Bush’s MacDill rally misguided toward military

How do you hold a speech on the widely criticized war in Iraq and make sure the crowd cheers? Simple. Hold the speech in front of a crowd you know will cheer for you, no matter what.

That is precisely what one of the Marines waiting for the president to get on stage at MacDill last week said: “I will cheer for him, no matter what he has to say.”

This little episode appears to be something the Bush administration was well aware of when it scheduled President Bush’s first public address since the start of the war at an Air Force base. After all, the president is the commander in chief, therefore the boss of everybody present on such a base.

So, when the president’s Air Force One pulled up outside the hangar in which the crowd and press were waiting, he waved from the top of the gangway just like presidents are supposed to, walked down the stairs holding the hands of his loving and supportive first lady and took the podium (10 out of 10 for dramatic entrance). The crowd indeed went nuts.

Who would have thought? All it took was the direct order from the base’s commanding officer to “welcome the president with respect” mere minutes before he arrived and the fear to be singled out later for not applauding.

Once on stage, the president spent a good time shaking hands and thanking everybody on stage, including the governor of Florida (his brother) and even the people who had just spent hours on the same plane with him. Then, he thanked the military personnel for coming. Odd, when I spoke to the military and their families, all of them said they had been “asked” to attend. How do you turn down the request to cheer for your president without consequence?

After that was taken care of, the president spoke facing straight ahead and only looking directly at the crowd when their cheers and applause were needed to fill gaps in his speech. He was not facing a TelePrompter like he usually does but was looking directly into one camera for practically the entire time. Sure enough, most of the footage of the address shown on national television later came from that one camera.

It is quite obvious that this address was not meant for the troops in the hangar or even those already deployed in the field. It was meant to show the American public that the president has support. It is not only sad that the president of the United States felt the need to fly about a thousand miles to be able to speak in front of an audience that will cheer for him. It is also certain that if this was not happening in America, but in Iraq, and the same address was held by Saddam Hussein, it would be dismissed as propaganda.

A prevalent theme in the address was “freeing the Iraqi people,” and how much they deserve better lives.

This is the same president who, according to Time magazine, said to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice more than a year ago “F— Saddam, we are taking him out.” Does that sound like a man whose priority lies in spreading freedom, joy and prosperity in the world?

This event was so well staged it really deserved admiration. What it showed, though, is that opinion about the war is ambivalent since people started coming home in body bags. Quite creative to ask troops to cheer “support the troops” but also just a tiny bit transparent.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science.spmeyer@mail.usf.edu