February 11, 2004

Bush "AWOL" Fatigue

I am growing fatigued of this Bush Air National Guard story.

First off, Professor Bainbridge is right: the issue on the table is whether we want to re-elect the 2004 model of George W. Bush, not the 1972-73 model.

Second, Cokie Roberts, appearing on the roundtable portion of This Week last Sunday noted that ultimately the question is going to be whether people want to rehire the president or not. This kind of story is far more important when a candidate seeks office the first time, not when they seek re-election.

Third, the only motivation for this is simply to find some kind of symbol that will allow Kerry to appear stronger on national defense than Bush. It’s the whole Moore “the General (or the Lieutenant, in this case) v. the deserter” bit, or McAuliffe’s characterization of Kerry as a guy with a “chest full of medals” v. a guy who didn’t serve. However, it seems to me that a full re-hashing of the politics of Viet Nam could backfire on Kerry, as a full discussion will require an examination of Kerry war protest years. Indeed, the “medals” ref by McAuliffe raises the issue of Kerry’s tossing of medals over the fence bit, which raises the protester issue (not to mention the debate as to whether they were really his medals or not). And the Guard thing can backfire because these days being in the Guard means you may be in Iraq or Afghanistan getting shot at. And while the Democrats can patiently explain how things are different now than they were then (and they’d be right), it still won’t resonant well with families who have members in the Guard who have been deployed, are awaiting deployment.

Fourth, the only people likely to care about Bush’s Guard record are people who already dislike the President. This will just give them yet another reason to do so, since it is unlikely that satisfactory evidence to support Bush’s position will emerge.

Fifth, the only real damage this could do to Bush is if he is proved to have lied about his service.

Also, I would note: that this story will almost certainly will peak in the next several days and will have faded by the time the general election campaign is underway. In other words, barring clear proof of a bald-faced lie on the part of Bush, I can’t see all of this mattering all that much. The battle over the significance of Viet Nam services was fought in 1992, and settled (although less than I thought).

And before anyone says that I am defending Bush for partisan reasons, I pointed out months ago that Dean shouldn’t be harassed because he skied instead of serving because of his back.

James Joyner has some worthwhile commentary on this topic as well. And James is right: if one is 45 or younger, the whole issue isn't that big of a deal, as we all grew up in an era in which service was voluntary.

Posted by Steven Taylor at February 11, 2004 01:00 PM | TrackBack

I think this AWOL story helps Bush, for reasons I explain on my site (shamless link plug here)...

Posted by: mark at February 11, 2004 01:24 PM

Absolutely wrong on this one. As a 26 year-old who is not already anti-Bush, this is starting to look suspicious and bother both myself and my Vietnam-serving father. The only thing you may be right about is that the card has been played too early to provide much impact for the general election. That scandal may fall to the growing Plame investigation. Still, with regards to this Bama/Texas Air National Guard (the delightful acronym TANG) fiasco, it's humiliating that not ONE SINGLE PERSON can say they served with Bush in Bama. The released records raise FAR more questions than they answer. Even if '04 is a referendum on the recent Bush, skeletons from the closet of the past are fair game, especially where 9-11 makes us all security freaks talking about troops. And it makes the flight suit "Mission Accomplished" pose all the more fraudulent. You're wrong. This matters to me, my father and a lot of pro-Bush people I know.

Posted by: Stephen at February 11, 2004 04:52 PM

As a lefty (well, most issues anyway) who isn't particularly fond of Bush, I find this whole thing stupid as well. It's a few days embarrassment, and then will fade away completely. What gets me is that when the media suddenly turned strongly combative to Bush, they had to pick such a petty and meaningless issue. Oh well.

Posted by: Gg at February 11, 2004 07:53 PM

Please be logical. Were the National Guard bigwigs so dumb that they would give an honorable discharge to someone who skipped out? Anyone who skipped out? This is the military in WARTIME! A war that was going badly too. Has anyone suggested that his military superiors were paid off or gave him an honorable discharge because BUSH was a bigwig's son? NO! So when is an honorable discharge less than what it is meant to be?? Why can't people take things at face value??!

Posted by: Margaret at February 11, 2004 10:43 PM

Take things on face value? Sure, the economy is just peachie keen, With our budget we'll cut the deficit in half... Prescription drug bill is just a tad short 150 Billion, the war is "We got them right where we want em" Unemployment is an illusion... The CIA did wonderful work pre 9/11 and in Iraq... Give me a break... Face value indeed...Constant bull Turkey...

Posted by: Barry at February 12, 2004 11:40 AM

Steven (the doubter not the host)

It was a unit with 800 guys in it. Bush would have been an out of state pilot that showed up about 10 days over the course of a year.

Further of the 800 pilots 799 of them were 20 something years old, in good shape, had tight hair cuts and they all wore the same clothes every day.

Is it real hard to believe nobody remembers him?

Posted by: Paul at February 12, 2004 11:09 PM
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