My note on the ways to document the President's military service has earned me some attention, both in the blogosphere and the mainstream media. For those links, I'm grateful. But I'm also a little bit disturbed by the traction this story has gotten, and I'm not looking forward to the kind of election where this stuff takes precedence over the stuff I really care about: national security, ballooning deficits, a stagnant economy, etc.
This morning, I read an op-ed by retired-Sen. Bob Dole in the Wall Street Journal that summed up my feelings pretty well. I disagree with Sen. Dole that an honorable discharge is itself dispositive of any questions about military service, since I think such a discharge is the lowest common denominator of characterizations for military performance. However, I agree with Sen. Dole that war records the only thing that matters in this election, and that there are much more important things to talk about between now and November.
These attacks are offensive. Service in the National Guard is one of the finest things any citizen can do, and there are tens of thousands of guardsmen and women serving our country today all over the world. Thousands are serving in Iraq, and some of those have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country.Analysis: I like Sen. Dole's self-deprecating sense of humor. He's right -- if war records counted, we'd have seen Sen. John McCain run against Al Gore in 2000, and Sen. Dole would have beat President Clinton hands-down in 1996. But there's more to a candidate than what he did in his twenties, and though such service can reveal a lot about a person's character, it can also obscure the issues that count.
It should be incumbent upon presidential candidates to disavow accusations that have no proof or substance behind them. Gen. Wesley Clark learned the price of irresponsibility the hard way as thousands of voters deserted him in the weeks since he intimated President Bush might have been a deserter. Enough.
Sen. Kerry is a war hero, but if campaigns were about war records, I would have won easily in 1996. Campaigns are about issues, and the candidates of both parties owe the American people a compelling vision for the future of America.
Also, Sen. Dole makes an important point: today's National Guard is not your father's National Guard. It's not a place where rich (or lucky) kids can go to avoid the draft. In today's National Guard, the question is not if you will deploy overseas, it's when. Today's citizen soldiers join up in the absence of conscription because they want to -- whether it's for college money, adventure, the chance to do something big, or any number of reasons. Anyone who attacks the reserves and National Guard today is a fool, given the sacrifices of American reservists since Sept. 11. If partisans on the left want to attack the President's military service record, that's one thing. But they should be very careful to avoid attacking the National Guard and the reserves in the process.
Update: I think Tim Russert reads Intel Dump (see this note), based on the following question & answer exchange with the President broadcast this morning on Meet the Press. Here's the transcript from the interview:
Russert: And we are back in the Oval Office talking to the President of the United States.So, the President is willing to release all of his documents in order to settle this matter. Any bets on how/when that will happen?
Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, said this last week: "I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn't show up when he should have showed up."
President Bush: Yeah.
Russert: How do you respond?
President Bush: Political season is here. I was I served in the National Guard. I flew F 102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I I put in my time, proudly so.
I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq. [This is virtually a paraphrase of what Sen. Dole says in the Wall Street Journal, as well as my thoughts above.]
Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there's no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.
President Bush: Yeah, they're they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.
Russert: You did were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?
President Bush: Right. Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military.
Russert: When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?
President Bush: Yeah. Listen, these files I mean, people have been looking for these files for a long period of time, trust me, and starting in the 1994 campaign for governor. And I can assure you in the year 2000 people were looking for those files as well. Probably you were. And absolutely. I mean, I
Russert: But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period? [Hmmm... where did he get this idea?]
President Bush: Yeah. If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records. [Note: the IRS apparently destroys all paper records after 10 years, and it's doubtful that the military records have more information than what's been released so far. So... I think this "if we still have them" caveat is probably being said with some level of scienter.]
And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I'm used to it. What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard is is may not be a true service.
Russert: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?
President Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.