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The Child Bush Left Behind

Ohanian Note: Here's an interview revealing the moral bankruptcy of George Bush's compassionate conservatism. Believing that we read too much of what we agree with and not enough of the other guys' arguments, this interview is followed by a diatribe from the Williamson County (Tenneessee) Review Appeal.

Robert Draper's GQ piece appeared in the May issue. Here's the blurb about the contents of that issue: GQ'S First-Ever Beach Issue Features 250 Pages of Sun, Sand, Surf, & Sex, Starring Cover Girl Karolina Kurkova.

COVER GIRL: Model Karolina Kurkova, an honest interview with Michael Hainey, page 164 The 20-year-old Czech model talks to GQ's deputy editor Michael Hainey about her plans to coach the Rangers, the trouble with implants, and the disease that afflicts just about every man she meets: modelitis.

"Saint-Tropez in the U.S.A."- Sweeping 26-Page Portfolio by Bruce Weber, pages 180-205 For the first time in two decades, the photos of Bruce Weber grace the pages of GQ. Weber marks his return with a 26-page portfolio that channels the spirit of Saint-Tropez to Miami's sizzling South Beach.

"How I Got My Beach Body," by Andrew Corsello, page 214 Former fat man and GQ senior writer Andrew Corsello tells the tale of his three-month transformation into a ripped, waxed, bleached, oiled, preening, Speedo-clad machine.

SPECIAL: "The World's Best Beach Country," page 167 Which Mexican getaway is right for you, the one with tequila shots and bikini gropers in Cancun or the one with tequila rubs and Cuban cigars in Punta Mita? Whether you seek adventure or romance, the hidden or the healthy, don't miss these eight beach destinations.

"Naughty by Nature," by Robert Moritz, page 232 Van Helsing's Kate Beckinsale talks about the actor who didn't want to kiss her and that time she peed in her enemy's thermos.


EXCLUSIVE: "The Child Bush Left Behind," by Robert Draper, page 238 During his "compassionate conservatism" acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican Convention, George W. Bush singled out a troubled 15-year-old kid from Texas he'd met named Johnny Demon, holding him up as one of the many "small voices" out there who had been abandoned by our government. It's four years later, and where is that kid now? As GQ writer-at-large Robert Draper finds out, Demon wasn't exactly brought along for the ride.

"They're Here, They're Queer, They're ... Republican?" by David Rakoff, page 154 With gay marriage figuring to be the wedge social issue in the upcoming presidential election, GQ writer-at-large David Rakoff confronts everyone's favorite wildly incongruous interest group, the Log Cabin Republicans.

In 2000, when George W. Bush accepted the GOP presidential nomination, he told the story of juvenile delinquent Johnny Demon to highlight the need for “compassionate conservatism.” Now 21, Demon has no job, no permanent home and no idea he was used in Bush's speech. Reporter Robert Draper follows up on Demon's fate in the May issue of GQ magazine. Draper talks with NPR's Robert Siegel.

Interview: Robert Draper discusses his article in GQ magazine about the life of a young man mentioned by then-Governor George Bush in his speech to the 2000 Republican National Convention

April 29, 2004

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In 2000, when George W. Bush accepted the GOP presidential nomination in Philadelphia, he related an incident to a rapt audience of convention delegates and television viewers. It was on a visit he had paid as governor in 1998 to a juvenile offender intake facility in Marlin, Texas. He had met and talked with a group of young inmates; all of them, he said, had committed grown-up crimes.

(Soundbite of 2000 Republican National Convention)

Governor GEORGE W. BUSH (Republican, Texas): Yet when I looked in their eyes, I realized some of them were still little boys. Toward the end of the conversation, one young man about 15 years old raised his hand and asked a haunting question: `What do you think of me?' He seemed to be asking, like many Americans who struggle, `Is there hope for me? Do I have a chance? And, frankly, do you, a white man in a suit, really care what happens to me?' A small voice, but it speaks for so many.

SIEGEL: `We are all diminished,' he said, `if that boy believes he is hopeless. Ignoring such problems divides us, erects a wall between the rich and the poor, the educated and the desperate.' To much applause, the newly nominated candidate said, `We must tear that wall down.'

(Soundbite of 2000 Republican National Convention; applause)

Gov. BUSH: Big, big government is not the answer. But the alternative bureaucracy is not indifference; it is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism. And on this ground, we will lead our nation.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

SIEGEL: The boy in Marlin, Texas, who was about 15 in 1998, is the subject of an article in the May issue of GQ magazine. Robert Draper's article is called The Child Bush Left Behind.

Robert Draper, who was that young man, and where is he today?

Mr. ROBERT DRAPER (GQ Magazine): The young man's name, Robert, was Johnny Demon. I won't give his last name because I feel like the kid, having lived a private life all this time and having been neglected by the system, to divulge his complete name is essentially to tread upon him. But he is somewhere in Texas. He lives in a kind of underworld on the fly, on the run, from one lover's house to the next, and, in essence, has slipped underneath the floorboards of American society.

SIEGEL: This young man was in a juvenile offender intake facility when then-Governor George Bush visited with reporters in tow. This was an event that was actually covered in 1998. What was he doing there? Why was he in the juvenile justice system to begin with?

Mr. DRAPER: He'd been brought into the system, Robert, because he had committed a series of petty thefts. And as a result of this, the Texas Youth Commission received him at their intake unit in Marlin. And at the time, then-Governor Bush was embarking on his re-election campaign. This particular event was really nothing more or nothing less than a photo opportunity. And he was shepherded sort of through the crash gates and showed, you know, how the system worked and ultimately led to a particular dorm where there were 22 boys. Various boys described how they spent their day, and at the end of it, Johnny raised his hand and said: `May I ask a question?' And when the governor said, `Sure, you can,' he asked him point-blank: `What do you think about us?' And the governor was very much taken aback. What was supposed to be--what had been set up as a political moment had suddenly become a human moment.

SIEGEL: The president, who obviously was personally moved by this encounter at the Marlin juvenile facility, told the story to the Republican National Convention two years later. But the story, actually, of Johnny, which he hadn't kept apace with--this is not a story of government by applying the appropriate values redeeming somebody's life. Far from; it's a horrible story what happened to this kid...

Mr. DRAPER: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...including--you found he wrote to someone about his having been raped at the juvenile facility to which he was later sent.

Mr. DRAPER: No, that's correct. The cruel irony is that shortly after Governor Bush gave his GOP acceptance speech, the Texas Youth Commission thought, `Since there's going to be some media attention about this kid, we'd better check in on him and see what he's up to.' They discovered to their horror that Johnny had failed to check in with his juvenile probation officer. And so an all-points bulletin was essentially sent out for him, and he was ultimately found in a bus depot in Dallas dressed as a female apparently soliciting male customers.

From there, the juvenile authorities brought him to a youth unit in Gainesville, Texas. Now Johnny had been there before. And when he'd been there before, he had--according to a letter that he had sent a close friend of his--a lover, in fact, of his at the time--he said that he had been sexually assaulted at this very place, and that he had reported it to the authorities and they were thoroughly unmoved by this. And now he was being moved back to it. But...

SIEGEL: He also--later, a court awarded legal custody of this young man to his 29-year-old lover, a man who, you write, had been arrested in the past for both possession of cocaine and indecency with a child.

Mr. DRAPER: Yes, that's correct. But I think that is an indicator of Johnny's desperation. So desperate was he to get out of this particular juvenile unit where he had been sexually assaulted before that he was willing to take his chances with a man who also had such proclivities. At least he felt that got him closer to the street, and once he got to the street, he believed he could live by his own wiles, which, essentially, he's been doing ever since.

SIEGEL: What do you make of this entire story? I mean, here's this young man who for a minute on one night at the Republican National Convention is an anecdote who becomes part of the national dialogue, and then...

Mr. DRAPER: Well...

SIEGEL: ...you follow up on what actually happened to him.

Mr. DRAPER: Yes. And I think--you know, what I make of it more than anything else is the breathtaking chasm that exists between the life that is seen and lived by politicians and the life that's actually lived by certain segments of America. To me, it was striking to learn that Johnny didn't even know that he had been mentioned in the speech, did not know that individuals had lauded that aspect of his speech as the most convincing element of compassionate conservatism.

The story, to me, is not meant to be an indictment particularly of Governor Bush or of his campaign. I think that this is endemic to politics, that those of us who write about politics and who make a living off of politics often use humans as devices, but tend to forget that long after the footage has been aired, that these people are still scrapping out their lives and that they are always close to being forgotten.

SIEGEL: Robert Draper, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. DRAPER: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: Robert Draper is the author of the article The Child Bush Left Behind. It's in the May issue of GQ magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

Copyright ©1990-2004 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio.

Demon-izing on ‘National Propaganda Radio’
By Phil Valentine
in Williamson County Review Appeal

For the first time in many months, I happened across NPR on my radio. It was the afternoon program “All Things Considered.” As soon as the host, Robert Siegel, said, “In 2000, when George W. Bush accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Philadelphia ... ” my seasoned and conditioned antennae went up. I’ve been around this game long enough. I could smell a hatchet job coming and I turned the volume up.

Siegel then went on to introduce an article in the May issue of GQ magazine entitled “The Child Bush Left Behind” and its author, Robert Draper. In his speech, George W. Bush recounted a visit he made as governor to a Marlin, Texas, juvenile jail. He remembered near the end of his visit a young inmate asked him a question. “What do you think of me?” Bush took that to mean, “Is there hope for me?” Bush went on to talk about the wall that divides our society, a wall built by gangs and drugs that separate some children from the mainstream of society. He warned that we must tear down that wall but that big government was not the answer. The answer, he stated, was to put conservative values and ideas in place. In other words, help these people help themselves instead of propping them up.

Robert Draper saw another opportunity in that speech. He saw an opportunity, not to help this 15-year-old, but to exploit him. He went back to Marlin to find out what happened to this boy. His entire focus was that this was a child Bush left behind. Bush left behind. Not his father. Not his mother. Not his aunts or uncles or grandparents or the gang members who seduced him into joining their ranks. Bush left this child behind.

Ironically, Draper came up with a pseudonym for the 15-year-old that was far worse than anything George W. Bush or those mean, old Republicans ever did or didn’t do. Draper’s alias for him was Johnny Demon. Johnny Demon.

So, what was Bush expected to do about this kid? Draper never addresses that. He merely points to “the breathtaking chasm that exists between the life that is seen and lived by politicians and the life that’s actually lived by certain segments of America.” As I’ve pointed out many times, it’s the classic difference between liberalism and conservatism. The old Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” The liberals are still handing out fish while conservatives want to hand out fishing poles.

Johnny’s problem didn’t begin when he ended up at the juvenile jail. His problem began when those responsible for him assumed that someone else — i.e. the government — would take care of him for them.

But there’s another problem I see in all this. It’s the blatant anti-conservative agenda of NPR, National Propaganda Radio. After I switched off the radio in disgust, I wondered why my tax dollars had to support such garbage. Remember the Valentine Doctrine? Government is there to do what the private sector won’t, can’t or shouldn’t do. Commercial radio is thriving in America. Why should the government support programming that’s in direct competition with private enterprise? NPR is funded by local, state and federal tax dollars in addition to private and corporate donations. It’s time they learn to live like the rest of us. They’ve been around since 1967. They’ve had ample time to figure out the capitalist system. It’s time we hand them a pole and make them fish for themselves.

Phil Valentine is the author of the book Right From The Heart: The ABCs of Reality in America.

— Robert Siegel, Robert Draper, and Phil Valentine
National Public Radio


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