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.)

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Michael Shaw
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