The Bush administration’s pretensions to represent anyone apart from its corporate cronies have never been further from reality. While Republican propagandists have toiled nonstop to dress Bush up as the clear presidential candidate for the military — think of Dubya in his super jet fighter pilot costume — a chance encounter with the families of some real jet fighter pilots brought home to me how the feelings of the men and women serving in the U.S. military differ from Karl Rove’s master plan.

A few weeks ago I stopped in for a quick bite at a barbecue joint on I-35 between San Antonio and Austin. After squeezing into my seat at a crowded long table, I realized I was next door to Randolph Air Force Base and that my neighbors were all military families. I was surprised at what they had to say.

An older woman and her daughter-in-law were talking about a son and husband in Iraq. “Hopefully, by this time next year, we’ll have a new president …” she started. The older woman was nodding her head absently — the thought was not novel to her. It was instead the sort of phrase repeated over and over when it is the only source of hope, like a talisman against an ubiquitous fear.

Similar sentiments were echoed all around; they were the kinds of expressions of discontent I hear frequently enough in downtown Austin, where they are commonplace.

Over my paper plate of brisket, I was brought to an overwhelming and exciting conclusion: either Randolph Air Force Base is the last undiscovered bastion of leftist critical thought (a sort of Frankfurt School on the Comal River), or Bush’s pro-military antics are being judged harshly in many military homes from sea to shining sea.

My fellow diners, I suspect, must feel something of the same disgust at the Usurper-in-Chief as the novelist E.L. Doctorow. Bush, he writes, “does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be. They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life … they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.”

Donning that fighter pilot outfit is not going to get Bush out of this scrape. Not this time.

For me the most encouraging fruit of my unintended eavesdropping was the sudden and unexpected demonstration it offered that, under the pressure of history, people ordinarily assumed to be leaning to the right can quickly start bending sharply to the left. Bush can claim the support of American soldiers all he likes, but more than a thousand obstacles stand in his way — the flag-draped corpses arriving at another air force base in Maryland.

Those soldiers and their families have seen through Bush’s thin disguise, and they are preparing a November trick for the hero of the Texas Air National Guard.

The author can be reached at