Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Chris Matthews says, "Nobody looks right in the role Bush has set for
the presidency -- commander-in-chief . . . looks good in a jet
pilot's costume -- or uniform, rather . . ."
Throughout American history, many generals and war heroes, from
George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower, have succeeded to the
Presidency, and all have pointedly put their military uniforms in the
closet in order to emphasize the civilian nature of their new role.
Though some may have relished their role as commander-in-chief, I
could not think of a single President, regardless of their military
background, who had donned the uniform while in office.
Indeed, I tried to think of a single democratically elected leader
anywhere in the world who had ever done such a thing, and while there
may be others, I came up with one leader who once "looked right in
the role" -- Adolf Hitler.
Playing 'Top Gun' for the cameras
By Joan Vennochi, 5/6/2003
FROM THE TEXAS Air National Guard during the Vietnam era to Top Gun.
The president recently jumped aboard a Navy S-3B Viking jet to land
dramatically on an aircraft carrier at sea. Wearing a green flight
suit and carrying a helmet, George W. Bush emerged from the jet and
declared major combat over in Iraq. In a political world driven by
image and pictures, he has much to gain from that perfect media
moment. Perception is reality, right?
Bush as a presidential candidate was criticized for his thin foreign
policy credentials. As he faces reelection, Democrats can debate his
response to terrorism and his decision to go to war. But he certainly
has more foreign policy experience today than he did as governor of
The pictures from the aircraft carrier also suggest that Bush is
willing to use the recent war in a political way to redefine public
perception of his past military service. As president, he is, of
course, commander in chief. Playing pilot for a day and a photo-op
sends another, more personal message.
However, pictures should not disguise the truth of Bush's military
record. As the Globe reported bluntly during the 2000 presidential
campaign, ''During the Vietnam War, Texas Governor George W. Bush
compiled a spotty attendance record in a Texas Air National Guard
billet arranged through family political connections.''
Bush's military records, obtained by Globe reporter Walter V.
Robinson during the 2000 campaign, revealed the following: ''In his
final 18 months of military service in 1972 and 1973, Bush did not
fly at all. And for much of that time, Bush was all but unaccounted
for: For a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the
periodic drills required of part-time guardsmen.'' The military
records showed that Bush flew with the 111th Fighter-Interceptor
squadron from June 1970 until April 1972. ''That month, he ceased
flying altogether, two years before his military commitment ended, an
unusual step that has left some veteran fight pilots puzzled,''
reported Robinson in one of several follow-up accounts.
At the time, Bush insisted that he fulfilled his miltary obligation
and disputed part of the Globe report. ''I did the duty necessary....
That's why I was honorably discharged,'' Bush said in May 2000. He
acknolwedged, however, that he fulfilled his Guard duties at
The issue did not hurt him in the 2000 general election, nor did his
choice for vice president, Dick Cheney, whose extended college career
insulated him from military service during the Vietnam War. The Bush-
Cheney team, after all, was following Bill Clinton, who avoided
service during the Vietnam War and still took the White House away
from the first President Bush, a World War II Navy pilot.
Why the eagerness to look like a real soldier in 2004? This Bush
won't be running against Bill Clinton. And he could be running
against a real veteran: Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, a
decorated Vietnam hero.
Bush's approval ratings are high - 71 percent in a recent
ABCNews/Washington Post poll. But the economy remains a problem, and
international events can still work against him in the year ahead. No
one knows what will happen in Iraq. Major combat may be over there,
but the rebuilding of that country holds major challenges for the
It makes political sense for Bush to wrap himself in the military
success of the moment. He owns Iraq and the foreign policy it
represents, anyway, whatever happens from this point forward. Even
so, he may yet come to regret that flamboyant, self-indulgent flyboy
moment. There was an arrogance to using genuine military men and
women as extras for a future campaign ad - and a dishonesty, too.
Like many rich, privileged, or otherwise politically well-connected
young American men, he avoided real war. Like many young men -
Republicans and Democrats - he refused and still refuses to
acknowledge his effort to avoid combat. Did it cross his mind when he
was ordering troops to Iraq, or afterwards, when he was comforting
wives, mothers, and children of dead American soldiers? His answer to
that question would be interesting to hear.
The photos from the president's day on the USS Abraham Lincoln feed a
certain perception. But when perception becomes disconnected from
truth, there is also political risk.
Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@...
. Join Vennochi
today for a live online chat at noon on www.boston.com.
This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 5/6/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
Media AWOL in noting irony of Bush's flight
May 6, 2003
So much for that myth--the cynical distortion that has become
conventional wisdom in many circles. During the presidential campaign
of 2000, it started going around that Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then
the leading Republican candidate, had significant gaps in his
Specifically, that Bush failed to report for duty for an entire year
toward the end of his hitch with the Texas Air National Guard.
The short version: In May 1968 the silver-spoon son of a U.S.
congressman jumped to the top of a long waiting list despite mediocre
scores on his pilot-aptitude test and was allowed to enlist in the
Guard, a common way to avoid being drafted into combat in Vietnam.
In May 1972 he sought a transfer from Houston, where he flew F-102s
on weekends, to a unit in Montgomery, Ala. There, he worked on the
U.S. Senate campaign of a friend of his father's and, records
indicate, blew off his military obligations.
Bush failed to take his annual flight physical in 1972 so Guard
officials grounded him, the story went. He never flew again and
received an early discharge to go to graduate school. His final
officer-efficiency report from May 1973 noted only that supervisors
hadn't seen him or heard from him.
Bush's campaign biography obscured or misrepresented these details.
In the summer and fall of 2000, his spokesmen offered various and
evolving explanations for what Democrats said represented a far
bigger "character issue" than any of the windy exaggerations of their
candidate, Vice President Al Gore.
"If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander
in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?"
Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey said to the Boston Globe, where veteran
investigative reporter Walter V. Robinson, a former Army intelligence
officer, wrote several major stories on the subject. "This stinks."
Yes, but like Bush at the end of his hitch, it didn't fly. A search
of all news publications and programs archived in the LexisNexis
database for the last seven months of the 2000 campaign found 114
stories referencing Bush, the Texas Air National Guard and Alabama.
Over that same span, nearly 10 times that many stories--1,076 to be
exact--referenced Al Gore and the expression "invented the internet,"
an allusion to the bogus charge then haunting Gore that he had wildly
inflated his role in the online revolution.
The "Bush AWOL?" story appeared in this newspaper and was based on
good reporting and still-unanswered questions. It faded away--a scant
14 mentions in the database for all of 2001 and 2002 due to the age
of the allegations, the lack of any new developments and the urgency
of current events.
Last week, though, the president all but wore a "Kick Me!" sticker on
the back of his flight suit when he decided to land on the deck of
the USS Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of an S-3B Viking jet.
Imagine the derisive merriment in the columns and on the chat shows
if former President Bill Clinton revived the skirt-chasing issue by
touring a sorority house or if Gore delivered a lecture to the
engineers at Netscape Communications Corp. Think of the snickering
and the sardonic rehash of history.
But for Bush in flyboy attire, a discreet silence. The only voices I
encountered raising this issue were David Corn in the Nation; Newsday
columnist Jimmy Breslin, who asked, "Tell me if you ever heard of
anybody with as powerful a resistance to shame as Bush"; and talk
station WLS-AM's token progressives Nancy Skinner and Ski Anderson,
who spent a full hour Sunday afternoon savoring the irony of it all.
There was no relentless examination of the damning timeline on cable
news outlets, no interviewing the commanders who swear Bush didn't
show up where he was supposed to, no sit-downs with the veterans who
have offered still-unclaimed cash rewards to anyone who can prove
that Bush did anything at all in the Guard during his last months
So much for the cynical distortion that has become conventional
wisdom in many circles. So much for the myth of the "liberal media."
Carriergate Flashback: Part One
Robalini's Note: A little history on this, and of Ann
Coulter "Supporting Our Troops." Yes, Dubya showed more bravery by
joining the National Guard than Gore did in going to 'Nam...
October 30, 2000
Gore's 'Nam flashbacks
Demonstrating the same nauseating capacity for exaggeration he now
exhibits with wild abandon, when Al Gore was in Vietnam he wrote one
of his friends: "When and if I get home ... I'm going to divinity
school to atone for my sins."
Presumably Gore wrote this while out from under the protective glare
of his bodyguard.
During his tour of Vietnam, the senator's son was assigned a series
of bodyguards whose mission it was to ensure that Gore's war injuries
would be limited to any paper cuts he might sustain while filing his
illiterate scribblings for the Stars and Stripes.
Though Gore's flacks insist that there is "no evidence" Gore noticed
anything usual about having a Man Friday serving him mint juleps in
wartime, somehow Gore did screw up the courage after only three
months of this horror to raise his hand and ask to go home. (The Army
grants requests like that all the time: "Can I go home now?")
If Gore didn't know, he was alone in his ignorance. According to the
Chicago Sun-Times, soldiers (the ones without bodyguards) used to
taunt Little Lord Fauntleroy about his privileged treatment.
Unlike so many Vietnam veterans, the vice president has managed to
emerge from his war trauma and open up with the media about the
experience. He told Vanity Fair magazine: "I took my turn regularly
on the perimeter in these little firebases out in the boonies.
Something would move, we'd fire first and ask questions later." He
informed The Washington Post: "I was shot at. I spent most of my time
in the field." He told The Baltimore Sun: "I carried an M-16" and "I
was fired upon."
In point of fact, Gore was never shot at, and never fired a shot in
anger. His weapons of choice were white-out and a typewriter ribbon,
not an M-16. Though the Los Angeles Times broke the bodyguard story
about a year ago, the adversary press never really leapt on it. The
Times article was pretty spectacular, citing a number of Gore's
fellow servicemen who said that they "were assigned to make sure this
son of a prominent politician was never injured in the war."
But then a Gore supporter ("reporter," for short) quickly got one
such Man Friday on the record admitting that he was technically
called Gore's "security escort" -- not his "bodyguard." That ended
the media's interest in the story.
Since then, Gore has felt no compunction about running campaign ads
brimming over with photos of GI Al with his prop backpack and M-16.
(The bodyguards have been airbrushed out.)
Pointedly alluding to his opponent, Gore shamelessly boasts: "When I
graduated from college, there were plenty of fancy ways to get out of
going and being a part of that." Not him, though, no sir. He went to
Vietnam because: "I knew if I didn't, somebody else in the small town
of Carthage, Tenn., would have to go in my place."
No, actually. Gore did get one of those fancy deals. It was just a
lot fancier than most boys can get -- especially any other boy from
The only difference between Gore and Clinton is that Gore had a way
out. If Clinton could have worked out a scam like that he'd surely
have gone, too. In fact, this is just the sort of package that would
have appealed to Clinton. He could have preserved his "political
viability" and his precious little neck at the same time. With all
the hookers, he might not even have asked to go home early.
While Brave Al soldiered his rifle and took off for the Saigon
Marriot in calculated gambit to help out dad's faltering re-election
bid, George W. Bush was climbing into fighter jets and taking off at
the speed of sound. Though the National Guard service during the
Vietnam War has gotten a bad reputation, Bush was in the Air National
Guard. He was a fighter pilot, flying F-102s.
If Al Gore -- or any member of the adversary press now sneering at
George Bush's service with the Air National Guard -- ever took off in
an F-102, they wouldn't be able to relieve themselves for two weeks.
Even in peacetime, fighter pilots routinely lose more comrades than
wartime engineers -- to say nothing of Army journalists.
Still, Gore drones on about his fictitious combat experience and
taunts his opponent -- who was surely in greater physical peril. Can
you imagine a Republican trying to get away with this? Though Gore
was allegedly unaware of the special treatment he received back in
Vietnam, the privileged Little Lord Fauntleroy is fully aware that
the adversary press is about as likely to take a shot at him now as
the Viet Cong were back then.