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:
He got into the Texas Air National Guard because high level friends pulled strings to get him in. Ben Barnes, the Texas politico who did the string pulling, testified about this under oath in 1999.
Like John Kerry, Bush had the option of volunteering for service in Vietnam or declining it. He declined it.
In mid-1972, with two years left in his term, he blew off his required annual physical and was grounded from flying.
At the same time, he left Houston for Alabama and subsequently failed to show up for any kind of drills for a period of over six months. Both his retirement records and his payroll records confirm this.
In mid-1973 his commanding officer was unable to give him his annual fitness report because “Lt Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report.” Was “not observed” just a term of art? Perhaps, except that the document also says that Bush “cleared the base” in 1972 and makes it clear that his commanding officers believed he was in Alabama the whole time. When headquarters asked for more information, they were told yet again that no information was available about Lt. Bush.
The problem is that Bush wasn’t in Alabama for this entire period. He had returned to Houston in late 1972. How is it that he was in Houston, supposedly attending drills, and yet his commanding officers thought he was in Alabama?
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.