, looks like he’s pleading with the crowd more than addressing them. The crowd, for the most part, seems to be more interested in the planes anyway…

  • lytom

    Last photo has the most intriguing view.
    The vision of earth, fire and hell swallowing the criminal seems to have been inspired by Verdi. What a stage! The only missing is the smell of sulfur.

  • rchsod

    he`s such a “little man” and nothing in his entire life has ever fitted him…

  • Lt. Bighorn

    Bush is certainly a solitary figure in these photos. Doesn’t anyone want to be seen in public standing next to him?
    Look at the cover of this week’s TIME:,16641,20061106,00.html
    I cancelled my subscription to TIME magazine when they put Ann Coulter in the cover and ran that photo of right-wing protestors with an inaccurate caption.
    They may have finally redeemed themselves.,16641,20061106,00.html

  • Cactus

    #1 – The mean little kid (with smirk) in daddy’s car.
    #2 – An exercise in saluting to no one while W is waving to no one.
    #3 – Who?
    I had to look at #3 several times before I realized W was actually in the photo. The aircraft setup is spectacular. I wonder how much fuel was wasted getting them just so for W. It looks like most of the spectators are in uniform so it’s probably military and families.
    All in all, not a very impressive array of ODL on the campaign trail. Or should that be the trailing campaign?

  • Keir

    1. Dictator.
    2. Dictator.
    3. Dictator (with a side of Koyaanisqatsi).
    (Not suggesting that the little criminal is calling any shots, just that all three photos have obvious analogues to totalitarian imagery.)

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