The Choice 2004
Deborah Amos: From American RadioWorks, this is a FRONTLINE special: The Choice 2004. I'm Deborah Amos. As Americans choose their next president, both major candidates have their weaknesses. But past adversaries of George W. Bush warn not to underestimate him.
Ann Richards: George Bush isn't stupid. George Bush is canny.
So do former opponents of John Kerry.
William Weld: He reared back on his hind legs and punched back. He's not an effete preppie.
In hour two of our special report, the shaping of George W. Bush and John Kerry as politicians.
Jack Blum: John Kerry knows enough to know that the world is not a sound bite world.
Bob Woodward: If you want to know who George Bush is, look at the Iraq war.
This is The Choice 2004, a FRONTLINE special from American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media. First, this news update.
Amos: This is The Choice 2004, a two-hour FRONTLINE special from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos. In the 1980s, John Kerry established himself in the U.S. Senate. The former prosecutor led investigations into Iran-Contra and other scandals. George W. Bush launched business ventures, with mixed success, and worked on the campaigns of others before winning the governorship of Texas in 1994.
In hour two of our program, we look at how John Kerry and George W. Bush came of age as politicians, and how their very different histories and personalities might shape their approach to the presidency. The producer for FRONTLINE is Martin Smith. The reporter for FRONTLINE is Nicholas Lemann. FRONTLINE narrator Will Lyman picks up our story with George W. Bush working on his father's 1988 presidential campaign.
Lee Atwater: George Bush! A little louder. Let's go. Bush. George Bush! A little louder.
Crowd: Bush. George Bush.
Lyman: George's boss that year was campaign chairman, Lee Atwater. He was a master strategist with a reputation for aggressive tactics. Also on the campaign was Republican adviser Mary Matalin.
Mary Matalin: Lee and George W. Bush became such fast friends, because they were on a par of strategic thinkers that few people are - strategy being the ability to see around corners, to understand where the collective psyche is. They were strategic peers.
George W. Bush: 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 a son can say something their fathers can't and that is we're countin' on you because we want you to go out there and kick some of Michael Dukak ass and kick it hard. Thank you very much.
Afterwards, George W. headed back to Texas. He considered running for governor, but decided against it.
George W. Bush: Is Joe in please? It's George Bush.
Then along came an opportunity to revitalize the struggling Texas Rangers ballclub. George was interested, says his friend Roland Betts.
Roland Betts: 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 a 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.
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.
George W. Bush: Hey, how are you doing?
Fan: You got a moment?
George W. Bush: Sure.
Nicholas Lemann: By far, his most successful experience as a businessman ... was with the Texas Rangers. He was businessman ... as politician, in effect.
Reporter Nicholas Lemann.
Nicholas Lemann: He was the public face, in a way, frontman, for the Rangers franchise. He sat in the box at the Rangers' games and shook hands. There was a big political component to that because they had to get the stadium built with public money. It didn't escape notice that he was the son of the president. And then, he was surrounded with people like Roland Betts ... who were very seasoned and experienced businessmen, and who invested and piloted the project. ... And that was the one deal in his business career that he really did well on.
In just a few years, Bush reaped a personal profit of over $10 million while building his own big league reputation.
John Kerry was on his way to his second term in the Senate when the news came that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. Initially, he supported the president.
George H. W. Bush: This will not stand. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.
But as the possibility of war grew closer, Kerry grew uneasy. In December of 1990, Secretary of State James Baker testified in the Senate.
James Baker: Mr. Chairman, 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.
Kerry confronted Baker.
John Kerry: In your testimony today, I am 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 cost 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."
On the eve of the vote, Kerry stood on the Senate floor and asked, "Are we really ready for another generation of amputees, paraplegics and burn victims? ... There is a rush to war here. ... It sounds like we are risking war for pride rather than vital interests."
Reader: Resolution Two to authorize the use of the United States armed forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.
Dan Quayle: On this vote, the yeas are 52 and the nays are 47.
The Senate vote was close: 52 to 47 in favor of giving the president authority to go to war in Iraq. Along with fellow Vietnam veterans Bob Kerrey and Tom Harkin, John Kerry voted, "No."
Harry Smith: Gentlemen, good morning.
John Kerry and Charles Robb: Good morning.
Smith: Senator Kerry, let's start with you. Did your Vietnam experience affect the way you voted over the weekend?
John Kerry: Well, it affected my perceptions of what the risks are and of what the downsides are.
Kerry defended his vote on CBS.
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 they might have provided the opening for a diplomatic out.
The Gulf War was a success for President Bush. Kerry's fears of a long drawn out struggle were not realized.
Back in Texas, George W.'s name had come up as a possible candidate for governor. Wayne Slater reports on Bush for the Dallas Morning News.
Wayne Slater: George Bush had been mentioned as someone who really, uh, 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, a guy named Karl Rove. ... Rove ... was sitting in Austin, Texas, with another political consultant. And he said, "You know, ... this guy George Bush. Very impressive guy. I think I could make him governor. And here's how you would do it." And he explained how it could be done.
Precinct by precint, Rove had analyzed what it would take. And then presented his case to Bush.
But George wasn't sure this was the right time.
Wayne Slayer: 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 - Barabara Bush said, "You can't beat Ann Richards." But Karl Rove knew he could.
Ann Richards had stepped into the national spotlight with her attacks on George Bush Sr. at the 1988 Democratic Convention.
Ann Richards: Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
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.
Strategist Karl Rove was there from the beginning. He convinced Bush to run.
George W. Bush: Let's make it official. I'm a candidate for governor of Texas.
Geroge W. Bush: Thank you.
Then came campaign director Joe Allbaugh, brought in to help Bush do some hiring and firing.
Joe Allbaugh: 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.
Last aboard the campaign was Karen Hughes, a former Dallas TV reporter. She ran communications. Famous for keeping everyone on message, she said Bush's style was pure Texas.
Karen Hughes: 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.
Eventually, the press corps would refer to Rove, Allbaugh and Hughes as the "Iron Triangle."
Ann Richards: I would say that George Bush's organization is the toughest I've ever seen.
Richards: When I got up in the morning, I could be sure that Karen Hughes or the chairman of the Democ - of the Republican Party was gonna have something negative to say about anything I had done. And it was like a steady drip, drip, drip on a stone.
[Bush crime commercial]
George W. Bush: Texas is considered the third most dangerous state in the nation.
One of the most effective ad campaigns dealt with crime.
Voice Over: Violent juvenile crime is up 52%. Yet Ann Richards has done little about it.
George W. Bush: Crime is more violent, more random, more young than ever before in the state's history.
Reporter Wayne Slater says crime in Texas was actually falling at the time.
Wayne Slater: It didn't make any difference because the campaign run by George Bush and George - and, and Karl Rove convinced people that crime was at its worst. They believed it. It was a weakness. They exploited it brilliantly.
When it came time for the debates between Bush and Richards, some reporters predicted that Bush would crumble without the protection of his staff.
Wayne Slater: I want to ask you about your experience in business.
Reporter Wayne Slater pressed Bush about his oil days.
Wayne Slater: You were on the board of Harken Energy; sold, uh, almost $1 million worth of stock shortly before -
But Bush stayed on message.
Wayne Slater: Um, 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.
At one point, the campaign turned ugly.
Bush's East Texas campaign chairman accused Richards of hiring "avowed and activist homosexuals" to high state offices.
Ann Richards: The issue of homosexuality was very much an issue. In fact, there were flyers placed under the windshield wipers of parked cars at religious, fundamentalist churches on Sundays that showed two men kissing. It was very much involved.
The flyer attacked liberals for encouraging homosexuality in the schools. It had no connection to the governor's race but some observers suspected it was part of a coordinated attack.
Nicholas Lemann: The pattern, when you look at President Bush's career, is one of very, very, very aggressive campaign tactics.
Reporter Nicholas Lemann.
Lemann: There's a pattern of groups popping up to 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."
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.
Amos: Coming up, Senator John Kerry teams with Republican John McCain to heal wounds over Vietnam, and Republican leaders tap Governor George W. Bush as presidential material.
George Shultz: When we got through, I said to him, "You must be considering running for president. And I hope you do, because it seems to me you have a good seat-of-the-pants for the job."
You're listening to The Choice 2004, a FRONTLINE special from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos. Hour two of our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.
Amos: This is The Choice 2004, a FRONTLINE report from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos. In the 1990s, John Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, spent much of his energy on issues related to Vietnam. He investigated claims about prisoners of war and worked for normalized relations between Vietnam and the United States. In 1994, George W. Bush challenged Texas Democratic governor, Ann Richards, considered by many to be unbeatable. Our look at the two major presidential candidates continues with FRONTLINE narrator Will Lyman.
Lyman: One day in 1992, John Kerry's old roommate, Dan Barbiero, was visiting John in Washington.
Daniel Barbiero: 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 - 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 gonna say I'm this and that." I said, "Listen, from what you told me about her, ... go for it. You should - you know, don't even hesitate. I mean, who cares what they think?"
Teresa Heinz Kerry: I thought of him as being a very serious, interesting person, that was attractive.
Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Teresa Heinz Kerry: 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.
On their first date, they visited the Washington Mall.
Teresa Heinz Kerry: It was a very beautiful evening. ... And he said, "Have you ever been here at night?" I said, "No." So he stopped the car, and we walked.
John led Teresa to the Vietnam Memorial.
Teresa Heinz Kerry: And there were people with flowers. And there were people kneeling. And there were people just looking. And there were people crying. And John didn't speak very much. Every now and then he'd point to a name on the wall - it was a friend, including his best friend.
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 than 2000 soldiers that never returned from the war.
Bob Kerrey: And there were theories about them being held underground in deep caves and shuttled around between Hanoi and Haiphong and Bulgaria, etcetera. And it just went on and on and on. But these were serious people who were saying this. ... And it was hard.
Former senator and Vietnam veteran, Bob Kerry.
Bob Kerrey: You just don't remember how angry the ... advocates ... of getting a full accounting of the POW/MIA issue were.
Ignoring his advisers, John Kerry put himself in the center of the controversy, insisting that he chair a new Senate investigation, the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. Also serving on the committee was another Vietnam veteran, John McCain.
The investigation lasted 14 months, during which time Kerry made five trips to Vietnam, chasing down rumors about still-surviving POWs and MIAs.
He interviewed nearly 200 witnesses. And, he got the Pentagon to release over 1.5 million classified documents.
John Shattuck: 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.
Kerry's longtime friend John Shattuck.
John Shattuck: And felt that it would be important to try to heal the wounds of Vietnam, both domestically and internationally. ... And that doing something about Vietnam would have a great international significance, as well as having some impact on the domestic wounds.
John Kerry (at press conference): It's a thousand plus pages here - a document with twelve signatures. It's a unanimous report.
Which declared that there "is no compelling reason to believe that any POW/MIAs remain alive today."
John McCain: It's very appropriate. I'd like to begin by thanking Senator Kerry for his fairness, determination and non-partisanship.
John Shattuck: He teamed up with John McCain, a former prisoner of war, ... who initially was very negative about what Kerry had done in criticizing the war. But came, I think, to see the seriousness of Kerry's commitment to healing the wounds, and felt, I think, a kinship with Kerry.
The final report paved the way for the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.
In Austin, Governor George W. Bush was earning a reputation as an effective governor.
George W. Bush: Yessir. Good to see you, David. Thank you.
He had good rapport with Democrats who controlled the state Legislature, and he pushed through some education reforms and large tax cuts. Reporter Nicholas Lemann says the one-time fraternity president seemed to have found his calling.
Nicholas Lemann: Deep inside, ... he's a politician. ... When you're with a politician, ... they wanna look you in the eye. They wanna touch you. They wanna be with you. ... They like having the one-on-one transaction and winning people over. ... 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.
Democratic state legislator Paul Sadler, an ally of Bush's on education issues, says George W. was also developing his own management style.
Paul Sadler: He's not one to sit in the room by himself and overly analyze a problem. At least I've never seen that - that side of him. ... It's just not really what I consider to be his strength. And so what he does is, he surrounds himself with people that can give him advice.
Clay Johnson: He's not one to reflect, to wring his hands, to, uh, wonder if the decision he made is right or wrong. He knows you don't bat a thousand.
Former Bush aide Clay Johnson says even on matters of life and death, Bush didn't seem to agonize or doubt.
Clay Johnson: A great example of this was the Karla Faye Tucker, uh, execution. This is a woman who had become very religious in prison and a very devout Christian, but had conducted a - 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.
They pleaded with him to issue a stay of execution. Paul Sadler says once Bush's mind was made up, he did not reconsider.
Paul Sadler: I had been out of town for a couple of days, and I picked up the phone and called the Governor's Mansion at 7:00 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 oughta be executed. Period."
George W. Bush (at press conference): 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 high 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.
In 1996, John Kerry was facing a tough re-election battle that would put his 12-year Senate record on trial.
William Weld: I need takers here.
His opponent was Massachusetts' popular governor, Bill Weld, considered a Republican star with presidential prospects.
The two candidates faced off in eight televised debates.
Reporter: Senator, you've been in Washington for 12 years now. Why do so many Massachusetts voters lack a clear idea of what you've accomplished there for the state?
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.
Kerry listed a slew of legislative accomplishments, from getting more cops on the streets to youth job programs and flood relief.
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 them.
Moderator: Governor Weld.
William Weld: You're right, Mr. Miger, a lot of people don't know Senator Kerry's voting record. That's why I came here tonight. I'm gonna tell you Senator Kerry's voting record.
Weld: We were landing pretty good punches in the '96 campaign. And, he reared back on his hind legs and punched back.
William Weld: He's not an effete preppie. You know, he does have the aristocratic background and manner of speaking. So, you could be misled into thinking, "Here's a preppie. I'm gonna make mincemeat out of him." And you'd be mistaken if you thought that.
Weld: Can you please explain to the commuting residents of Massachussets why they should pay a 50-cents-a-gallon increase in the gas tax? What's the fairness of that?
John Kerry: You and your friends in Washington have this notion that everything's for free. You can keep reducing.
Weld: I don't have friends in Washington.
John Kerry: Well, Governor, Governor, that is not what Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson and a lot of other people say.
[Laughter and applause]
But the debates did reveal Kerry's problems as a communicator.
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, and in order to ...
His friend Jack Blum says Kerry often slices his arguments too thin, explaining and then explaining his explanation.
Jack Blum: John Kerry knows enough to know that the world is not a sound bite world. And 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.
In the end, Kerry found a way to focus on the issues, health care and the economy, that mattered most to Massachusetts voters.
As he made his way up to the podium on victory night, it was John Kerry who was being asked when he would run for president.
In April 1998, George Bush was in California when he was invited to the home of former Secretary of State George Shultz. Shultz had wanted the governor of Texas to meet with some policy experts.
George Shultz: 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, uh, Mike Boskin and ... Condoleezza Rice, John Taylor who is now undersecretary of the treasury.
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?"
Michael Boskin: 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."
Economist Michael Boskin.
Boskin: You know, he's straightforward. ... He asked tough questions. He's a guy we can get behind.
George Shultz: When we got through, I said to him, "You must be considering running for president. And I hope you do, because it seems to me you have a good seat-of-the-pants for the job."
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. Bush shared a personal revelation.
James Robison: He said, "I feel that I'm supposed to run for president." And 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 we do need, as our founders said, Divine Providence - I believe we do need wisdom from above. I think he sought that. And I don't think that is something that 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: Next on "Life Today," his dad was our president.
A few months later, Bush would appear on Robison's TV show.
Announcer: But George W. Bush's agenda goes way beyond politics.
George W. Bush: I wish I knew how to make people love one another.
Announcer: Coming up next, some surprising thoughts from a possible presidential candidate.
James Robison: The fact that we were going to talk to you just about the question that everyone's asking. Since there's so much discussion -
The governor was reaching out on a nationally syndicated program to the evangelical voters he knew he'd need.
Robison: So this is your big opportunity.
George W. Bush: Uh, 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 to try to figure out how to be president. And so when all this speculation started, it caught me, and my mother, totally by surprise.
George W. Bush: But I am interested. I'm interested because, um, I'm concerned about the future of our country. That's why I'm interested.
But as he played down his political ambitions -
George W. Bush: And I've got to make up my mind whether or not an administration can lift the spirit of America.
James Robison: Hmm.
George W. Bush: That's what I got to make up my mind about.
He was already in charge of a sophisticated and well-funded political machine that would carry him into the primaries.
Early on, his resolve would be tested by the surprising challenge from Senator John McCain.
Joe Allbaugh: We had been drilled in New Hampshire. ... We took a different approach in South Carolina.
Bush aide Joe Allbaugh.
Allbaugh: We had to run a tougher campaign against John McCain, and we did that. This was for all the marbles. We were either gonna make it or break it in South Carolina.
George W. Bush: A dangerous world requires a sharpened sword, so I will rebuild the military power of the United States of America.
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. Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey.
Bob Kerrey: I mean, I was hearing reports that he was being maligned about what he did when he was a prisoner. Uh, that he was - that his service was being clouded as a consequence of not doing enough for other prisoners and, uh, that he was being maligned as well because he adopted a black child. And it just seemed to be reprehensible character assassination.
At one rally, a veteran named Thomas Burch, with George W. Bush at his side, 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 had the power to help these veterans. He came home. He forgot us. Well, fortunately, we found a candidate.
John McCain: Let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event.
Bush tried to disassociate himself from the event when confronted by McCain on CNN.
McCain: That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans. Now I don't know how - if you can understand this, George. But, that really hurts.
George W. Bush: Yeah. Let me explain.
McCain: You should be ashamed. You should be ashamed.
Larry King: Is he responsible for what someone else says?
McCain: Well, this same man, he stood next to him.
King: Well, let him respond on that point.
McCain: You should be ashamed for sponsoring an event with that man there.
George W. Bush: That man wasn't speaking for me. He may have a dispute with you.
McCain: It was your event.
George W. Bush: Let me finish, please. Please.
McCain: He's listed as your - [inaudible]
George W. Bush: Please. Let me finish. Let me finish.
King: All right. Let him finish.
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.
Bush seemed to apologize, but the damage had been done. The press noted that this Bush had a certain toughness his father didn't.
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.
He was going to need that toughness, through a long close race, and right up to election night.
Bush campaign person: Thank you, thank you. They're still counting. They're still counting. And I'm confident when it's all said and done, we will prevail. God bless.
George W. Bush: It's an interesting period, Ken. We're all in limbo.
Reporter Nicholas Lemann.
Nicholas Lemann: Bush seemed a little - sort of confused or disoriented, thrown for a loop - not knowing what to do.
Reporter: What have you told your state staff about planning for a session? Have you told 'em to keep going forward?
George W. Bush: Yeah, I have. I mean, everybody's keepin' their powder dry.
Lemann: 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: Let me begin by saying that the American people voted on November 7. Governor George W. Bush won 31 states with a total of 271 electoral votes. The vote here in Florida was very close, but when it was counted, Governor Bush was the winner.
Nicholas Lehmann: We felt like either the president himself or Bush incorporated, if you will, just got together and decided, "Okay. We're going to do this."
Amos: Still to come, George W. Bush's first term, September 11 and the Iraq war. And John Kerry's mounting attacks on the president's approach.
John Kerry: George Bush, to put it quite simply, has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country. And we are going to turn it around.
This is The Choice 2004, a FRONTLINE special from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos.
Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
You're listening to The Choice 2004. The second hour of our program continues in just a moment, from American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media.
Amos: This is The Choice 2004, a FRONTLINE special from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos. On November 7, 2000, Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, got almost half a million votes more than George W. Bush did. But in the Electoral College, where the race is decided, the outcome came down to a series of recounts and court battles in Florida. A 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision ended the election in George Bush's favor.
In the final segment of our report on the two major candidates for president, George W. Bush's first term, and the actions of the president and John Kerry as the nation moved towards war with Iraq. FRONTLINE's Will Lyman is the narrator.
Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemen, the president of the United States.
David Frum: George Bush began his presidency with both personal and party problems. He'd had a very narrow win. Uh, he came into office with a very weak mandate.
David Frum was a speechwriter for the president.
David Frum: 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, um, was a gamble for the country.
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.
The conventional wisdom was that George W. Bush would govern, much like his father had, from the center, as a moderate. But Bush was more conservative.
George W. Bush: My job is to lead.
He launched far-reaching plans for a tax cut, education reform and faith based initiatives.
George W. Bush: We have minds to change. We've got some laws to pass. Our course is set. And I believe our case is strong.
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. It wasn't clear just where the president was going to go next.
David Frum: When I think about the end of that summer, it's the lack of energy and momentum that is the strongest impression that I have. ... The tax cut went through Congress. But pushing it through Congress destroyed the Republican majority in the Senate. And after that, things bogged down. ... And 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.
On September 11, 2001, the message of the day was supposed to be education. The president was in Florida visiting a grade school.
Sandra Kay Daniels: Sixty on page 153.
At the time, Richard Clarke was the Bush administration's chief of counterterrorism.
Richard Clarke: There was a fairly long period of time when he stayed in the classroom in Florida. 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.
[exchange among reporters, George W. Bush and others]
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.
It wasn't until that evening that the president returned to the White House.
Richard Clarke: The cabinet members had assembled in the White House bunker. And he came in, very determined. And I remember his line. He said, "I want to kick some ass." He was mad. And the overwhelming emotion that you could see was one of "I've been punched, and I want to punch back."
The obvious target was Afghanistan. But Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward says another enemy came under discussion right away.
Bob Woodward: 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 gonna be easy. But the president and Cheney reject it and adopt very clearly an Afghanistan first policy. But, it's background music.
In November, a U.S.-led coalition attacked the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
All the while, Bush was planning to bring the war on terrorism to Iraq, says his former aide David Frum.
David Frum: The president began to talk about the problem of Iraq from his very first days as president, at the same time as he talked also about the danger from Iran. But he always talked about it as something that he was going to do before the end of his term. How precisely he was going to do it, I am sure he did not know.
Nicholas Lemann: It is clear that President Bush wanted Saddam Hussein out of power.
Reporter Nicholas Lemann.
Lemann: 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 gonna handle it in a tougher and more aggressive way." ... It's a testament to Bush's strength as president that he was able to take what had been a kind of fringe position, that is an invasion of Iraq, and make it a mainstream position, almost on his own, by force of will.
Bob Woodward: What I think happens - Bush looks at problems. And he told me, he said, "I'm a gut player. I play by instincts." And I think the first step is, "Do we have a problem?" Saddam's a problem. 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."
George W. Bush: America must not ignore the threat gathering against us.
By the fall of 2002, Bush was pressing the case hard.
George W. Bush: We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
He was staking his presidency on it. Reporter Bob Woodward.
Bob Woodward: If you want to know who George Bush is, look at the Iraq war. It's his war. It was his decision. You ask anyone who's close to him - in his Cabinet, in the White House, a friend - and they just jump and say, "This is a George Bush decision."
The night of September 10, 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. Kerry aide Jonathan Winer.
Jonathan Winer: 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.
John Kerry: This administration has offered, to date, no plans for what happens after we topple Saddam's regime, no methodology.
He agreed that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was right and necessary
John Kerry: And no one disagrees that even if we go it alone in Iraq, we can toppple Saddam, we can win.
But as he watched the administration push for war in Iraq, he was skeptical.
John Kerry: But what this administration has failed to do is to advance to an international stage through the process of international law -
He told an audience in New York that the administration was failing to make its case.
John Kerry: The rational for doing so and the evidence for that rationale.
That fall, 2002, Kerry would face a critical Senate vote on whether to grant the president the authority to use force in Iraq.
John Kerry: So let me be clear. The vote 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 inspection in joint concert with our allies.
Kerry's speech was full of caution and warnings.
John Kerry: If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots. And we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day - even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.
In the end, Kerry's reservations mattered little. It was the vote two days later that counted. Kerry voted for the war resolution.
Jonathan Winer: He'd been boxed. Bush administration had chosen to box him and all the other Senate Democrats.
Kerry aide Jonathan Winer.
Winer: You either vote with us, in which case, you're responsible for it too, and we're gonna do whatever the heck we please. Or you vote against us and allow Saddam Hussein to be held - not held accountable. And you not having stood up for American strength. It was intended to be a box.
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 1, George Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared victory.
George W. Bush: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
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 1,000 American lives.
Republican leaders have begun to worry about the course of the war, but Reporter Bob Woodward says the president doesn't acknowledge any second thoughts.
Woodward: 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'd kneeled on the floor ... and asked for guidance or forgiveness or something. And I found no such moment.
John Kerry: George Bush, to put it quite simply, has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country, and we are going to turn it around.
John Kerry had his doubts about the war in Iraq - his ambivalence, rooted in that other war, 35 years ago.
John Kerry: A new chapter in our relationship with the world.
John Shattuck: Vietnam is really at the heart of John Kerry's capacity to lead and his experience and history as a leader.
Kerry's friend John Shattuck.
Shattuck: 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 have been opened up by the war, Kerry ... came to understand the lessons of that war and now wants to try to apply them today.
Democrats embraced Kerry for his record as a war hero. During the campaign, Kerry has made heavy use of his former crewmates from Vietnam.
Crewmate: He was our commander in chief 35 years ago, and nothing would give me more greater pleasure than when he takes over the White House, that we have a veteran's veteran in the White House.
But it would be his anti-war past that Kerry's enemies would seize upon.
John O'Neill: John Kerry is not a fit commander in chief based on our experience with him. We've provided to you a press release, a letter.
Swiftboat vet John O'Neill, Kerry's 1971 opponent, went back on the attack.
O'Neill: It condemns Kerry for his misrepresentation of both our record and his in Vietnam.
Vietnam Veteran 1: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.
It would set the tone for a tough, and often mean, campaign - from both sides.
Bob Mintz: When I heard George Bush get up and say, "I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama," I went, "Really." You know, that was my unit.
The lives and conduct of two young men a long time ago would open up old wounds and old divisions.
Nicholas Lemann: 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.
Reporter Nicholas Lemann.
Nicholas Lemann: Kerry will govern tremendously differently from Bush. Kerry will clearly try to get the United States into a more cooperative position ... with the rest of the world. Kerry seems to take government very seriously as an exacting profession that one does in consultation and cooperation with others. He wants to serve ... - serve not just in the military sense, but also in the government sense. I think Bush is more ambitious than Kerry. You feel that Bush really wants to change the world in a fundamental way. He really wants to be, you know, what they call a transformational president. If you're a Republican, if you want to be a really transformative president, you've got to be conservative. You've got to really push the edge of where policy can go, both in foreign policy and domestic policy. If you're a moderate, you don't leave as big a footprint. I think this is a president who wants to leave a really, really big footprint.
Amos: In days, the debating will be over. The ads will stop running. The pollsters will stop polling. The voters will choose the president of the United States.
This two-hour FRONTLINE special report was produced with American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media.
The producer for FRONTLINE is Martin Smith. The reporter for FRONTLINE is Nicholas Lemann. The producer for American RadioWorks is John Biewen. The Choice 2004 is a FRONTLINE co-production with RAINmedia, Inc.
To find audio and a transcript for all two hours of this program, visit AmericanRadioWorks.org. You can also find information on how to order CDs of this program. That's at AmericanRadioworks.org.
Funding for The Choice 2004 is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS Program Challenge Fund. Major funding for American RadioWorks also comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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