BUSH vs. KERRY….I have been goaded into writing another post about George Bush’s National Guard service. Via email, LT Smash objects to my post this morning, saying my arguments “ring just a bit hollow” given my obsession with GWB’s service record earlier this year. Meanwhile, Bryan Keefer at The Campaign Desk wonders why no one is writing about the National Guard story anymore. “Why, exactly, did the media drop the matter?” he asks.

Addressing these questions is an ugly job, I suppose, but someone has to do it. Conveniently, though, I can address them both in a single post.

First, John Kerry. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam; he won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts; he displayed conspicuous bravery under fire; he served his country honorably in combat; and he left the Navy when his term of enlistment was up.

Is there any reason to suspect any problem with his service record? No. Absolutely none, and he’s busily releasing his military records on his website to prove it.

But how about George Bush? Is it fair to suspect problems with his service record just because there are gaps in his military file? In a word, yes, and not because of gaps in his files. We have his files, and it’s those very files that raise questions. Let’s review:

That’s a considerable amount of documentary evidence to arouse legitimate suspicion about Bush’s record. But there’s more: the “complete release” of documents from the White House in February seemed to be missing some records.

Where was his final Officer Efficiency Report? His pay stubs? The Flight Inquiry Board report after he was grounded for missing his physical? Even Albert Lloyd, who helped the Bush campaign make sense of his records during the 2000 election, expressed suspicion about the lack of original documentation in the file, which would have placed Bush’s whereabouts with more precision.

So: suspicion about Bush’s service record really is legitimate because there’s plenty of good reason to be suspicious about it. That’s what makes Bush’s case different from Kerry’s.

At the same time, suspicion is all there is, and that’s why the press corps (and I) eventually dropped the story. There’s no smoking gun, and without that there just isn’t much further to take things. There’s no firm proof of anything aside from missing some drills during 1972, and reporters can’t just keep writing stories raising the same lingering questions over and over.

It’s possible that some investigative reporter somewhere is continuing to work on this story. But if not, there’s nothing new to report. For now, that’s where things stand.

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