President Bush on Thursday led the nation’s celebration of its 215th birthday, marching in two Independence Day parades and putting in a pitch for his Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, whom he called “a man of character and impeccable credentials.”
Here, and earlier in the day in the small Ozark town of Marshfield, Mo., thousands of people lined parade routes and strained to catch a glimpse of the President.
Wearing an open-neck, light blue Western-style shirt with his sleeves rolled up, Bush waved and smiled at the passing units after reaching the reviewing stand himself.
“We are very lucky to call America home,” the President declared.
Youngsters on bicycles and tricycles decorated with flags, yellow ribbons and glitter preceded the President as he marched down Clay Street in Marshfield. Along came tractors, lawn mowers, red wagons and a towed power boat bearing “Mrs. Missouri.” A red Corvette, a pink Cadillac and a collection of white Mustang convertibles. Appaloosa ponies and reluctant cows.
In short, Marshfield, and then Grand Rapids, turned out the sort of mix that might roll down any Main Street on the Fourth of July, minus the President.
White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, under fire in Washington for his own interest in diverse means of transport--specifically, the use of U.S. Air Force jets, a government car and corporate jets for personal and political travel--tried out one method of locomotion in the parade. He walked.
Thomas, now a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., had worked as a private attorney and as an assistant attorney general in Missouri, and Bush--taking advantage of his own presence in the state--said the nominee is “a model for all Americans.”
“You see, he will be a great justice on the Supreme Court of the United States,” the President said, in a departure from his prepared remarks, which had made no reference to Thomas.
It was also in Missouri that Thomas, studying in a Roman Catholic seminary, encountered disturbing episodes of racism at the time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot--incidents that led to his ending his studies for the priesthood. That element of Thomas’ life in Missouri was not raised by Bush in his Marshfield remarks.
Bush, reveling in the “values that carried this country for over 200 years--ones like liberty and loyalty and ingenuity and independence"--stood in front of a gazebo on the lawn of the Webster County courthouse in Marshfield and told Missourians that such ideals, along with “faith in God,” make up “the American character.”
The organizers of the Marshfield parade say it is the oldest Fourth of July parade in Missouri, and it routinely attracts crowds at least twice as great as the community’s population of about 5,000.
It is a draw for politicians, too. One such figure, Wendell Bailey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and state treasurer, faced a difficult choice, spotting the President of the United States on one side of the street and television cameras on the other.
Seizing the moment, he called out to Bush: “Excuse me, Mr. President, cameras.” With that, he turned his back on the reviewing stand so he could face the press corps.
In Marshfield and Grand Rapids, Bush saluted the veterans of the Persian Gulf War, declaring, “What a job they did for our nation.
“Victory does provide no comfort for war’s victims. But today we can offer some solace to those whose loved ones fell in defense of principle. We can tell them: We want to thank your sons and daughters,” the President said.
“Now, let’s use our strength and our credibility to take on challenges here at home. We can make our schools the best in the entire world, and we will. We can restore order to our streets, and we will. We can build a society in which people who want to work will have opportunities, in which people who seek to build a just society will conquer the divisive forces of prejudice,” Bush said.
“We will build that society,” he said, adding:
“If we didn’t know it before Desert Storm, we know now: Nothing can stop us. So let’s all of us, you and me, your family and our family, make this America the best it can possibly be.”