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
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
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.
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
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
NARRATOR: John Forbes Kerry was teased about his
ambition and his admiration for the other JFK, who he'd once met, the summer
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
BUNDY, Yale Roommate: So you know, Bill comes to campus, and
basically, his message that he left with us was, "We need you."
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?"
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
the Gridley put into port in Da Nang, he wrote to his friend, David Thorne.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
More on Kerry and Vietnam]
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.
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,
NARRATOR: In 1970, George's father was running
for the U.S. Senate. George W. was
on board, learning the family business.
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.
Muller was an early member of the VVAW.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
NARRATOR: While Haldeman and Nixon were
discussion Kerry's Purple Hearts--
1st VETERAN: More bullshit! [throws
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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: 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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
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
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.
George Bush, running for the Congress.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: For George Bush, life wasn't going
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
SALE: In fact, it tumbled and-- and it just
EVANS: And we saw companies starting to go
bankrupt. We had friends going
bankrupt. We had banks going bankrupt.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
More on Kerry as a senator]
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
NARRATOR: In just a few years, Bush reaped a
personal profit of over $10 million, while building his own big-league
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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
GEORGE W. BUSH: Crime is more violent, more random, more young than ever before in the
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
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.
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.
day in 1992, John Kerry's old roommate, Dan Barbiero, was visiting John in
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."
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
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
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
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.
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,
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!
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
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.
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
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--
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bush's core traits and instincts]
NARRATOR: Even on matters of life and death, Bush
didn't seem to agonize or doubt.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Sen. JOHN KERRY: Well, Governor-- Governor, that is not what Newt Gingrich and Pat
Robertson and a lot of other people say.
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
Sen. JOHN KERRY: --which is why I am for life in prison without parole
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.
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.
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.
More on Kerry's decision-making style]
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
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.
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."
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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
Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know there's another battle, and there will be another battle after
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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--
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--
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
NARRATOR: It wasn't until that evening that the
president returned to the White House.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: Kerry's speech was full of caution and
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
NARRATOR: In the end, Kerry's reservations
mattered little. It was the vote,
two days later, that counted. Kerry voted for the war resolution.
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
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.
Republican leaders have begun to worry about the course of the war, the
President has remained optimistic.
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
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
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!
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
[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
NARRATOR: The lives and conduct of two young men
a long time ago would open up old wounds and old divisions.
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.
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.
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.
SMITH & NICHOLAS LEMANN
GAVIRIA AND CHRIS DURRANCE
BUK AND MIRANDA HENTOFF
Films and Research
Bush Presidential Library
F. Kennedy Library and Museum
Archives and Records Administration
Presidential Materials Staff
Athletic Department Archives
FRONTLINE coproduction with RAINmedia
2004 WGBH Educational Foundation
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:
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.
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.
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,
ANNOUNCER: --before the war in Iraq--
He came in determined to reassert
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
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