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Byline: James Wolcott
President Bush loves to get duded up and play G.I. George. Whenever his poll numbers dip below the equator or the War on Terror needs a mule kick, Bush whips out his Members Only country-club commando jacket with the presidential seal and epaulets and, shoulders squared, hits the tarmac to rally the troops. It's really himself he's rallying. He feeds off the approval of those young men and women as if it were a hormone injection, a feel-good shot. The president didn't get the jazzing he needed peeing away valuable time, taxpayer money, political capital, and tons of jet fuel on his endless Social Security Antiques Roadshow tour in the first half of 2005. Joshing with audiences of snowy-haired and henna-rinsed seniors as he tried to explain the salient features of Social Security reform without tangling himself up in garden hose, Bush was as informal and chatty as a morning-talk-show host (Regis without a Kelly Ripa to keep him percolating). These handpicked oldies from the Greatest Generation were as nice as pie, God bless 'em, but they didn't make for a solid congregation. Military audiences do. They're a sounding board whose echo sends a solid wallop.
"Few audiences are as predictably friendly as military ones," wrote the A.P.'s Tom Raum, "duty-bound to show respect for their commander-in-chief, often bursting into raucous whoops." And not just any whoop, but a gung-ho "Hooah" or, in the case of the Marines, "Oo-rah." (Which mustn't be confused with Al Pacino's lusty "Hoo-hah!" from Scent of a Woman.) Bush's heart beats to the tom-tom of those hearty Hooahs. It's the rhythm stick that revives his step. These televised rallies with the troops foster the illusion that Bush, whose own military record is a bit smudgy and lacking in heroics, is truly one of them in body, mind, and spirit-a fellow warrior. It would be a narcissistic joke if it weren't being carried to such delusional extremes. The psychoanalyst Justin Frank, author of Bush on the Couch and a frequent contributor to the online Huffington Post, characterized Bush's flamboyant photo op as a fighter jock on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in 2003 to announce the end of major hostilities in Iraq as a Tinker Bell flight of magical thinking. "The action-figure toys made of Bush in his flight suit are inadvertently accurate interpretations of his behavior, the concrete personification of a childish fantasy." Although the grandiosity of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment became an embarrassment as the insurgency swung into ruthless action and the casualty toll mounted, Bush's childish fantasy has remained intact, intensified. A Martian viewer of cable news over the past year could be forgiven for believing that the U.S. was under military rule, a banana republic with …