Thursday, February 12, 2004


I'm of two minds about the GWB Texas Air National Guard story. Probably more, but at least two. On the one hand, it's a piddly offense. Did he join the guard to avoid going to Vietnam? Almost certainly, as did almost anyone else who had the opportunity. Did he shirk his duty and fail to complete his required service? It sure looks like it, but he wouldn't be the first, the last, or the only one ever to have done so. So what's the big deal? This is where the second mind comes in. It's so easily explained away, in its most innocuous form, by GWB being impatient to move onto other things and always meaning to, but never quite getting around to, finishing his National Guard service. Because there were more than enough pilots to go around, and it was unlikely that GWB would ever be called upon to go to Vietnam, a couple of strings were pulled and he was let go a little early.

And I guess this is where the difficulty for GWB and his entourage lie, in those strings. It's very easy to get tangled up in them and trip all over yourself, especially as you try to pretend that they're not there.

GWB has never, by any account that I've ever read of him, been shy about his family name. It was well known in Washington and Texas, and if it made his life a little easier, then so be it. But the hagiography that surrounds him tries to portray him as a self-made man. No evidence is ever presented to prove this assertion, but it's not necessary, because we only have to see him clear brush on his ranch (in front of cameras for ten minutes before he goes back inside) to know how hard he works. But being born into a privileged family means having privileges, and one of those privileges meant that the right people were known who could pull strings and get his discharge from the TANG a little bit early.

But how do you resolve your image (if only to yourself) as a self-made man if other people did things for you?

This is where it all starts getting bizarre. Instead of simply saying, "Yeah, I got out early, but I doubt that anyone else who could have done the same thing would have done it differently," he tries to claim that he didn't get out early, and that he did complete his service, even though the evidence doesn't seem to prove it. Would he release his complete service records to fill in the blanks? "Absolutely," he told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" on February 8. "Not so much," White House spokesperson Scott McClellan told reporters later that week. What they would get were selected portions of the records, and an assurance that that was all that there was. But this was more information than was made available in 2000, and reporters had been told then that that was all that there was. If more information had come out in the last 4 years, where did it come from? If they were so confident that there was no more information to be had, why were they still looking for more? Who was still looking for more? And could it mean that there was still more information elsewhere?

At this point, McClellan accused reporters of engaging in gutter politics.

Not exactly. Because at this point, we still haven't even gotten into the nasty rumors about where Bush was. His story is that he left Texas to work on the campaign of a family friend in Alabama. But no one who worked on the campaign has stepped forward to say that they remember him doing much of anything. Kevin Drum at Calpundit has issued a challenge to anyone who can find a mention of GWB in any of the contemporaneous accounts of the campaign. If he wasn't in Texas, and he wasn't in Alabama, then where was he? The mind reels, and the rumor mill grinds away.

The reason this seems to be gaining some traction is that it so easily emblemizes the approach of the GWB administration to, well, everything. "Up is down! Black is white! We've always been at war with Eurasia!" When anyone even tries to ask for some sort of evidence of these claims, they're beaten back with, "I believe I've already answered the quetion. Your insistence upon asking follow up questions show your inherent bias against this administration and your resistence to the good work it is doing to make this world a safer, better place. It is not the policy of this administration to respond to partisan attacks like that, as the President believes that we have a much more important job to do, leading the American people." Blah blah blah blah blah.

There is also a bit of blowback here. The Washington press corps has been well trained to ignore the big questions. Don't ask about national security or any sweeping policy related issues, don't question the way the war (either of them) is being conducted, or even if it is/they are necessary or productive. Focus on the small and the insignificant. Focus on things like infidelity as a character issue, or why Democrats own stock if they believe in corporate oversight. The stupid and the trivial get front-page treatment, and now its biting the people who thought they knew how to use it to their advantage.

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