Wednesday, February 18, 2004

George Bush at Daytona

The Daytona 500 was a reassuring spectacle this weekend. Sunny skies, loud cars, stealth bombers overhead.

George Bush fit right in. All the drivers crowded around him and a quarter million people cheered when he announced, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” NBC trailed him with a sports reporter who asked pertinent questions about sports and nothing about politics which was refreshing.

The reporter asked about the Texas Rangers/New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez trade and then asked W if he’d like to drive one of the racecars. He replied, "I flew fighters when I was in the Guard and I like speed."

That sounds like a guy who is in his element and comfortable with himself. Not ashamed of his service in the National Guard. In fact, flying one of these F-102s looks pretty cool, certainly dangerous. Somehow I can’t imagine learning to fly a Delta Dagger by showing up at the airfield once or twice a month. One good line and the whole “Bush was a deserter” story looks ridiculous.

The non-sports press was, of course, appalled. How could he talk about his National Guard service so nonchalantly? I have a clue. Perhaps he’s not embarrassed. Maybe he’s even proud of it. After all, he was a fighter pilot. That’s a hell of a lot more glam than being an army journalist writing newsletters in Saigon like Al Gore. And it’s more dignified than trading on your Vietnam experience at every opportunity like John Kerry.

The Times tried to make the point that Daytona was just a political stop for Bush in his effort to court the important “NASCAR Dads” vote.

The reality is, Bush probably has the vote of every person in the Daytona grandstands with the exception of the bewildered press. Plus, I think he went because he’s the president and can get the full Daytona experience. Tickets are expensive. This wasn’t politics, it was fun. And it was a friendly crowd.

I can’t picture Howard Dean or John Kerry at a NASCAR race unless they were compelled to go.

The Times even went so far as to quote an utterly unconvincing passage from John Kerry’s campaign autobiography, "A Call to Service," in which described himself as a "charter member of one the most selective but fastest-growing sports clubs in the world: the Nascar fans of Massachusetts."

You gotta be kidding. This sentence cancels out its own meaning.

The next lines must be something like, “Teresa and I find Nascar stock automobile racing an illuminating respite and a golden opportunity to mix with the hoi polloi. We just love watching Nascar automobile racing. I used to watch Nascar automobile racing when I was in Vietnam.”

Yesterday, Kerry called Bush’s appearance at Daytona a “photo op.” What he means, I believe, is that it was an empty gesture that revealed nothing of substance.

I disagree. Michael Dukakis driving a tank is a photo op. John Kerry at Daytona would be a photo op. But George Bush at Daytona is exactly what millions of Americans like W would do if they were president.

What’s more, Kerry decried Bush's photo op while “posing for photographs with a 40-pound (18 kg) aluminum slab into which a computer-control machine tool etched ‘Wisconsin Backs Kerry in 2004,’ according to the Times.

Kerry went even further by saying in perfectly wooden and condescending Kerry-ese:

``I believe we need a president who doesn't just say 'start your engines,' but says 'we're here to start the engines of the economy by putting America back to work,''

Oh yeah, that’s a real applause line. Can this guy really be so stilted?

The Times tried hard to make Bush at Daytona seem incongruous. But Bush, “whose tastes run to baseball, not auto racing” as the Times reported, is actually perfectly at home in Daytona.

The press believes Bush was some sort of oil executive. In fact, he was one of the pioneers of the sports entertainment industry of which NASCAR is arguably the most successful manifestation. The Texas Rangers and Ranger Stadium exist largely because of his effort. I don’t believe John Kerry has ever had a job outside of government in his entire life.

But I could be wrong.

The one thing I know for sure is that when the Nascar fans of Massachusetts get together for a clam bake on Martha’s Vineyard on Daytona weekend, they better have plenty of anti-freeze available.

One more thing about the National Guard "scandal." Don't the Democrats wonder why Bush is keeping in the news? He's kept it alive through mysterious evening releases of innocuous service records, his lingering at the National Guard car at Daytona and his comments, and now today the president gives a speech at a National Guard base where again he mentions his service record.

Why? Because if this isn't old news by now imagine how tired it will sound in 10 months.

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