the choice 2004 [home]
homeleadershipgeorge w. bushjohn f. kerrydiscussion
transcript

THE CHOICE

Produced by MARTIN SMITH
Co-Produced by MARCELA GAVIRIA AND CHRIS DURRANCE
Reported by NICHOLAS LEMANN
Written by MARTIN SMITH AND NICHOLAS LEMANN

 

CAMPAIGN SUPPORTERS: Four more years! Four more years!

CAMPAIGN SUPPORTERS: Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!

ANNOUNCER: In a close and tough race--

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops--

ANNOUNCER: --two very different men--

Sen. JOHN F. KERRY (MA), DEM. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: "W" stands for wrong!

ANNOUNCER: --are fighting for their place in history. Each his own method--

JACK BLUM, Senate Investigator, 1987-'88: John Kerry-- he is always tempted to tell you the problem is much more complicated than you think it is.

ANNOUNCER: --each his own character--

CLAY JOHNSON, Aide to the Governor: He's not one to reflect, to wring his hands, to wonder if the decision he made is right or wrong. He knows you don't bat 1,000.

ANNOUNCER: --each defined by war.

JOHN SHATTUCK, Friend: Vietnam is really at the heart of John Kerry's capacity to lead.

BOB WOODWARD, Author, Plan of Attack: If you want to know who George Bush is, look at the Iraq war. This is a George Bush decision.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the lives and times, the minds and passions of the two men who would be president.

NARRATOR: When John Kerry and George Bush attended Yale in the mid-'60s, educating young men was only one of the university's goals. Beyond education, Yale saw its mission as cultivating values: idealism, self-sacrifice and public service. This was a school that prided itself on turning out leaders. John Kerry, the son of a foreign service officer, came here in 1962. he was already earnest and intellectual.

PROFESSOR: Well, what would worry me would be to see any of you committed to something out of the gut without--

NARRATOR: The salon atmosphere of Yale's classrooms seemed the ideal habitat for John.

PROFESSOR: Yeah, you had something you wanted to say?

JOHN KERRY: Oh, I just wanted to say, on this idea of commitment, which seems to be batted around here, that commitment, you know, simply by the implication of the word "commitment" is not something which someone can hand out. You know, just like the meaning of it is something that comes from within the individual when he is ready.

NARRATOR: At Yale, John Kerry became head of the political union and was active in the debating club. He was a good student. At the same time, he was a mystery to his closest friends. All they knew was that he was driven.

HARVEY BUNDY, Yale Roommate: It's hard to explain John, other than someone who really had a vision for himself and didn't want to slow down at all in life. Now, why did it-- why do people get visions? Why do people not want to slow down? Who knew all the things John was doing? He didn't tell you all the things he was doing. John's a fairly private person. But you know, he was extraordinarily involved. It's like he felt it was his job to be a leader.

DAN BARBIERO, Yale Roommate: He was, and is to this day, a striver. He's a man who has just worked so hard at everything and puts so much energy into everything that it can easily be misunderstood, I think, by people who don't know him.

NARRATOR: John Forbes Kerry was teased about his ambition and his admiration for the other JFK, who he'd once met, the summer before Yale.

PROFESSOR: If man is an animal, all features of man are open to scientific study.

NARRATOR: George Bush came here two years after Kerry. He reacted very differently to Yale.

PROFESSOR: Now, this morning, I want to discuss some of the social and philosophical implications of evolution.

NARRATOR: For a boy who had been raised in west Texas, Yale was too self-righteous, too intellectually superior. "They thought they knew all the answers," Bush would say later.

PROFESSOR: Frankly, I think this is the purpose of a college education at Yale, every year to turn out 1,000 self-critical, questioning young men.

NARRATOR: George was from a Yale family. His father had been a very big man on campus, a leader and an athlete. George, the prep school cheerleader, became a prankster, a C student. Once arrested for a misdemeanor, he was a wiseguy.

CLAY JOHNSON, Yale Classmate: George had several nicknames. One of them was "the Lip," and he had the smirk. Some people have a twinkle in the eye. Some people have a tilt to the head. George has a little lip defect, a little smirk. And it's always been there and it's always been an endearing part of his personality until he decided to run for president.

NARRATOR: Though his grandfather was a former senator and his father a congressman, George steered clear of the high-stakes student politics of the '60s. Instead, George became president of Delta Kappa Epsilon, Deke, the hardest-partying, rowdiest frat house on campus.

ROLAND BETTS, Yale Classmate: I think being elected the head of the fraternity was important to him. George is a person who, when he decides to apply himself, he excels. I don't think he applied himself academically at Yale. I think he applied himself to friendships and-- and you know, just meeting and knowing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, many more than anybody else in our class knew. That's what he cared about.

NARRATOR: Outside the ivy walls of Yale was another reality, the draft. All young men over 18 faced it. College only bought a four-year deferment. In 1966, the year Kerry graduated from Yale, 382,000 men were drafted.

Pres. LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: We intend to convince the communists that we cannot be defeated by force of arms. This will make it necessary to increase our active fighting forces by raising the monthly draft call from 17,000 to 35,000 per month.

NARRATOR: Kerry had expressed some opposition to the war in a class speech at graduation, but he was not quite ready to resist the draft.

DANIEL BARBIERO, Yale Roommate: We grew up believing that our obligation was to serve our country when called on. I mean, that-- that really was a lot of it. It sounds really corny, but that's what we believed.

NARRATOR: The call for Kerry was personal. A few months before graduation, an architect of U.S. policy in Vietnam came to Yale to speak, William Bundy. He was the uncle of John's roommate.

HARVEY BUNDY, Yale Roommate: So you know, Bill comes to campus, and basically, his message that he left with us was, "We need you."

DAN BARBIERO: And after his speech, he came to our room to visit the three of us, and it was just the three of us and Uncle Bill. And we asked him about Vietnam. You know, "What's the scoop here?" You know, "What-- what are we-- what's really going on?"

HARVEY BUNDY: We were thinking we don't want to get shot, but we weren't thinking of, you know, "We got to get out of this, come hell or high water."

DAN BARBIERO: And he told us that this is a very important part of American policy, that it was critical that we secure this part of the world.

HARVEY BUNDY: To have the undersecretary of state for Far Eastern affairs come to you and tell you, "Hey, guys, I need you"-- that's going to have an influence.

DAN BARBIERO: The other thing was, is that we had this rather juvenile attitude that the only way we were going to really find out what was going on in Vietnam was to go there, which, in retrospect, is-- you know, about 8 milliseconds after I got there, I satisfied that curiosity and was ready to go home.

NARRATOR: In 1966, 385,000 Americans were fighting in Vietnam; 4,000 had already died there. John Kerry enlisted in the Navy with another Yale buddy, David Thorne. John had just become engaged to David's twin sister, Julia. After eight months of officer training, Lieutenant Kerry was assigned to a guided missile frigate safely patrolling the coast of southern California, the USS Gridley. His first two-year tour passed uneventfully, until, with only a week to go, the Gridley was ordered to Southeast Asia. It was then that John received a telegram. One of his closest friends from Yale, Dick Pershing, had just been killed in combat.

DAVID THORNE, Yale Classmate: You know, that really brought the war home. It really became real. I know it sounds a little bit sort of trivial to say that, but it was-- I remember feeling incredibly angry. It felt like an enormous waste. We couldn't believe that it had happened to Dick, who was the most charming, effervescent person as you could imagine.

NARRATOR: Kerry wrote home from the Gridley, "Dear Mama and Papa: What can I say? What a goddamn total waste. I was on the bridge. When I read the telegram, it took moments to sink in. Then I just walked off the bridge and cried, a pathetic and very empty kind of crying that turned to anger and bitterness."

By 1968, the war had escalated. At year's end, a total of 17,000 Americans had died. But a few days before hearing of Pershing's death, Kerry had requested to serve his second tour in Vietnam.

When the Gridley put into port in Da Nang, he wrote to his friend, David Thorne.

DAVID THORNE: "There is no doubt now that I want to come back here for my next tour. This is the only way to feel close to what is going on and gain so much from what you see and hear ... We have started a large offensive over here, and the place seems to be bustling. B-52s wouldn't stop, and every 20 minutes or so, Marine Phantoms would take off and return from a mission up north. The whole atmosphere just pulsates with war in a fashion that papers and articles and movies on TV just don't capture."

NARRATOR: Back at Yale, George Bush was preparing for graduation. Attitudes toward the draft were shifting rapidly.

ROLAND BETTS, Yale Classmate: By the time 1968 rolled around, everybody in the class of '68 was trying to figure out, A, how they felt about Vietnam, and B, what they were going to do about it. Is this something you wanted to be a part of? Do you think-- do you feel that you had to be a part of this? And you know, I think for a lot of us, the decision was no.

CLAY JOHNSON, Yale Classmate: There wasn't a lot of discussion in our group about the morality of the war, was it the right thing or not. It was a very practical matter for us. The goal was to have as much say on how you spent those post-Yale years as possible because if you didn't have a plan, somebody else was going to have one for you.

ROLAND BETTS: And another thing that had happened at Yale, which I think was extremely important, was a good friend of ours, and who was a friend of George's, too, named George Carpenter had gotten thrown out of Yale, and he got drafted. He got sent to Vietnam, and he got killed. And so it really brought it home.

NARRATOR: Just before graduation, George Bush applied to the Texas Air National Guard. A former Texas lieutenant governor, Ben Barnes, says he was asked by a now deceased Bush family friend to help smooth the way.

BEN BARNES, Texas House Speaker, 1965-'69: I made a call because a friend asked me to, for-- to allow young George Bush to be considered for the National Guard. His father was a congressman, and that would be the reason, probably, that I made the call. But you know, you got to look upon this and turn the clock back to 1967, '68 and '69. There was a war going on, and there were many, many requests to get in the Reserves and National Guard at that time.

INTERVIEWER: But it was clearly understood that by making the request, you were asking to spare someone having to go to Vietnam and fight there.

BEN BARNES: Oh, I think that's an interpretation that can be made.

NARRATOR: George would be enrolled in the Guard for the next six years.

DOUG HANNAH, Friend: Clearly, he came to the conclusion that joining the Air National Guard was a nice solution to a problem that existed. It was an outstanding solution because I, too, tried to come up with that solution.

NARRATOR: After a year-and-a-half of full-time training, Bush was a certified fighter pilot. He was then obligated to show up one weekend a month at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. According to his friend, Doug Hannah, George enjoyed himself.

DOUG HANNAH: I think he was on a high at that point. He was a pilot. He was flying and clearly enjoyed the aura of walking around in a flight suit and being a flyboy. He was pretty proud of himself.

NARRATOR: On evenings, George invited other Guardsmen to party with him.

DOUG HANNAH: If you came to Houston and spent time with George, you were going to have a good time, and you were going to have it at a pretty high scale. And George had that to offer.

NARRATOR: In November of 1968, Lieutenant John Kerry reported to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, to take command of swift boat number 44.

DREW WHITLOW, Crewmate: Here's this, as we called it in '68, this long, tall preppy coming from New England. And what's this guy going to teach me that I don't know, since I'm a ridge runner from the hills in Arkansas? You know, he kind of looked at us and says, "You all don't need me, but I need you. What can we do to make a team work?"

When you came down and you ask, you know, "What can we do to make it work," versus someone coming and saying, "OK, I'm the boss, this is how it's going to happen," you know, that-- that triggers it in your mind that, "Hey, we can get along with this man."

NARRATOR: Initially, Kerry and his crewmates patrolled the coast. But after two weeks, Kerry and his crew went from having one of the safest assignments in Vietnam to one of the most dangerous. Under the newly launched Operation Sea Lord, Kerry was ordered to cruise the inland waterways of the Mekong Delta.

DEL SANDUSKY, Crewmate: The concept had changed completely because our boats were up rivers, up canals, where we were at, on the west side of the Mekong Delta, and the action was very intense.

DAVID ALSTON, Crewmate: I thought it was a lot of fun, at first, until, you know, I actually saw what bullets would do. You were always at the ready. We was always in our combat positions, you know, so it was always tense. That's the way it was with me. Once the shooting start, "Hey, OK, now we do business."

NARRATOR: John Kerry spent four months on the rivers, commanding two separate boats. Aboard the second, swift boat 94, his crewmates remember one day above all.

DEL SANDUSKY: Charlie was shooting at us from the jungle. John Kerry gave me the order to beach the boat.

NARRATOR: They could see that one Viet Cong had a deadly B-40 grenade launcher.

DEL SANDUSKY: We knew we had to go and get this guy. Lieutenant Kerry chased him down, ran around a hutch to find this guy, and shot him and retrieved the B-40. It was almost unprecedented for John Kerry to beach the boat and jump and go on shore, but it saved our lives. You know, that was what counted.

NARRATOR: The U.S. Navy awarded Kerry a Silver Star for his bravery that day. But Kerry's diary at the time reveals growing disillusionment over the ease of killing, of futile missions, of absurdity. Vietnam, he wrote, just didn't have any meaning.

In March of 1969, Kerry earned a Bronze Star for rescuing a fellow soldier under fire. Wounded for a third time, he was now eligible for non-combat duty. He would serve the remainder of his tour as an admiral's aide in New York.

[www.pbs.org: More on Kerry and Vietnam]

The young Guard pilot, George Bush, would never see combat, but he was a hawk on the war. He told friends the right approach in Vietnam was the one advocated by Barry Goldwater: unleash America's full military might.

DOUG HANNAH, Friend: He and I were very strong Goldwater supporters, and we both had felt like if Goldwater had been elected in 1964, that the war would have been over in 1964. If it wasn't over, there wouldn't have been a Vietnam there, for sure.

NARRATOR: In 1970, George's father was running for the U.S. Senate. George W. was on board, learning the family business.

DOUG HANNAH: George was very active in the campaign. The beginnings of being his father's sounding board started in 1970. I could see that. When George had a thought, he could give it to his father. When his father had a thought, he'd bounce it off of George.

NARRATOR: No one thought of him as a future candidate, but he was seeing what it took to get elected.

KAY BAILEY, Newscaster: Because he is a member of the minority party in Texas, Congressman Bush feels he must meet as many people personally as he possibly can. Kay Bailey, Big 2 News, on the scene with the Bush campaign.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: [November 3, 1970] It appears that we've lost this race, and the only thing-- needless to say, I congratulate Lloyd Bentsen--

NARRATOR: People remember that George W. had kept urging everyone to keep the faith. Until the end, he refused to accept his father would lose.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I feel kind of like Custer, you know? There were too many Indians. Well, there are too many Democrats in some of these counties, I guess. But the other thing is that I have a horrible problem between now and kind of figuring this out because I can't think of anybody else to blame. Thank you very much.

NARRATOR: Nixon rescued Bush, Senior, appointing him to be the next ambassador to the U.N. The Bush family was still in the political game.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The relief for me is really great, just to know that my family is so happy after kind of a tough defeat in November. But now, you know, new life and new vigor has kind of sprung back into our veins.

KAY BAILEY: Kay Bailey from Big 2 News, on the scene.

NARRATOR: John Kerry was still in the Navy, but he was increasingly troubled by the war. News that one of his swift boat mates had been killed back in Vietnam was devastating. The war seemed a terrible mistake. Returning to civilian life, he married his fiancée, Julia. He wanted to enter politics. He joined a small but vocal anti-war group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Bobby Muller was an early member of the VVAW.

BOBBY MULLER, Vietnam Veterans Against the War: When veterans for the first time in American history, you know, came back from the war that they had fought in, took to the streets and openly condemned the very war that they had fought and had their buddies die and themselves wounded in, it was stunning.

[from the film "Winter Soldier"]

VETERAN: And the next slide is a slide of myself. It's me holding a dead body and smiling. I'm extremely shameful of it.

NARRATOR: In January of 1971, Kerry joined veterans in Detroit, where, as seen here, he listened to accounts of atrocities.

JOHN KERRY: Is there something that you could-- that you really kind of want to say, in terms of the crimes and why--

NARRATOR: It was called the Winter Soldier investigation.

BOBBY MULLER: People don't understand that the Winter Soldier hearings were held throughout the country, and it was very powerful because in many cases, it was the first time that guys would actually talk before an audience.

VETERAN: Everyone in our platoon took two bodies, drove them through a village for show and dumped them off at the edge of the village.

BOBBY MULLER: It was just an incredible emotional release, sort of like a confessional, you know, for these guys to just publicly admit to what had gone down in the war.

NARRATOR: They continued to hold hearings and organize veterans in other cities. Kerry became their spokesperson.

BOBBY MULLER: He was clean-shaven, presentable and rational. [laughs] I could say a lot of us were irrational, you know, and really, you know, caricatures of the counterculture of the day. You know, think of Woodstock. John was very presentable, in all seriousness. You know, he spoke eloquently. He spoke in measured terms. And he was somebody that didn't turn off a lot of the people that we, at the end of the day, really needed to be talking to.

JOHN KERRY: Veterans have the chance of saying-- telling the truth about this war more than any other group in the country. Businessmen have protested. Students have protested. Mothers have protested. Everybody has. But the men who fought the war, who know what it's like, who know what we're fighting, who know what they've been made to do, haven't. And it's the first time in the history that they're going to do that.

DEMONSTRATORS: Peace now! Peace now! Peace now!

NARRATOR: On April 18, 1971, 1,000 Vietnam veterans marched on Washington.

DEMONSTRATORS: [singing] Bring home, bring our brothers home--

NARRATOR: Senator William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, asked the veterans' leader to come up to the Hill.

JOHN KERRY: [April 22, 1971] Several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which--

NARRATOR: Kerry recounted some of the atrocities he had heard in Detroit.

JOHN KERRY: --cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.

NARRATOR: Kerry's descriptions of other soldiers' accounts of atrocities angered many veterans. He was calling for an immediate end to the war.

JOHN KERRY: --because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? We are here to ask, and we're here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country?

NARRATOR: The next day, White House aide Bob Haldeman told President Nixon Kerry was impressive.

Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: This fellow that they put in the front row, real star, this Kerry.

BOB HALDEMAN, Aide: Kerry? He is. He did a superb job on the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. He looks like a Kennedy almost, and he talks exactly like a Kennedy.

Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: Where did he serve?

BOB HALDEMAN: He was a Navy lieutenant on a gunboat. This guy got a Purple Heart with two clusters and the Navy Star. He's got a hell of a bundle of lettuce up there.

1st VETERAN: My name is John Morrow, and here's a bunch of bullshit! [throws ribbons]

NARRATOR: While Haldeman and Nixon were discussion Kerry's Purple Hearts--

1st VETERAN: More bullshit! [throws ribbons]

NARRATOR: --Kerry and 800 veterans stood before the Capitol and threw their war decorations away.

2nd VETERAN: --and I got a Purple Heart here, and I hope I get another one fighting these [deleted] [throws ribbons]

NARRATOR: Kerry threw away his ribbons. He left his medals at home. By the week's end, 250,000 protesters marched, danced and partied on the Mall.

COUNTRY JOE AND THE FISH: [singing] And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn--

JOHN KERRY: What we have to decide is that we're going to keep coming back until this war ends!

JOHN O'NEILL: [June 1, 1971] I don't agree with Mr. Kerry's testimony. Five hundred thousand Vietnam veterans have joined the VFW and the American Legion. Certainly, Mr. Kerry does not speak for them.

NARRATOR: John O'Neill was another Navy swift boat captain who had served in the Mekong Delta.

JOHN O'NEILL: I never saw one war crime committed by allied forces. To say that war crimes are commonly committed in Vietnam, as a matter of public policy, is a lie!

NARRATOR: He headed a newly formed group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace.

JOHN O'NEILL: The president does our talking for us, as with most Americans. Mr. Kerry certainly does not.

NARRATOR: According to Nixon aide Charles Colson, O'Neill's group had been created by the White House. O'Neill denies this, but nevertheless, Nixon met with O'Neill and urged him to keep after Kerry.

Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: Give it to him. Give it to him. And you can do it because you have a-- a pleasant manner. And I think it's a great service to the country.

NARRATOR: After the meeting, Colson wrote in a White House memo, "I think we have Kerry on the run, but let's not let up. Let's destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader."

ANNOUNCER: The Dick Cavett Show!

NARRATOR: Two weeks later, O'Neill debated Kerry on national television.

JOHN O'NEILL: You obviously are quite good on the polished rhetoric, but I did serve in the same place you did.

NARRATOR: The conversation revolved around the issue of war crimes.

JOHN O'NEILL: --for 18 months, and I never saw anything. And I'd like you to tell me about the war crimes you saw committed there and also why you didn't do something about them at the time.

JOHN KERRY: Did you serve in a free-fire zone?

JOHN O'NEILL: I certainly did serve in free-fire zones.

JOHN KERRY: A free-fire zone, in which we kill anything that moves, man, woman or child. This practice suspends the distinction between combatant and non-combatant and contravenes Geneva Convention Article 3.1. That's a war crime.

JOHN O'NEILL: Where is that from, John?

JOHN KERRY: Geneva Conventions. You've heard of that, I presume.

JOHN O'NEILL: Oh, I-- I-- [audience laughter, applause] I suggest--

JOHN KERRY: May I complete my statement--

JOHN O'NEILL: Sure. Go ahead.

JOHN KERRY: --for once this evening? Thank you. Yes, we did participate in war crimes in coastal division 11 because, as I said earlier, we took part in free-fire zones, harassment, interdiction fire and search-and-destroy missions.

NARRATOR: In the spring of 1972, George W. Bush left Houston and moved to this house in Montgomery, Alabama. He was sent there to be political director for the Senate campaign of one of his father's friends. He was obligated to continue his military service. He requested a transfer to the Alabama Air National Guard. Pilots with the 187th were told to expect someone important.

BOB MINTZ, Alabama Air National Guard, 1967-'84: I was in the hangar, up on the catwalk, one day, and someone said to me-- I don't remember who it was, but he said that there was someone coming to drill with us, maybe a lieutenant. And I was excited because we were kind of short on young officers and looking forward to meeting someone from out of town. And I got the impression that it was someone important. But come drill weekend, he wasn't there.

NARRATOR: The base was small. There were only about 25 pilots. A newcomer should have been noticed. Penalties for not showing up for Guard duty could be harsh.

BOB MINTZ: Back then, during the Vietnam war, anyone that didn't maintain their currency could be ordered into the Army active. And most-- most absolutely positive the next stop would be, you know, Saigon.

NARRATOR: Fellow campaign worker Murphy Archibald also got the impression that Bush was not doing any flight duty.

MURPHY ARCHIBALD, Campaign Volunteer, 1972: I didn't see anything there at the office that indicated that George was having any-- had any Guard responsibilities while he was in Alabama. I didn't-- you know, I never saw him in uniform, never heard him talk about it.

NARRATOR: Archibald says that Bush didn't seem that interested in the campaign of Winton "Red" Blount, either.

MURPHY ARCHIBALD: He almost every day would come in and laugh and talk about that he'd had a really tough night the night before. I thought it was odd that someone would feel comfortable coming into a political campaign and talk about how drunk they'd gotten the night before.

WINTON BLOUNT III: He might rub some people wrong that don't like that kind of style, but that's who he is.

NARRATOR: Red Blount's son insists Bush pulled his weight.

WINTON BLOUNT III: The campaign's erratic, to start with. If you're a person that's in at 8:00 and leaves at 5:00, are you pulling your weight more than you're in at 12:00 and out at midnight? You know, he pulled his weight, and he was-- did he have a good time when he was here in Alabama? I hope so.

NARRATOR: Blount lost the campaign, and by the time George moved back to Texas, he'd lost his flying status for failing to show up for a required physical. 1972 has been called "Bush's lost year." Then, in the summer of 1973, George applied for and got an early discharge from the Guard and enrolled in Harvard Business School.

George's mother, Barbara Bush, says, "Harvard was a great turning point for him. I think he learned structure." This is the only picture we could find of him at Harvard. Some fellow students remember him as popular and irreverent. What he didn't have was a career.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: In the world that he was from, you really needed to be a businessman to get respect. That was the honored position in life.

NARRATOR: Reporter Nicholas Lemann has covered Bush for The New Yorker.

NICHOLAS LEMANN: You know, the Bush family had a long, long history as businessmen, and the ethos among Republicans is first you go out and make your fortune, then you enter public life. It's totally unsurprising that he would decide to sort of get himself set up to be an independent businessman because that's the place of honor.

NARRATOR: In 1972, John Kerry, the young Democrat, was going directly into public life. A seat opened up in Lowell, the 5th District in Massachusetts.

JOHN MARTTILA, Chief Strategist, 1972: For-- you know, for a beginning campaign, we're doing very, very well, in terms of events.

NARRATOR: John Kerry's chief strategist was John Marttila.

JOHN MARTTILA: The incumbent congressman resigned, so it was an open seat, and that was terrific. It was 1972. It was McGovern-Nixon. The war was still a very powerful presence in our country. John was deeply committed to ending the war. This was the year after his famous speech at the Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. So the strategy was pretty simple. You know, the campaign was based upon ending the war.

NARRATOR: John Kerry had one problem: He wasn't from Lowell.

DAN PAYNE, Kerry Media Consultant, 1972-'95: He ran in a district that was very blue-collar, very kind of down-and-out, that had a word, a phrase for people from the outside. They called them "blow-ins." And here comes John Kerry, with his national reputation and his fancy haircut. This is not exactly a welcoming melting-pot kind of place.

NARRATOR: He ran on reviving the economy, but of course, against the war.

JOHN KERRY: I think you've got to reflect for a moment on the meaning of what's happening in Southeast Asia today.

NARRATOR: To many of his supporters, John was a rock star. Over 6,000 volunteers joined the Kerry campaign. By October, he was leading the polls by a 2-to-1 margin.

TOM VALLELY, Campaign Aide, 1972: John had a lot of supporters. I mean, John's campaign was like the Dean campaign, OK? It had that feel of-- you know, rather than have the Internet, we had a-- we didn't need the Internet. We just had sort of a divided country, and a lot of people with John.

JOHN MARTTILA: The truth is that we were a very young group, and John has said that we were a bunch of young and stupid kids, and I would say we were a bunch of young and very stupid kids.

CAMERON KERRY, Brother: We were earnest and convinced of the rightness of our cause and I think naive and maybe a little bit too convinced of the rightness of our cause.

NARRATOR: Overconfident, the Kerry campaign was blindsided by the local newspaper, The Lowell Sun, and its editor, Clem Costello.

DAN PAYNE: Costello was a very right-wing conservative guy who hated the idea of Kerry. I don't even know that he had much opportunity to meet John, but it was the idea of John Kerry that offended Clem Costello so much.

DAVID THORNE, Campaign Manager: Day after day, the paper printed full-page editorials that were treated like hard news about John Kerry and Vietnam, John Kerry the carpetbagger, John Kerry the radical, all these kinds of things.

DAN PAYNE: One of the stories they delighted in writing was who's given money to John Kerry. You know, Leonard Bernstein is a contributor. And that's all you should need to know if you're from Lowell.

NARRATOR: Kerry's early lead vanished. He lost by almost 9 percentage points.

TOM VALLELY: Loss is an important lesson. I remember election night, when John lost, he says to the crowd, "I want to tell Clem Costello one thing. If I had it to do all over again, I'd be on the Mall tomorrow with the veterans."

DAVID THORNE: You know, there was a stunning realignment. You know, you had everything going for you, and then suddenly, you know, you were defeated, and you were defeated and you-- you had no base. You came out of nowhere. You had no, you know, technical training of any kind, as a lawyer or anything else. You know, you had to go find a job. You were married, had a small kid on the way. You know, you had to completely readjust your sights. And it was just-- it was a very difficult period.

NARRATOR: After the campaign, Kerry opted for the more conventional path to political office. He entered Boston College law school in September of 1973.

NARRATOR: [Midland Promotional Film] The high plains of West Texas, a land where courageous men and women kindle growth and prosperity and a spirit of individualism which still reflects the open, unfettered expanses of the Land of the High Sky.

NARRATOR: With his Harvard MBA, George Bush came to Midland, Texas, to make his fortune. The oil business was booming.

DON EVANS, Friend: Well, we had a good run for a while, a very good run. Price of oil was increasing around the world. Price of natural gas was increasing. Things were looking up in Midland, Texas.

JIM SALE, Midland Oilman: Oh, it was wild. It was-- it was fun if you were in the oil and gas business. It was affectionately called the "doo-dah" days. I mean, it was just kind of fairyland. It was fun.

NARRATOR: George W. Bush started out at the bottom, as a "land man," trying to buy up the drilling rights to the next hot property. It meant running around, meeting people and hoping to get lucky and cut a deal. But after three years with little success, Bush decided to try that other family business.

KENT HANCE, Democratic Opponent 1978: All of a sudden, I turn on the television, there's a bright young man about 30, 31, announcing that he's running. And his name's George Bush. And I look, and I said, "That's not the George Bush I know."

NARRATOR: Not long after he decided to run for the U.S. Congress, Bush's friends, Jan and Joe O'Neill , introduced George to a friend of theirs, Laura Welch .

LAURA BUSH: I knew it was a set-up. I mean, I knew I was being invited over to meet George. Really, for a couple of years, Jan and Joey O'Neill had mentioned to me that they wanted me to meet George and they wanted us to get together. I think, literally, we were their last two friends who hadn't married.

NARRATOR: Three months later, they were. But there was no time for a honeymoon.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll say one thing about campaigning for office in west Texas. You sure do get to do plenty of driving.

NARRATOR: After the wedding, George went right back out on the campaign trail.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Somebody asked me the other day how many miles I thought I'd driven since I announced I was running for Congress over a year ago. "You know," I said, "I couldn't even begin to guess." It really is the only way I know how to campaign, get out every day and meet the people, tell them who I am.

I'm George Bush, running for the Congress.

LAURA BUSH: George had worked on a few campaigns, so he knew more than anybody else, any of our friends, about it. But all of us really were political novices. All of our friends were. I certainly was.

NARRATOR: He asked oil man friend Don Evans to be his campaign chairman.

DON EVANS: I saw a natural. During the election process, I saw one that had a-- had these skills to be a very powerful candidate. He just loves it! He loves people, and people love him. He connects so well with them. He'll go through Plainview, Texas, and he'll meet however many people, and you know what? He goes back through Plainview a month later, he knows them all! He knows them by their first name. He knows about their kids.

[www.pbs.org: More on Bush as a politician]

GEORGE W. BUSH: I guess the thing we need-- less government.

NARRATOR: With his family connections, Bush also raised lots of money, 40 percent more than his chief opponent, and much of it from oil interests. The trouble was how to distinguish himself from the other candidates.

KENT HANCE: Well, we didn't have any big issues on taxes or spending or anything like that. One time, we had a group, they asked about gun control. And Bush said he was against it. And Hickox was next and said he was really against it. And then Sheats was next, and he said he'd do everything to stop any gun control. And then Reese said that he would introduce a law to make it illegal to introduce a law to have government. You know, every one was getting a little more conservative.

And I was last, and so I said, "I'm not only against it, but if they try to take your guns, you can call me and I'll come over to your house and help you keep them." And Bush laughed, and he came over later and said, "That was a heck of an answer."

GEORGE W. BUSH: I feel sure I can be an effective congressman.

NARRATOR: In the end, Bush was seen as an outsider who'd been to Yale and Harvard. In west Texas, he did well to lose by only 6 percent points.

GEORGE W. BUSH: As you say, our campaign, our days were long, our nights were long. And Laura and I are now getting to know each other in a different way. I welcome the relaxation and welcome the chance to be alone with Laura in the house, but it has been tough to unwind.

NARRATOR: Afterwards, George Bush went back to the oil business, but his luck didn't change.

ROLAND BETTS, Friend: I think, more than anything, he was frustrated. He wanted the whole experience in the oil business to be more lucrative and better for his investors. I think he was a little embarrassed that he wasn't generating the kind of returns that he wanted to for his investors. So he was frustrated.

NARRATOR: For George Bush, life wasn't going well.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: He didn't do real well at Yale, at least, compared to his father, didn't do real well in the oil business, certainly compared to his father, lost his first race for office. You know, he didn't have a lot of experiences that just were, you know, you're getting the message that, "Wow, you aced it." You know, there just weren't a lot of things like that.

NARRATOR: Then in 1982, the price of oil began to decline.

JIM SALE: In fact, it tumbled and-- and it just wouldn't stop.

DON EVANS: And we saw companies starting to go bankrupt. We had friends going bankrupt. We had banks going bankrupt.

JIM SALE: You know, the laughter wasn't there. There was a lot of consternation. There was a lot of people huddled around tables. They were trying to figure out what they could do to make things work.

NARRATOR: George had two new responsibilities, but family and friends were worried about him. He was still drinking and wasn't making enough money. It wasn't clear where he was headed.

JIM SALE: In my life at that time, I wanted something that was for sure, that could offer peace, that wouldn't go away, that wouldn't go up or down like the price of oil. And that was God.

NARRATOR: In the midst of those dark days, a traveling evangelist came to Midland. His name was Arthur Blessit. Bush wanted to see him, and they agreed to meet off hours at the coffee ship of Midland's Holiday Inn. After about an hour, Blessit asked Bush if he was ready to accept Jesus as his personal savior. Jim Sale was there.

JIM SALE: Arthur asked him to pray a prayer of acceptance. It's many times dubbed as the "sinner's prayer." But the prayer is just an acknowledgement of anybody who realizes that they're a sinner and they're sorry. George prayed that prayer. He said, you know, "I want my name written in the lamb's book of life."

NARRATOR: In his autobiography, Bush tells of another conversion with Reverend Billy Graham in Kennebunkport, Maine, one year after his encounter with Blessit. Regardless, Bush says he began a new walk. He began by quitting drinking.

LAURA BUSH: He just said, "I'm not going to have another drink." It was a time in his life when he had started going to a Bible study with a number of his very good friends in Midland. And I think all of those things together-- his dad was running for president, was getting ready to run for president of the United States. I think there were a lot of things that came together that made him a more serious person. And quitting alcohol was a result of that.

NARRATOR: While Bush struggled to find his footing, John Kerry was on the move. Even before he graduated from law school in 1976, he got a job in the Middlesex County D.A.'s office, a large district northwest of Boston. He advanced quickly.

BILL CODINHA, Assistant DA, 1972-'80: John had incredible administrative skills. He worked incredibly hard. And he wouldn't take no for an answer.

NARRATOR: By all accounts, Kerry was an effective prosecutor and administrator. He also spent two-and-a-half years in private law practice.

STATEHOUSE SERGEANT AT ARMS: --Michael S. Dukakis, governor-elect of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, John F. Kerry, lieutenant governor-elect of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts--

NARRATOR: Then in 1982, Kerry was ready to return to politics. He ran successfully as Michael Dukakis's running mate and became lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Success had its price. Julia wanted to separate.

CAMERON KERRY, Brother: I think she found that politics and public life just really wasn't to her taste. John is somebody who rarely failed at anything, and you know, here was this enormous failure at something that was very central to his life and had been part of his being since he was a young man. They worked very hard for several years to try to pull it together.

NARRATOR: A few years later, they divorced. After just 13 months as lieutenant governor, Kerry spotted another opportunity.

JOHN KERRY: I am announcing my candidacy today for the United States Senate--

NARRATOR: A Senate seat had opened up.

JOHN KERRY: [campaign commercial] We are living in a greater state of international tension and danger than ever before, and we live closer to the reality of nuclear war than at any time in our history. The nuclear freeze is a vital first step in changing that policy.

I want the same things for my kids that all parents do--

NARRATOR: Running in a liberal state with a highly organized nuclear freeze movement, Kerry placed arms reduction above all other issues.

JOHN KERRY: None of that matters if we don't do something to stop the nuclear arms race and create lasting peace.

NARRATOR: He promised big cutbacks in Ronald Reagan's defense spending.

JOHN KERRY: [campaign commercial] And this 20-cent Allen wrench. The Navy spent over $9,000 for it. And the Pentagon paid--

NARRATOR: Kerry won easily over Ray Shamie, a Republican millionaire.

JOHN KERRY: Anyone who thinks you have to spend like this in order to keep America strong must have a screw loose.

NARRATOR: Kerry would take office in January, 1985. The former activist was now a member of a very exclusive club. Massachusetts senior senator, Ted Kennedy, was a prolific legislator. Kerry had a different idea of what he wanted to do here. He lobbied for a seat on the same committee before which he testified 13 years earlier about the war in Vietnam.

JACK BLUM, Senate Investigator 1987-'88: He saw the Foreign Relations Committee as a place where if something like this happened again, he could stand up and do something. He could be a member of that committee which had so changed the course of America's perceptions of Vietnam.

NARRATOR: Foreign policy was front and center. The Reagan administration was then engaged in supporting a proxy army, the Contras, to help fight a left-wing government in Nicaragua.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: [March 1, 1985] I've spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they're fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French resistance. We cannot turn away from them, for the struggle here is not right versus left, it is right versus wrong.

NARRATOR: On the eve of a congressional vote on aid to the Contras, Kerry flew to Managua with his colleague, Tom Harkin, of Iowa. Kerry was just three-and-a-half months into his first term as a senator. The Reagan administration accused them of conducting their own foreign policy.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: [April 18, 1985] We're here to clarify a larger set of issues regarding how you peacefully resolve what's happening down here.

NARRATOR: The stay culminated with a five-hour meeting at the home of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: We are excited because there's an opportunity here to sit down and talk and to stop people from being killed on either side.

JONATHAN WINER, Counselor to Sen. Kerry, 1983-'97: Ortega had given John a set of negotiating points, things to take back to the administration to potentially see if they could cut a deal.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Both of us having been through Vietnam, I think the notion that the United States has an opportunity to demilitarize, not to escalate, to be able to sit down and talk is, you know, one of the most important kinds of opportunities that you fight for in the process of trying to create a foreign policy.

JONATHAN WINER: The Reagan administration didn't want to negotiate anything with Daniel Ortega. They wanted the Contra war. The last thing they wanted was a negotiation. So John got smashed.

CASPAR WEINBERGER, Secretary of Defense, 1981-'87: If anybody's worried about another Vietnam, it seems to me the thing they ought to be worried about is another Cuba.

JONATHAN WINER: They immediately went on the attack. Kerry was cast as a little naive by the Reagan administration, which had a big megaphone.

CASPAR WEINBERGER: And for the life of me, I cannot understand why a communist regime in Nicaragua has so much support in the Congress.

NARRATOR: A few days after Kerry and Harkin returned, Ortega flew to Moscow, where he was seen embracing Soviet leaders and accepting communist aid. Kerry looked as if he'd been duped. When the Iran-Contra scandal broke a year later, Kerry was left off an important investigating committee. After a fast start, the freshman senator was temporarily sidelined.

JONATHAN WINER: So what they were telling him was, "You now support the party. Be part of the institutional Senate. Do that for a while. You know, bit by bit, you'll get there. Not so fast, John Kerry."

NARRATOR: In time, Kerry would establish himself as an investigator and would pursue high-profile investigations of drug running and money laundering leading to the indictment of Panama's dictator Manuel Noriega and the demise of a corrupt international bank, BCCI.

[www.pbs.org: More on Kerry as a senator]

In 1988, George, Sr., was running for president. George W. came out of Texas to work on the campaign.

Vice Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I feel very confident about winning the nomination of the Republican Party and the election. The polls are strong, but here we're behind.

NARRATOR: Early on in Iowa, they were facing an unexpected challenge from the Reverend Pat Robertson.

Vice Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Go to those caucuses, rain or shine, and vote for me!

NARRATOR: Robertson was demonstrating a new fact of political life: The religious right had become a very potent force.

Rev. PAT ROBERTSON (R), Presidential Candidate: You and I know we must restore the greatness of America through moral strength!

NARRATOR: Young George was learning some valuable political lessons.

DOUG WEAD, Campaign Adviser, Bush Sr. 1988: Just before the vote in Iowa, when we saw we were going down, I convinced G.W. that he ought to fly into Des Moines and visit with some of Robertson's people and see how easy it is to build a relationship for his dad.

NARRATOR: George flew to Iowa with Wead and met with evangelicals. The fact that the candidate's son was a born-again Christian made a real difference.

GEORGE W. BUSH: No matter how busy George Bush has been in the past, he's never let us down as a father.

DOUG WEAD: And the conclusion was afterwards-- I said to G.W., "We could take out every one of those churches which are the foundation of the Robertson campaign and we could emasculate his effort in the South. And you see we could do it very easily." And he saw it.

NARRATOR: George W. campaigned all across the country that year, including Texas.

GEORGE W. BUSH: --because east Texas and Texas are going to be George Bush country this November.

NARRATOR: Somewhere along the way, he caught a glimpse of his own future.

DOUG WEAD: And sometimes he'd even say out loud, "Yeah, I could do this in Texas. This is what I could do in Texas." And sometimes he'd mumble when we'd talk about the numbers and where they were and he'd just almost salivate. "Wow." Said, "I could win the governorship of Texas with just the evangelical vote."

LEE ATWATER, Bush Sr. Campaign Strategist 1988: George Bush! A little louder. Let's go!

NARRATOR: George's boss that year was campaign chairman Lee Atwater. He was a master strategist with a reputation for aggressive tactics.

MARY MATALIN, Dpty. Campaign Mgr., Bush Sr. , 1988: Lee and George W. Bush became such fast friends because they were on a par of strategic thinkers that few people are, strategy being the ability to see around corners, to understand where the collective psyche is. They were strategic peers.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We're counting on you in the home stretch. One reason we did so well all over the country is because George Bush's supporters remain steadfast and true. We're in for a heck of a race. Sometimes the sons can say something their fathers can't, and that is, we're counting on you because we want you go out there and kick some of Michael Dukakis and kick it hard! Thank you very much.

NARRATOR: Afterwards, George W. headed back to Texas. He considered running for governor but decided against it. Then along came an opportunity to revitalize the struggling Texas Rangers ballclub. George was interested.

ROLAND BETTS, Rangers Partner: My counsel to him was, "You are only known as the son of the president of the United States, and this is an opportunity for you to really do something great. We have the lousiest franchise in baseball. We can build a new stadium. You can do something that attracts attention, creates jobs, you know, enlivens the city. And it's you doing it, and you're going to be in a much better position four or five years from now to then run." And this was our plan. This is how we were going to make money, have a good time doing this.

NARRATOR: The plan was to build a new ballpark on seized land and then raise local sales taxes to pay for its construction. It generated some controversy. But Bush, good with people, came in and helped sell the deal. He became a partner and the club's most visible face.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: By far, his most successful experience as a businessman was with the Texas Rangers. He was businessman as politician, in effect. He was the public face and, in a way, front man for the Rangers franchise. He sat in a box at the Rangers games and shook hands. There was a big political component to that because they had to get the stadium built with public money.

It didn't escape notice that he was the son of the president. And then he was surrounded with people like Roland Betts, who were very seasoned and experienced businessmen and who invested and piloted the project. And that was the one deal in his business career that he really did well on.

NARRATOR: In just a few years, Bush reaped a personal profit of over $10 million, while building his own big-league reputation.

John Kerry was on his way to his second term in the Senate when the news came that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. Initially, he supported the president.

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: [April 5, 1990] This will not stand. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.

JAMES A. BAKER, Secretary of State: We have to face the fact that four months into this conflict, none of our efforts have yet produced any sign of change in Saddam Hussein.

NARRATOR: But as the possibility of war grew closer, Kerry grew uneasy.

JAMES A. BAKER: This is the last, best chance for a peaceful solution.

NARRATOR: Kerry confronted secretary of state James Baker in the Senate.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: In your testimony today, I'm disturbed because you seem to have given up on sanctions. I don't know anyone who doesn't say Saddam Hussein doesn't have to get out of Kuwait. The issue here is war at the moment that it's ripe. And what I fear is that while you talk about the costs of waiting, the cost of one week of war may be far, far greater than the cost of several more months of exhausting the possibilities, so that Americans will come together united and say, "We did everything, and now we have no other choice."

NARRATOR: On the eve of the vote, Kerry stood on the Senate floor and asked, "Are we really ready for another generation of amputees, paraplegics and burn victims? There is a rush to war here. It sounds like we are risking war for pride, rather than vital interests."

SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEM: --Resolution 2, to authorize the use of United States armed forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.

Vice Pres. DAN QUAYLE, Senate Pres. Pro Tem: [January 12, 1991] On this vote, the yeas are 52 and the nays are 47.

NARRATOR: After a close vote, the war resolution passed. Kerry voted against it.

HARRY SMITH, CBS News: Gentlemen, good morning. Senator Kerry, let's start with you. Did your Vietnam experience affect the way you voted over the weekend?

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Well, it affected my perceptions of what the risks are and what the down sides are. I don't--

NARRATOR: Kerry defended his vote on CBS.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: I'm confident we're not doing the right thing right now. I'm absolutely convinced that we were on a track that was violent in itself. We had the toughest sanctions in place ever put on any country in the world. Now, whether they would have succeeded in getting him out or not, I can't tell you that. But we will never know now whether they might have or whether they might have provided the opening for a diplomatic out.

[www.pbs.org: More on Kerry's 1991 Iraq vote]

NARRATOR: The Gulf war was a success for President Bush. Kerry's fears of a long, drawn-out struggle were not realized.

Back in Texas, George W.'s name had come up as a possible candidate for governor. Wayne Slater reports on Bush for The Dallas Morning News.

WAYNE SLATER, Dallas Morning News: George Bush had been mentioned as someone who really is a comer, someone who really could be somebody. And there were discussions among a number of sort of high-level Republican folks, money folks and others. And the key instrument of those discussions was a political consultant who was working at the time in Texas, guy named Karl Rove.

Rove was sitting in Austin, Texas, with another political consultant. And he said, "You know, this guy, George Bush, very impressive guy. I think I could make him governor. And here's how you would do it." And he explained how it could be done.

NARRATOR: Precinct by precinct, Rove had analyzed what it would take and then presented his case to Bush. But George wasn't sure this was the right time.

WAYNE SLATER: George Bush was skeptical. He believed sort of the press, and the press was that Ann Richards was unbeatable. In fact, George Bush's mother even said to him, Barbara Bush said, "You can't beat Ann Richards." But Karl Rove knew he could.

NARRATOR: Ann Richards had stepped into the national spotlight with her attacks on George Bush, Sr., at the 1988 Democratic convention.

Gov. ANN RICHARDS (D), Texas, 1991-'95: Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

NARRATOR: But Ann Richards now admits that she underestimated George W.

ANN RICHARDS: George Bush isn't stupid. George Bush is canny. He's also very clever and has tremendously clever people who work for him. I never underestimated Karl Rove.

NARRATOR: Strategist Karl Rove was there from the beginning. He convinced Bush to run.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Let's make it official. I'm a candidate for governor of Texas. Thank you.

NARRATOR: Then came campaign director Joe Allbaugh, brought in to help Bush do some hiring and firing.

JOE ALLBAUGH, Chief of Staff, 1995-'99: It's not something I enjoy doing, but it had to be done. So I was brought on board to become that enforcer of his will.

NARRATOR: Last aboard the campaign was Karen Hughes, a former Dallas TV reporter. She ran communications. Famous for keeping everyone on message, she said Bush's style was pure Texas.

KAREN HUGHES, Communications Director, 1995-'00: Texas is a very open, rough-and-tumble, "say what you mean and mean what you say," plain-spoken kind of place. It's pretty straightforward. There's not much subtlety.

NARRATOR: Eventually, the press corps would refer to Rove, Allbaugh and Hughes as "the iron triangle."

JOE ALLBAUGH: We ran a very disciplined shop starting in the '94 campaign, and we carried that discipline throughout his six years of governor, for a reason. And it was a way that we ran things. We were a team of credibility. We said what we meant, and we meant what we said.

ANN RICHARDS: I would say that George Bush's organization is the toughest I've ever seen. When I got up in the morning, I could be sure that Karen Hughes or the chairman of the Republican Party was going to have something negative to say about anything I had done. And it was like a steady drip, drip, drip on a stone.

GEORGE W. BUSH: [campaign commercial] Texas is considered the third most dangerous state in the nation.

NARRATOR: One of the most effective ad campaigns dealt with crime.

ANNOUNCER: [campaign commercial] Violent juvenile crime is up 52 percent, yet Ann Richards has done little about it.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Crime is more violent, more random, more young than ever before in the state's history.

WAYNE SLATER: Crime was actually falling. Didn't make any difference because the campaign run by George Bush and Karl Rove convinced people that crime was at its worst. They believed it. It was a weakness. They exploited it brilliantly.

GEORGE W. BUSH: [October 21, 1994] I think that the biggest thing Texas must do is to end the post-Vietnam war syndrome which blames others for society's ills.

NARRATOR: Some members of the press had predicted that Bush would crumble in the debates without the protection of his staff.

GEORGE W. BUSH: --which means changing a juvenile justice system to hold people accountable for what they do.

WAYNE SLATER: I want to ask you about your experience in business.

NARRATOR: Reporter Wayne Slater pressed Bush about his oil days.

WAYNE SLATER: When you were on the board of Harken Energy, you sold almost a million dollars worth of stock shortly before--

NARRATOR: But Bush stayed on message.

WAYNE SLATER: Are you preaching personal responsibility but not practicing it in your private business life?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Wayne, my business career's open for public scrutiny, and I'm proud of it. We ought to be discussing Welfare reform, juvenile justice, education, ways to make Texas a better place for our children--

NARRATOR: At one point, the campaign turned ugly. Bush's east Texas campaign chairman accused Richards of hiring "avowed and activist homosexuals" to high state offices.

ANN RICHARDS: The issue of homosexuality was very much an issue. In fact, there were flyers placed under the windshield wipers of parked cars at religious fundamentalist churches on Sundays that showed two men kissing. It was very much involved.

NARRATOR: The flyer attacked liberals for encouraging homosexuality in the schools. It had no connection to the governor's race, but some observers suspected it was part of a coordinated attack.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: The pattern, when you look at President Bush's career, is one of very, very, very aggressive campaign tactics. There's a pattern of groups popping up who spread basically dirty rumors about the opponent, and do it in a way that serves the interest of the Bush campaign but enables the Bush campaign to say, "We have nothing to do with these people." And it's happened over and over and over again. He clearly has said to himself, "I am not going to lose an election for being too gentlemanly and nice."

NARRATOR: He didn't lose. Social conservatives and the religious right liked what they saw in Bush. Many years before, he had watched his father lose in this once heavily Democratic state. In 1994, Republican George W. Bush was elected governor of Texas.

One day in 1992, John Kerry's old roommate, Dan Barbiero, was visiting John in Washington.

DAN BARBIERO, Friend: We were in the car, and we were driving to a meeting, and he said, "I met this fabulous woman." He said, "I think this is really the woman." I said, "That's fantastic." And he said, "Well, there's kind of a problem." I said, "What's that?" He said, "Well, she's extremely wealthy. She's the Heinz heir." I said, "That doesn't sound like a problem to me. I mean, you know"-- he said, "Yeah, but you know everybody's going to say I'm this and that." I said, "Listen from what you've told me about her, go for it." You know, "Don't even hesitate. I mean, who cares what they think."

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: I thought of him as very serious, interesting person that was attractive, but I was a little, you know, guarded. And I think he was guarded, too. I know he was because he was afraid of getting into a serious relationship.

NARRATOR: On their first date, they visited the Washington Mall.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: It was a very beautiful evening. And he said, "Have you ever been here at night?" I said, "No." So he stopped the car, and we walked.

NARRATOR: John led Teresa to the Vietnam memorial.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: And there were people with flowers and there were people kneeling and there were people just looking and there were people crying. And John didn't speak very much. Every now and then, he'd point to a name on the wall who was a friend, including his best friend.

NARRATOR: At the time, John was involved in the biggest initiative of his Senate career, closing the book on the Vietnam war. Every Memorial Day since 1988, Vietnam veterans and friends of the missing had come to Washington demanding a full accounting of the more 2,000 soldiers that never returned from the war. They called their demonstration Rolling Thunder.

Sen. BOB KERREY, (D) Nebraska, 1988-'01: In the mind of an awful lot of people who served in Vietnam, the government of the United States lied to us and screwed us. And other than that, we weren't upset. The POW-MIA issue became a flashpoint, sometimes rational, sometimes not.

PROTESTER: America, how much longer will I stay in bondage!

NARRATOR: A poll taken in the early '90s showed that 70 percent of Americans believed there were POWs still held in Vietnam.

PROTESTER: America, help! Help me!

BOB KERREY: And there were theories about them being held underground in deep caves and shuttled around between Hanoi and Haiphong and Bulgaria, et cetera. And it just went on and on and on. But these were serious people who were saying this. And it was hard. You just don't remember how angry the advocates of getting a full accounting of the POW-MIA issue were.

PROTESTERS: Tell the truth!

NARRATOR: President Bush got a taste of that anger when he was shouted down during a speech to family members of the missing.

PROTESTERS: No more lies! No more lies! Tell us the truth! Tell us the truth!

NARRATOR: Ignoring his advisers, Senator Kerry put himself in the center of the controversy, insisting that he chair a new Senate investigation, the Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs. Also serving on the committee was another Vietnam veteran, John McCain. The investigation lasted 14 months, during which time Kerry made five trips to Vietnam, chasing down rumors about still surviving POWs and MIAs. He interviewed nearly 200 witnesses. And he got the Pentagon to release over 1.5 million classified documents.

JOHN SHATTUCK, Friend: Vietnam was what John knew best. And was what he, I think, felt most deeply about. And felt that he could make the biggest contribution to. And he felt it would be important to try to heal the wounds of Vietnam, both domestically and internationally, and that-- that-- that doing something about Vietnam would-- would have a great international significance as well as having some impact on the domestic wounds.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: [Jan. 13, 1993] It's a thousand-plus pages here, a document with 12 signatures. It's a unanimous report.

NARRATOR: The report declared that there is no compelling reason to believe that any POWs or MIAs remain alive today.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R), Arizona: At the risk of being redundant, but it's very appropriate, I'd like to begin by thanking Senator Kerry for his fairness, determination and--

JOHN SHATTUCK: He teamed up with John McCain, a former prisoner of war who initially was very negative about what Kerry had done in criticizing the war, but came, I think, to see the seriousness of Kerry's commitment to healing the wounds and felt, I think, a kinship with Kerry.

NARRATOR: The final report paved the way for the for the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

TOM VALLELY, Harvard U. Vietnam Program: Kerry and McCain basically make a truce in American politics, that it doesn't matter anymore what you did, what you thought, how you reacted to the Vietnam war, but the Vietnam war was in the past and that America was going to move forward.

NARRATOR: In Austin, Governor George W. Bush was earning a reputation as an effective governor. He had good rapport with Democrats who controlled the state legislature, and he pushed through some education reforms and large tax cuts. The old fraternity president seemed to have found his calling.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: Deep inside, he's a politician. When you're with a politician, they want to look you in the eye. They want to touch you. They want to be with you. They like having that one-on-one transaction and winning people over. And in that way, he's a real politician. You can have 60 seconds with President Bush and you come away sort of glowing, and that's a classic politician skill that, in fact, his father didn't have nearly in the measure that he has.

NARRATOR: As governor, Bush was also developing his own management style.

PAUL SADLER, (D) Texas Legislature: He's not one to sit in the room by himself and overly analyze a problem. At least, I've never seen that side of him. It's just not really what I consider to be his strength. And so what he does is, he surrounds himself with people that can give him advice.

CLAY JOHNSON, Aide to the Governor: He is intolerant of situations where they come in and say, "Here are the facts. What do you want to do?" He's not one to reflect, to wring his hands, to wonder if the decision he made is right or wrong. He knows you don't bat a thousand.

[www.pbs.org: Bush's core traits and instincts]

NARRATOR: Even on matters of life and death, Bush didn't seem to agonize or doubt.

CLAY JOHNSON: A great example of this was the Karla Faye Tucker execution. This is a woman who had become very religious in prison and a very devout Christian but had conducted just an awful, awful crime. And yet religious leaders, political leaders, community leaders from within Texas and all across the country and all across the world were writing the governor, asking him to have mercy on this woman.

NARRATOR: They pleaded with him to issue a stay of execution. Bush would not reconsider.

PAUL SADLER: I'd been out of town for a couple of days, and I picked up the phone and called the governor's mansion at 7:00 o'clock in the morning the day of the execution. And I said, "Governor, I-- this is Paul. I was just calling to check on you, make sure you're all right. I know this has been a tough time dealing with this." He said, "No, Paul. It's not been tough at all for me. She's guilty. I think she's guilty. A jury decided she was guilty. And she ought to be executed, period.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: [February 3, 1998] I have sought guidance through prayer. I have concluded judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority. Karla Faye Tucker has acknowledged she is guilty of a horrible crime. The courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have reviewed the legal issues in this case, and therefore I will not grant a 30-day stay. May God bless Karla Faye Tucker, and God bless her victims and their families.

NARRATOR: In 1996, John Kerry was facing a tough reelection battle that would put his 12-year Senate record on trial. His opponent was Massachusetts' popular governor, Bill Weld, considered and a Republican star with presidential prospects. The two candidates faced off in 8 televised debates.

REPORTER: [April 8, 1996] Senator, you've been in Washington for 12 years now. Why do so many Massachusetts voters lack a clear idea of what you've accomplished there for the state?

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Andy, that's a very fair question, and I think it's one of the difficulties of the United States Senate and the difficulties of what gets covered. I am very, very proud of the fact that I led the fight to put 100,000 police officers on the streets of America--

NARRATOR: Kerry listed a slew of legislative accomplishments, from getting more cops on the streets to youth job programs and flood relief.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: These are not the things that make the front page, but they are the stuff of being a United States Senator, and I'm proud of it.

[applause]

MODERATOR: Governor Weld?

Gov. WILLIAM WELD (R), 1990-'97, Senate Candidate: You are right, a lot of people don't know Senator Kerry's voting record. That's why I came here tonight. I'm going to tell you Senator Kerry's voting record. When we researched his voting record, we didn't find as much as we thought we were going to. And I'm sure it's because he had thought out with great care what footprints he was going to leave in the legislative record. And I don't mean that entirely in a negative sense, just that he's planning ahead. So I think that's his strength.

Can you please explain to the commuting residents of Massachusetts why they should pay a 50 cents a gallon increase in the gas tax? What's the fairness of that?

Sen. JOHN KERRY: You and your friends in Washington have this notion that everything's for free, you can keep reducing--

Gov. WILLIAM WELD: I don't have friends in Washington.

[laughter]

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Well, Governor-- Governor, that is not what Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson and a lot of other people say.

[Laughter and applause]

WILLIAM WELD: We were landing pretty good punches in the '96 campaign, and he reared back on his hind legs and punched back. He's not an effete preppy. You know, he does have the aristocratic background and manner of speaking, so you could be misled into thinking, "Here's a preppy. I'm going to make mincemeat out of him." And you'd be mistaken if you thought that.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: There are only seven people on death row at the federal level, and we passed a bill on that--

NARRATOR: But the debates did reveal Kerry's problems as a communicator.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Even though I'm opposed to the death penalty, Governor, I voted for it. And I voted for the bill because I thought it was more important to put cops on the street in order to catch the people who commit the crimes

NARRATOR: slicing his arguments too thin, always explaining and then explaining his explanation, Kerry can confuse even his best friends.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: --which is why I am for life in prison without parole

BILL CODINHA, Counselor to Kerry, 1991-'93: He'll drive someone like me crazy because I may see five options, I may see four options, and I'm perfectly willing to discuss those four or five options. John sees 25 and wants to talk about each one of them.

JACK BLUM, Senate Investigator, 1987-'88: John Kerry knows enough to know that the world is not a sound bite world. He is always tempted to give you the nuances that he knows and to tell you that the problem is much more complicated than you think it is and to worry about that complexity. And maybe that it is his biggest single weakness as a candidate.

DAN PAYNE, Kerry Media Consultant, 1972-'95: He won because he was able eventually to understand that by just applying a little bit of discipline to this-- instead of wanting to talk about 12 things, let's narrow the-- let's narrow the discussion to maybe three or four.

NARRATOR: As he made his way up to the podium on victory night, he paused to greet his swift boat mates who had come to help him campaign. It was now John Kerry who was being asked when he would run for President.

[www.pbs.org: More on Kerry's decision-making style]

In April, 1998, George Bush was in California when he was invited to the home of former secretary of state George Shultz. Shultz had wanted the governor of Texas to meet with some policy experts.

GEORGE SHULTZ, Secretary of State, 1982-88: We said; 'Well, why don't you come over to my house, and I'll gather some of the usual suspects around and we'll talk about policy issues." And he accepted. So he sat here in this living room, and I had Mike Boskin, Condoleezza Rice and John Taylor, who is now undersecretary of the treasury.

NARRATOR: They were looking for a candidate for 2000 with good political instincts, someone they could work with.

GEORGE SHULTZ: What impressed me the most was every once in a while, something would come up and he'd say, "I don't know much about that. Why doesn't somebody talk about it a little bit."

MICHAEL BOSKIN, Advisor to Bush Sr., 1988-'92: I think the single most important things that came out of that meeting were a group of people basically saying, "This guy could be really good." You know, "He's straightforward. He asked tough questions. He's a guy we can get behind."

GEORGE SHULTZ: When we got through, I said to him, "You must be considering running for president. And I hope you do because it seems to me you have a good seat-of-the-pants for the job."

NARRATOR: Bush now had one of the party's elder statesmen in his corner. And by late 1998, money was pouring into Bush's campaign coffers. That fall, Dallas television evangelist James Robison stopped in Austin and Bush shared a personal revelation.

JAMES ROBISON, LIFE Outreach Int'l: He said, "I feel that I'm supposed to run for President." He said, "I can't explain it, but I believe I-- my country is going to need me at this time." I really do believe that, as our founders said, divine providence. I believe we do need wisdom from above. I think he sought that. I don't think that is something we should take lightly. I think he believed as he prayed, as he said to me, "I believe my country is going to need me at this time."

ANNOUNCER: [February 15, 1999] Next on Life Today: His dad was our president.

NARRATOR: A few months later, Bush would appear on Robison's TV show.

ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush's agenda goes way beyond politics.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: I wish I knew how to make people love one another.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up next, some surprising thoughts from a possible presidential candidate.

JAMES ROBISON: We want to talk to you just about the question that's everybody's asking. Since there's so much--

NARRATOR: The governor was reaching out on a nationally syndicated program to the evangelical voters he knew he'd need.

JAMES ROBISON: This is your big opportunity.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: I never ran for governor of Texas to be president. It didn't enter my mind when I was 21. It didn't enter my mind when I was 31 or 41. Truthfully. I mean, I didn't conduct my life in order to figure out how to be president. And so when all this speculation started. it caught me and my mother totally by surprise.

[laughter]

But I am interested. I'm interested because I'm concerned about the future of our country. So I'm interested.

NARRATOR: But as he played down his political ambitions--

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: And I've got to make up my mind if an administration can lift the spirit of America. That's what I got to make up my mind about.

NARRATOR: He was already in charge of a sophisticated and well-funded political machine that would carry him into the primaries.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know there's another battle, and there will be another battle after that.

NARRATOR: Early on, his resolve would be tested by the surprising challenge from Senator John McCain.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Senator McCain gets a lot of credit. No question he's a formidable candidate. I've always known he was.

JOE ALLBAUGH, Campaign Manager 2000: We had been drilled in New Hampshire by 19 points. I knew we were going to lose, I just didn't know it was by 19 points, thank you very much.

We took a different approach in South Carolina. We had to run a tougher campaign against John McCain, and we did that. This was for all the marbles. We were either going to make it or break it in South Carolina.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: [February 18, 2000] A dangerous world requires a sharpened sword, so I will rebuild the military power of the United States of America!

NARRATOR: Bush ran a well-organized and aggressive campaign with the full support of the Republican establishment. But McCain, the outsider, complained he was the victim of dirty tricks.

Sen. BOB KERREY, (D) Nebraska, 1988-2001: I mean, I was hearing reports that he was being maligned about what he did when he was a prisoner, that he was-- that his service was being clouded as a consequence of not doing enough for other prisoners and that he was being maligned, as well, because he adopted a black child. And it just seemed to be reprehensible character assassination. And they could have been attacking him for almost anything.

NARRATOR: At this rally, a veteran named Thomas Burch, who had led harsh attacks on George W.'s father over the POW issue, accused McCain of betraying veterans.

THOMAS BURCH: And he's always opposed all the legislation, be it Agent Orange or Gulf war health care or, frankly, the POW-MIA issue. He was the leading opponent in the Senate. He has the power to help these veterans. He came home and he forgot us.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [CNN] Let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event--

NARRATOR: Bush tried to disassociate himself from the event when confronted by McCain on CNN.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans. Now, I don't know now-- if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. Yeah. Let me--

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: You should be ashamed.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. Let me speak to that.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: You should be ashamed. [crosstalk]

LARRY KING, CNN, Moderator: Is he responsible for what someone else says?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Well, this same man, he stood next to him-- [crosstalk]

LARRY KING: Well, let him respond on that point.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me answer-- let me answer that. [crosstalk]

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: You should be ashamed of--

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. Look, let me say something--

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: --sponsoring an event--

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me finish.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: --that man there, who had attacked your own father.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: That man wasn't speaking for me. He may have a dispute with you--

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: It was your event!

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me finish, please. Please.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: He's listed as your--

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me finish! Let me finish.

LARRY KING: All right, let him finish.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: The man was not speaking for me. If you want to know my opinion about you, John, you served our country admirably and strongly. And I'm proud of your record, just like you are.

NARRATOR: Bush seemed to apologize, but the damage had been done. The press noted that this Bush had a certain toughness his father didn't.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: You can disagree with me on issues, John, but do not question-- do not question my trustworthiness and do not compare me to Bill Clinton.

NARRATOR: He was going to need that toughness through a long, close race and right up to election night.

DON EVANS, Campaign Chairman, 2000: Thank you. Thank you. They're still counting. They're still counting. And I'm confident that when it's all said and done, we will prevail. God bless.

CLAY JOHNSON, Governor's Chief of Staff, 1999-'00: Well, that night was the longest night of anybody's life. He was definitely a loser and then definitely a winner and then definitely a loser and then definitely a winner and then it was a tie.

NICHOLAS LEMANN: And it was an interesting weekend to spend in Austin. The whole place was just alive with gossip. If you remember, at that time, Bush seemed a little sort of confused or disoriented, thrown for a loop, not knowing what to do.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: It's an interesting period, Ken. We're all in limbo. And--

NICHOLAS LEMANN: But then, interestingly, you just felt it all pull together. I mean, the moment when I really felt it was when James Baker went to Florida and he stood before the cameras, and he was just pure steel.

JAMES BAKER: [November 10, 2000] Let me begin by saying that the American people voted on November the 7th. Governor George W. Bush 31 states with a total of 271 electoral votes. The vote here in Florida was very close, but when it was counted, Governor Bush was the winner.

NICHOLAS LEMANN: You felt like either the president himself, or Bush Incorporated, if you will, just got together and decided, "OK, we're going to do this."

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States!

DAVID FRUM, Presidential Speechwriter, 2001-'02: George Bush began his presidency with both personal and party problems. He'd had a very narrow win. He came into office with a very weak mandate. And then there was this question mark over his head. The country had a feeling maybe about his personality, but he didn't have much of a record. So he was a gamble for the country.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: This is our first event in this beautiful spot, and it's appropriate we talk about policy that will affect people's lives.

NARRATOR: The conventional wisdom was that George W. Bush would govern much like his father had, from the center, as a moderate. But Bush was more conservative.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: My job is to lead.

NARRATOR: He launched far-reaching plans for a tax cut, education reform and faith-based initiatives.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We have minds to change, and we got some laws to pass. Our course is set, and I believe our case is strong.

NICK LEMANN: I believed that Bush would be a more moderate president than he has turned out to be. I see President Bush as somebody who has a enormous and sort of slumbering ambition and self-confidence. And the more he lets out who he really is, the more conservative he gets, partly because conservatism is the path of maximum ambition for him.

NARRATOR: The Bush administration started off extremely successfully, but soon Bush's rapid-fire assault on the status quo caused growing tensions within his own party. In late May, a Republican Senator defected, shifting control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Condi and I have spent a lot of time just sitting around and visiting about our foreign policy matters and--

NARRATOR: It wasn't clear just where the president was going to go next.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Karen Hughes was here. We spent a good deal of time with Karen, talking about--

DAVID FRUM: When I think about the end of that summer, it's the lack of energy and momentum that is the strongest impression that I-- that I have. The tax cut went through Congress--

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: --although I haven't been in the meetings. I haven't been--

DAVID FRUM: But pushing it through Congress destroyed the Republican majority in the Senate. And after that, things bogged down. So I think if you were to look at the Bush administration on Labor Day of 2001, you'd say it's not quite clear how they're going to fill the time over the next three years.

[www.pbs.org: Read the extended interview]

NARRATOR: On September 11, 2001, the message of the day was supposed to be education. The president was in Florida visiting, a grade school. The first lady was on her way to a hearing on Capitol Hill.

LAURA BUSH: I was going to Capitol Hill to brief the Senate Education Committee. And as I got to the car to drive to Capitol Hill, the head of my Secret Service detail told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. All of us in the car thought, "Well it must have been some sort of freak accident that a plane flew into the tower." And then just as we got to Capitol Hill, we heard about the second plane.

RICHARD CLARKE, National Security Council, 1992-'03: There was a fairly long period of time when he stayed in the classroom in Florida. And I blame that not so much on the president but on the party that was with him. During this period of time, it was clear what was happening. They were being told through multiple channels that this was a major terrorist attack, and it was ongoing. It was still coming. So it took them a long time to get their act together.

REPORTER: Are you aware of the reports of the planes crashing in New York?

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll talk about it later on.

BUSH AIDE: Thank you, all.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.

DAVID FRUM: There wasn't a clear idea of what even should be done with the president, where he should be or where he should go. And so-- and when the country saw the president a couple of times that day, he seemed unready.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will do whatever is necessary to protect America and Americans.

DAVID FRUM: You were left wondering were things going to be OK? Was the-- was he ready? Was the country ready? Was the government ready? He looked like he was the hunted, not the hunter.

NARRATOR: It wasn't until that evening that the president returned to the White House.

RICHARD CLARKE: The cabinet members had assembled in the White House bunker. And he came in, very determined. And I remember his line. He said, "I want to kick some ass." He was mad. And the overwhelming emotion that you could see was one of, "I've been punched and I want to punch back."

NARRATOR: The obvious target was Afghanistan, but it wasn't the only target discussed.

BOB WOODWARD, Author, Plan of Attack: That night, Don Rumsfeld says, "This is an opportunity to strike Iraq, perhaps." And Wolfowitz, his deputy, was very worried that Afghanistan would not be a success. And Wolfowitz felt very, very strongly that we needed to put a success on the board and felt always that Iraq was going to be easy. But the president and Cheney reject it and adopt, very clearly, an "Afghanistan first" policy, but it's background music.

NARRATOR: The Taliban and al Qaeda were attacked in November. But all the while, Bush was planning to bring the war on terrorism to Iraq.

DAVID FRUM: There's a lot of debate now about the course of the president's thinking about Iraq. The president began to talk about the problem of Iraq from his very first days as president, at the same time as he talked also about the danger from Iran. But he always talked about it as something that he was going to do before the end of his term. How, precisely, he was going to do it, I am sure he did not know.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: It is clear that President Bush wanted Saddam Hussein out of power. There's an element, as there is often with this president, of thinking, "My father wasn't quite tough enough in how he handled something, and I'm going to handle it in a tougher and more aggressive way." It's a testament to Bush's strength as president that he was able to take what had been a kind of fringe position -- that is, an invasion of Iraq -- and make it a mainstream position almost on his own, by force of will.

BOB WOODWARD: What I think happens, Bush looks at problems -- and he told me, he said, "I'm a gut player. I play by instincts. I don't play by the book." And I think the first step is, "Do we have a problem?" Saddam's a problem. And in his mind is, "Fix it. Get it solved." You know, "Colin Powell, fix it. Condi, fix it. Rumsfeld, fix it. George Tenet, fix it."

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: America must not ignore the threat gathering against us.

NARRATOR: By the fall of 2002, Bush was pressing the case hard.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

NARRATOR: He was staking his presidency on it.

BOB WOODWARD: If you want to know who George Bush is, look at the Iraq war. It's his war. It was his decision. You ask anyone who's close to him in his cabinet, in the White House, a friend, and they just jump and say, "This is a George Bush decision."

NARRATOR: The night of September 10th, Senator John Kerry attended a dinner in Boston honoring his efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. The next morning, he was back in his Senate office, and like everyone else, watching the disaster on television.

JONATHAN WINER, Counselor to Sen. Kerry, 1983-97: He was so angry about what these people had done to the United States, what the terrorists had done to Americans, that there was this pent-up energy that needed release and couldn't be released because there wasn't action to take as a senator, as opposed to as a president, at that moment.

NARRATOR: He agreed that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was right and necessary. But as he watched the administration push for war in Iraq, he was skeptical. He told an audience in New York that the administration was failing to make its case.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: [July 29, 2002] This administration has offered to date no plan for what happens after we topple Saddam's regime, no methodology. And no one disagrees that even if we go it alone in Iraq, we can topple Saddam, we can win. But what this administration has failed to do is to advance on the international stage, through the process of international law, the rationale for doing so and the evidence for that rationale.

NARRATOR: That fall, 2002, Kerry would face a critical Senate vote on whether to grant the president the authority to use force in Iraq.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: [October 9, 2002] Let me be clear. The vote that I will give to the president is for one reason and one reason only, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.

CAMERON KERRY: When I first talked to him about it, I said to him, "Look, this is politically a no-win position. You've just got to do what you think is the right thing to do from a policy standpoint."

Sen. JOHN KERRY: The administration may not be in the habit of building coalitions, but that's what--

NARRATOR: Kerry's speech was full of caution and warnings.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots. And we will be less secure, not more secure. at the end of the day, even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.

NARRATOR: In the end, Kerry's reservations mattered little. It was the vote, two days later, that counted. Kerry voted for the war resolution.

JONATHAN WINER: He'd been boxed. The Bush administration had chosen to box him and all the other Senate Democrats. "You either vote with us, in which case, you're responsible for it, too, and we're going to do whatever the heck we please," or "You vote against us and allow Saddam Hussein to be held-- not held accountable, the president's position to be weakened, the United States' authority to be weaker in dealing with the rest of the world, and you not having stood up for America's strength." It was intended to be a box.

NARRATOR: During that March and April, 2003, it looked as if the war was going according to plan. Baghdad fell in a matter of weeks. And on May 1st, George Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, posed for the cameras and declared victory.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

NARRATOR: But soon it became evident the Bush administration had failed to plan for the aftermath. The world's most powerful military has been unable to put down an insurgency that has now claimed over a thousand American lives.

As Republican leaders have begun to worry about the course of the war, the President has remained optimistic.

BOB WOODWARD: He has no doubt. I asked him, I said, "Do you have any doubt?" And I asked it in the starkest terms because Tony Blair had said when he gets hate mail saying, "My son died in your war and I hate you," Blair said publicly you can't get letters like that and not have doubt. I read that to President Bush in the Oval Office, thinking he might even say, "Well, you know, Blair's got a point." He just ignited and just said, "No doubt. I have no doubt." And I spent a lot of time looking for doubt, looking for that moment when he kneeled on the floor and asked for guidance or forgiveness or something. And I found no such moment.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: George Bush, to put it quite simply, has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country. And we are going to turn it around.

NARRATOR: John Kerry had his doubts about the war in Iraq, his ambivalence rooted in that other war 35 years ago.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: --a new chapter in America's relationship with the world!

JOHN SHATTUCK, John F. Kennedy Library: Vietnam is really at the heart of John Kerry's capacity to lead and his experience and history as a leader. Having been a soldier in that war, and then having been a critic of that war, and having seen the deep divisions in our society that had been opened up by the war, Kerry came to understand the lessons of that war and now wants to try to apply them today.

NARRATOR: When Democrats chose John Kerry as their candidate, they embraced his record as a war hero.

CREWMATE: He was our commander-in-chief 35 years ago, and nothing would give me more greater pleasure that when he takes over the White House that we have a veterans' veteran in the White House.

NARRATOR: But it would be his anti-war past that Kerry's enemies would seize upon.

JOHN O'NEILL: [May 2004] John Kerry is not a fit commander-in-chief, based on our experience with him. We have provided to you a press release, a letter--

NARRATOR: Swift boat vet John O'Neill, Kerry's 1971 opponent, went back on the attack.

JOHN O'NEILL: --condemns Kerry for his misrepresentation about our record and his in Vietnam.

[Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercial]

JOE PONDER, Vietnam Veteran: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

JOHN KERRY: --randomly shot at civilians--

NARRATOR: It would set the tone for a tough and often mean campaign from both sides.

Lt. Col. ROBERT MINTZ, National Guard Veteran: [Texans for Truth commercial] I heard George Bush get up and say, "I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama." Really? You know, that was my unit.

NARRATOR: The lives and conduct of two young men a long time ago would open up old wounds and old divisions.

NICHOLAS LEMANN, FRONTLINE Reporter: They come out of a really severe split within the world they grew up in. They represent very different policies for the United States government.

Kerry will govern tremendously differently from Bush. Kerry will clearly try to get the United States into a more cooperative position with the rest of the world. Kerry seems to take government very seriously, as an exacting profession that one does in consultation and cooperation with others. He wants to serve not just in the military sense, but also in the government sense.

I think Bush is more ambitious than Kerry. You feel that Bush really wants to change the world in a fundamental way. He really wants to be, you know, what they call a transformational president. If you're a Republican, if you want to be a really transformative president, you've got to be conservative. You've got to really push the edge of where policy can go, both in foreign policy and domestic policy. If you're a moderate, you don't leave as big a footprint. I think this is a president who wants to leave a really, really big footprint

NARRATOR: Soon it will all be over. The ads will stop running. The pollsters will stop calling. The voters will make the choice who will be the president.

 

Written by
MARTIN SMITH & NICHOLAS LEMANN

Produced by
MARTIN SMITH

Editor
BEN GOLD

Co-Produced by
MARCELA GAVIRIA AND CHRIS DURRANCE

Reported by
NICHOLAS LEMANN

Associate Producer
MARGARITA DRAGON

Director of Photography
BEN MCCOY

Sound
STEVE LEDERER

Narrator
WILL LYMAN

Research
JAMES JACOBY

Archival Research
MARGARITA DRAGON
STACEY KALISH

Additional Reporting
W. MICHAEL SMITH
MEGAN FIELD

Production Assistant
SAM GRAHAM-FELSEN

Original Music
ASKOLD BUK AND MIRANDA HENTOFF

Assistant Editor
NISHANT RADHAKRISHNAN

Additional Camera
GREG ANDRACKE

Additional Sound
MIKE BOYLE
JOHN O'CONNOR
ROGER PHENIX

Production Manager
MEREDITH LUCIO

Online Editor
MICHAEL H. AMUNDSON

Sound Mix
JIM SULLIVAN

ARCHIVAL MATERIALS
ABCNews Videosource
AP/Wide World Photo
Archive Films
Austin American Statesman
Boston Globe
George Butler
CBS News Archives
CNN Imagesource
Combat Films and Research
Corbis
Getty Images
George Bush Presidential Library
Brian Hendershot Photography
Historic Films
ITN Archives
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
Larry King Live
Lowell Sun
Lubbock Avalanche Journal
National Archives and Records Administration
NBC News Archives
Nixon Presidential Materials Staff
Alexandra Pelosi
WBZ-TV
WCVB
David Woo
Yale Athletic Department Archives

SPECIAL THANKS
Chris Gregory

 

For FRONTLINE

PRODUCTION MANAGER
Tim Mangini

ON-AIR PROMOTION
PRODUCER
Missy Frederick

SENIOR EDITOR
Steve Audette

AVID EDITORS
Michael H. Amundson
John MacGibbon

POST PRODUCTION
SUPERVISOR
Chris Fournelle

POST PRODUCTION
COORDINATOR
Chetin Chabuk

SERIES MUSIC
Mason Daring
Martin Brody

COMMUNICATIONS
MANAGER
Erin Martin Kane

SENIOR PUBLICIST
Christopher Kelly

PUBLICIST
Jessica Smith

PROMOTION DESIGNER
Dennis O'Reilly

ASSOCIATE PUBLICIST
Jenna Lowe

FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
Jessica Cashdan

ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
Kirsti Potter

SECRETARY
Gabrielle MonDesire

COMPLIANCE MANAGER
Lisa Palone-Clarke

LEGAL
Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

CONTRACTS MANAGER
Adrienne Armor

UNIT MANAGER
Mary Sullivan

BUSINESS MANAGER
Tobee Phipps

WEBSITE ASSOCIATE DEVELOPER
Dana Lamb

WEBSITE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
Kate Cohen
Rebecca Hinyard
Sarah Ligon

WEBSITE PRODUCER
Sarah Moughty

WEBSITE PRODUCER/
DESIGNER
Sam Bailey

STORY EDITOR
Catherine Wright

COORDINATING PRODUCER
Robin Parmelee

SERIES EDITOR
Ken Dornstein

SENIOR PRODUCER
SPECIAL PROJECTS
Sharon Tiller

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Marrie Campbell

SERIES MANAGER
Jim Bracciale

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
SPECIAL PROJECTS
Michael Sullivan

EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Louis Wiley Jr.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
David Fanning

A FRONTLINE coproduction with RAINmedia

(c) 2004 WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

 

ANNOUNCER: Stay tuned for more about FRONTLINE's The Choice 2004. But first:

They're the faces you know, the voices you trust. They're curious about the world, like you, always seeking answers. At a time when the choices we face together have never been more important, they'll be there, asking questions, providing insight, so you can decide. By the People, election 2004 coverage on PBS.

There's more to explore about this report at FRONTLINE's Web site. Weigh the attributes of your candidate against what the experts say are key presidential leadership qualities, learn more about the candidates' character and experience, read correspondent Nicholas Lemann's extended interview, listen to a radio version of this program from American Radio Works and watch The Choice 2004 streaming on our Web site. And of course, join the discussion at pbs.org.

 

Next time on FRONTLINE:

After September 11th, he saw the responsibility and an opportunity.

ANNOUNCER: Before the war in Afghanistan--

Rumsfeld wanted to build a smaller, nimbler military.

ANNOUNCER: --before the war in Iraq--

He came in determined to reassert civilian control.

ANNOUNCER: --there was another war.

Winning a war does not mean victory. We won all the battles in Vietnam, and we lost the war.

ANNOUNCER: Rumsfeld's War. Watch FRONTLINE.

 

FRONTLINE's The Choice 2004 is available on videocassette or DVD. To order, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS. [$29.99 plus s&h]

Tonight's program was funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

home · introduction · george w. bush · john f. kerry · what makes a good president?
interviews · links · join the discussion · producer's chat · press reaction · tapes & transcripts · credits · privacy policy
teacher's guide · plan a campus event · FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted oct. 14, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
some photos copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS