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Dubya's Military Record -- An Issue That Won't Go Away?

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POLITICAL MEMO

Military Service Becomes Weapon in a Kerry-Bush Race

By ELISABETH BUMILLER and DAVID M. HALBFINGER

Published: February 4, 2004

ASHINGTON, Feb. 3 — The contrast could not be more striking.

In March 1969, John Kerry, a 25-year-old Navy lieutenant, reached down from the boat he was piloting in Vietnam's treacherous Bay Hap River and in a spray of enemy fire pulled a soldier out of the water to safety. For his valor, Mr. Kerry won the Bronze Star with a combat "V" and his third Purple Heart.

That very same month, George W. Bush was on far-safer ground in Valdosta, Ga., learning to fly fighter planes for the Texas National Guard, a coveted post that greatly reduced any risk that he would be sent to Vietnam — and one that he might not have obtained had his father not been a member of Congress.

Mr. Bush went on to miss a number of National Guard training sessions, although his spokesmen say he made up the dates and his records show he was honorably discharged.

Now, three decades later, the contrast between the military service of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush has exploded into a campaign issue.

Democrats, who this week accused Mr. Bush of being "AWOL" from the National Guard, are using it as a weapon to undermine Mr. Bush's greatest electoral strength, his record on national security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Republicans roared back on Tuesday, accusing Mr. Kerry of "smear tactics" for saying the president should answer questions about his service record. Taking the rare step of angrily rebutting the charges directly from the White House, the Republicans are trying to turn the issue back on Mr. Kerry and question the character of a man who they say is running a vicious campaign. But they are concerned enough about the political impact of the charges to consider sending Mr. Bush out to begin his official campaigning early, rather than waiting until spring as previously planned.

"Obviously we're in a period where the Democrats have been center stage politically and they've said a lot of tough things about the president," said one Bush campaign official, who was reacting in part to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing Mr. Kerry leading Mr. Bush by 53 percent to 46 percent among likely voters. "But it won't be too long now before there are two candidates in the race."

Although Democrats are not unified in the view that the strategy will work, Mr. Kerry's campaign advisers say the dispute, and the intense Republican response, keeps Mr. Kerry's military record as a central focus of the campaign and allows him to show he can engage in the same kind of brutal political warfare as the Bush White House.

In that sense, Democrats called the attack on Mr. Bush a loud warning shot aimed directly at Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of Democratic National Committee, led the way on Sunday when he called Mr. Bush AWOL, a charge that Mr. Kerry has not made himself, but also not disavowed.

"The Republican attack machine that's gone nuts today is going to discover that John Kerry is pretty tough," said Bob Shrum, Mr. Kerry's senior adviser, in an interview on Tuesday. "He's going to fight back on national security and the issues that he himself brings to the table."

Republicans countered that the Democrats and Mr. Kerry had gone overboard, that the strategy would backfire and that the charges were old. Questions about Mr. Bush's National Guard service first surfaced during the 2000 campaign when he ran against Al Gore, who served in Vietnam. The issue was revived last month when the filmmaker Michael Moore called Mr. Bush a deserter at a rally for Gen. Wesley K. Clark.

"I think it's a little over the top," said former Senator Bob Dole, who was seriously wounded in World War II but did not make his military record an issue in his 1996 campaign against the incumbent Bill Clinton, who avoided serving in Vietnam. "You have to walk that fine line that you're not exploiting it."

Other Republicans said that voters would not judge the candidates on their military service but on how they best presented themselves as a potential commander in chief charged with protecting the security of the United States. In that regard, Republicans said, Mr. Bush had the overwhelming advantage.

"You've got Bush who's already commander in chief, and has deployed military forces in a successful way, and has proven what he's willing to do," said Bill Dal Col, a Republican political consultant. "And you've got somebody who was in the military 30 years ago, different time, different era. What he did in Vietnam does not play out to what he has to do on the world stage now."

Some Democrats agreed. "This election is not going to be about the military, or the lack of military record of the president, but his performance in handling Iraq and leading the country in a time of uncertainty," said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster, who is not working for a presidential candidate.

But Mr. Kerry is showing no signs so far of backing off. In recent days, he has been assisted by former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, a triple-amputee from his service in Vietnam who has been virtually sainted in Democratic eyes after being defeated in 2002 when Republicans questioned his patriotism.

"We need a real deal, like John Kerry, not a raw deal, like what's in the White House now," Mr. Cleland said on Friday in Columbia, S.C., with Mr. Kerry at his side. "We need somebody who felt the sting of battle, not someone who didn't even complete his tour stateside in the Guard."

The White House went into a furious counterattack on Tuesday. "It is outrageous and baseless," Scott McClellan, Mr. Bush's press secretary, told reporters, breaking the White House practice that all political questions be answered by officials at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Ralph Reed, the Bush campaign's Southeast regional chairman, went even further. "It's gutter politics," Mr. Reed said in an interview. "We're absolutely convinced that the American people will reject these smear tactics."

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Kerry fired back. On Fox News, he subtly slashed at Mr. Bush by implying that joining the National Guard was just another way of dodging the draft.

"I've never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard," Mr. Kerry said. "Those are choices people make."

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"I've never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard," Mr. Kerry said. "Those are choices people make."

:lol:

Now that's a backhanded comment.

What type of world do we live in where the GOP is ok with Dubya's desertion and the DEMS have multiple candidates who have good military records?

Has the world turned on another axis?

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Who will this affect voting wise? Who will sway because of this?

Bush and Co will trot out proof he didnt desert, or go awol, or any of the other nonsense spewed by the left.

Then they will bring out the quotes from Kerry in 92 about Clintons draft dodge and how he didnt think it matters.

Then they will bring out the photos of him throwing away his medals and attending antiwar rallies.

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Come on TEG. Thats really an unfair harsh statement. The guy served. Granted, he may have been the benificiary of some dubious latitude in terms of his Reserve time, but to use the term 'deserter'? Thats just not right.

The same people who are beating this drum gave Clinton a pass and ignore Dean (who's back problems kept him out of the military). I think they are right to give those gentlemen a pass. Military service is not a requirement, its a choice.

But to toss around terms like 'deserter' to describe someone who did serve (whether or not it was 'sufficient' to some's liking) just isn't fair.

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My personal opionion is that I can understand someone not serving or taking action to not serve. So I don't have a problem with it.

However, IMO, there is no difference between Bush and Clinton. Clinton avoided being drafted, so did Bush. Bush has time in his service that is unaccounted for. Is he a deserter? I don't know. But I do believe that he got preferential treatment. Is that a left or right trait? No, it's a trait of the rich and powerful.

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The same people who are beating this drum gave Clinton a pass and ignore Dean (who's back problems kept him out of the military). I think they are right to give those gentlemen a pass. Military service is not a requirement, its a choice.

And the very same people who turn a blind eye to Dubya were the 1st in line to chastise Bubba for draft dodging.

Dubya has a large whole in his record. That's a point of fact. That large whole goes beyond the term awol (which is like within 90 days I believe) - desertion of post is the most accurate term I believe.

Does anyone truly believe that Bush senior didn't have some pull into helping Dubya avoid a dishonorable discharge?

I liek the guy, believe or not - and do support him on many issues. But I am calling a spade a spade here. Dubya did, it appears, desert his post.

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actually, according the guy he was supposed to report to in Ala.. He has no record of Bush ever showing up.

There is a difference.

Loud Ass Mathews went nuts on the topic alittle last night.

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May 26, 1972:

Transfers to Alabama Guard unit so he can work on Senator William Blount's reelection campaign. According to his commanding officer, Bush never shows up for duty while in Alabama, nor can anyone confirm he ever serves in the Guard again.

http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2003/01/ma_217_01.html

August 1972:

Bush is grounded for missing a mandatory physical.

November 1972:

Bush returns to Houston, but never reports for Guard duty.

October 1, 1973:

The Air National Guard relieves Bush from commitment eight months early, allowing him to attend Harvard Business School.

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What about Cheney -- didn't he get out of the war because he "had more pressing matters to attend to" or something like that? Since when is that an excuse? Especially for possibly the biggest hawk in the administration.

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First of all, I'm not personally accountable for what was said about or done to Clinton. Neither are you. But the Department of Defense has no beef with GWB related to his service. As I acknowledged, might he have gotten preferential treatment regarding his length of service commitment because of who he was? Sure, its possible. But 'deserter' is an awfully powerful word. While I'm not willing to concede you've got your facts right, all of our Congressmen and powerful politicians live in a world where that power allows them (and their kids) to live under a different set of rules. Thats the American political system. I don't think the Bushes invented it.

I just think one should be careful with words when there isn't sufficient evidence to prove an assertion, thats all.

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Bottom line here: Noone cares. Get over it!

I said the same thing when people were bringing this up about Quayle, about Clinton, and now about W.

I realize there are a few military guys on this site *cough* Sarge *cough* who will likely be outraged by my reply here, but like it or not, it IS political reality.

Avoiding service in Vietnam simply is not the "scarlet letter" that certain hard line militarists would like to believe it is. Dole tried to play this card and rightfully got creamed. It won't make a difference for Kerry either.

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I agree with riggo also but it's funny to watch political spin doctors on this site and others change their tune with this comparsion and the presidential comparison 4 yrs ago. On both sides.

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Tarhog, just out of curiousity, did the DoD have any issues with Clinton's avoidance of the draft? IIRC, he got a student exemption of some kind to study overseas.

Someone brought this up once before, but which is worse: What Dubya did to avoid service in a war he supported or what Bubba did to avoid service in a war he opposed?

Now we can take it one step further: what Bush did to avoid service in a war he supported or what Kerry did, which was serve admirably, then protest the US's involvement?

Also, in your opinion, is Kerry a weaker or stronger candidate than Gore?

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Originally posted by flashback

Tarhog, just out of curiousity, did the DoD have any issues with Clinton's avoidance of the draft? IIRC, he got a student exemption of some kind to study overseas.

Someone brought this up once before, but which is worse: What Dubya did to avoid service in a war he supported or what Bubba did to avoid service in a war he opposed?

Now we can take it one step further: what Bush did to avoid service in a war he supported or what Kerry did, which was serve admirably, then protest the US's involvement?

Also, in your opinion, is Kerry a weaker or stronger candidate than Gore?

No, I don't think they had an issue with Clinton. Like I said, I think its a red herring all around. The military isn't for everyone. I can even respect a conscientious objector, provided they accept the consequences of declining to participate (which is different than leaving the country).

I don't pretend to know what was in the heart or mind of either Clinton or Bush at those critical junctures. To a great extent, its irrelevant. I'm not stupid so I'd never argue there weren't those who tried to bring Clinton down over his lack of military background. But I don't agree with those actions. I think the salient issue is whether the President is capable of being Commander in Chief, and provide the military with what it needs to function and thrive. Thats where I didn't like Clinton as I felt he essentially gutted the military's training budget. But I don't have any monumental burning issue with him overall as 'Commander in Chief'.

I think Kerry is a formidable opponent, primarily because he's experienced, knows what it takes to win politically, and is immune from some of the attacks he'll sustain for those reasons. Whatever shortcomings GWB may have had related to military service, I don't think you can honestly say he hasn't paid it back in spades. Can you imagine the stress he's endured over the past 2 years, and the tough tough decisions he's had to make.

I'll sum up by saying, if one's honestly going to go after Bush for whatever questions you have about him fulfilling his reserve military obligations, be consistent, and hold all other candidates to that measure. The ONLY reason its an issue right now is because thats the ONE area John Kerry is attack-proof.

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I don't think that Kerry ever used the word dictator only that crackhead Michael Moore did and I would find it hard to believe that Kerry would ever associate with that crazy guy.

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You know, I think from here on out I'm just gonna start writing answers in a word document and keeping them for replies to standard threads.

This looks like a good place to start

I've told you all before about the culture in the Guard up until the the mid to late 90's. The Guard and Reserve go off a point system for retirements. (Not that Bush had any plans to retire fdrom the Guard that I know of) If you show up for every weekend and do your campout in the summer, you get full points for the year, If you don't show up, you get what's called a "Bad Year" and it just takes you longer to retire. You can be gone for up six months without anyone really caring. After that, they have the option to press the issue, but it was rarely done back then. They had other issues to worry about, like all the pot heads they had in the service at the time. That's why we didn't rely on the Guard and Reserve back then to the extent we do today.

My thing is, at least the dude showed up and was trained enough to get his wings. That required just a bit of dedication.

This is a far cry from Bubba, who didn't even show up for his "initial training" if you want to call it that. That let someone else go to Vietnam and possibly die in his place, that went to England and Moscow to protest the war and this country.

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Kilmer17- I beleive that Bush had a specific agenda when he signed up for the nat'l guard, and that agenda was to avoid combat in Vietnam. If it sounded like I was equating the Nat'l Guard with avoiding service, I apologize, not to you, but to my good friend who just got called up. BTW, does it hurt when you bend over backwards like that to justify your blind support of Bush, or did you take enough muscle relaxers to drop a gorilla, figuratively speaking?

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Its amazing how many people bend over backwards to defend an idiot like Bush....god I wish that McCain had won the nomination and we wouldn't have to listen to this idiot on TV making up words to suit his fancy

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Funny, where were all of you when Bubba was running for President, since you are obviously so concerned?

What you loudmouths need to do is go sign up for the Guard or Reserve. Serve a stint, see if you go off to far away lands.

Of course..............I've issued this challenge before, and don't know of anyone yet that has taken me up on it.

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