Dark Bilious Vapors

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08/27/2004: Interesting analysis....

which sort of makes sense to me; I've long ago concluded that the single most compelling reason for not electing a person to the office of President of the United States is the fact that s/he wants the job. And if s/he wanted the job way back when s/he was graduating from college, that's even worse. Craig Crawford: The Vietnam Era and a Window into the Candidates’ CharactersThis is not about Vietnam. It is about character.

The military service records of presidential candidates are fair game. No more hand wringing, please. Those who say we’re foolishly reliving a 35-year-old war are missing the point.

This Vietnam debate is telling us plenty about the characters of George W. Bush and John Kerry, which is what most voters want to know about their presidential candidates.

Among many character lessons learned about the contrasting behavior of Bush and Kerry during the Vietnam War, the core discovery is the one apparently driving voters to lean away from Kerry.

No matter where you come down on the details of his combat service, we have learned that the 2004 Democratic nominee was fiercely ambitious in those days to build a war record for an intricately planned political career. During the Vietnam-era days, by sharp contrast, the 2004 Republican nominee was a slacker who safely remained stateside and apparently had no thoughts of ever even holding a full-time job. Running for president some day could not have crossed Bush’s mind, given his sloppy handling of his National Guard service.

While Americans admire ambition, they also tend to like a goof-off.

On the surface you’d think Kerry, who chose the Navy and volunteered for combat service, would easily trump Bush, who did not see combat. That certainly was how the Kerry playbook had it going. And before this debate ends, that is where it could stand.

But for now the polls show Kerry is the one nicked by the Vietnam debate. A Los Angeles Times survey released Aug. 26 shows that Kerry’s war record is currently playing as a political wash. Asked how the Massachusetts senator’s overall military experience would affect their Nov. 2 decision, 23 percent of registered voters said it made them more likely to vote for him; 21 percent said it made them less likely; the remaining 53 percent said it would make no difference.

Those are disturbing numbers for a campaign that is betting the farm on their candidate’s war record. The Democratic National Convention in Boston was almost exclusively devoted to showcasing Kerry’s combat experience.

And there is the rub. Kerry’s relentless opportunism in handling his Vietnam stint is where he went wrong. These are warning signals about his character that voters are absorbing just as they begin to learn about him.

Sen. John McCain nailed this problem months ago when I chatted with him about Kerry’s promotion of his Vietnam service during the Democratic nomination campaign. The Arizona Republican said he took Kerry aside near the Senate floor one day and urged him to go easy on the war boasting. “I told him not to talk about it,” McCain said. “Let others do the talking. It just looks bad.”


What did we learn about Bush’s character in the exhaustive media scrutiny of his military record some months ago? We learned that, unlike Kerry, he was most willing to use his privileged status to avoid harm’s way in Southeast Asia.

But in light of Bush’s hawkish presidency, claims that he dodged a fight do not fit the pattern of how voters see his character.

Instead, Bush’s military record fits a character pattern that many voters like about him. His war years demonstrate that this is not a man who spent his entire adult life plotting to run for president.

For starters, how lame it was for Bush to lose his Texas Air National Guard flight status simply because he missed a physical examination. But it does fit his image as a regular guy who cannot stand paperwork.The only problem I have with this (and basically, here, Mr. Crawford is glossing over the seriousness of Bush's offense), is that the U.S. Air Force spent quite a bit of money and at least one year teaching Bush how to fly an airplane...not just an airplane, but a high performance (even though obsolete at the time) interceptor. And the U.S. Air Force had rules and regulations about people being obligated to perform certain duties in return for that investment. And the fact is, that this isn't a matter of, "Aw, shucks, paperwork is such a pain, so I won't do it." It's ultimately a matter of dereliction of duty. Bush should have been disciplined for his failure to have that examination performed, and I'm frankly astonished that he wasn't. (Then again, maybe he was? Is a reprimand for his dereliction of duty the reason Bush hasn't released all his service records? That fits in with some recent speculations of mine.)

Even if Democrats could prove their unsubstantiated claim that Bush was AWOL in the summer of 1972, it is not clear that enough voters are going to care to make a difference.

For now, Bush seems to have gotten away with quite a flip-flop in discussing those days he is accused of shirking duty. Pentagon records released last month show that he was not paid for the period in question, indicating that he did not show up. But officials say the records also show that Bush had accumulated sufficient service points in earlier months and so did not need to report for duty.

This means that Bush’s current position is as follows: I showed up, but if I didn’t show up, I didn’t have to.

Without another round of media scrutiny for such doublespeak, Bush will get away with making the combat veteran’s record a wedge issue. If he is re-elected, such a brilliant maneuver tells us something about his character that might serve the nation well in a time of war. He has the guts to savage an opponent’s greatest strength, and win.
Alas, that could mean we're stuck with the Crawford village idiot for another four years.

Len on 08.27.04 @ 01:16 PM CST

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