is to be welcomed that President Bush wants to
clear up questions about his National Guard service.
He wants more details out there, and good for
him. This story should be laid to rest, and the
one person who can do it is named George W. Bush.
to now, Bush has been interested in a rather narrow
aspect of the story. He wanted Dan Rather and
CBS News to come clean about whether they used
fake documents in reporting on the president's
Guard service back in the 1970s.
are a lot of questions and they need to be answered,"
Bush told the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H.,
last week. "I think what needs to happen is people
need to take a look at the documents, how they
were created, and let the truth come out."
couldn't agree more. And apparently CBS came to
the same view. CBS messed up, and yesterday, Rather
fessed up. He said the network could no longer
stand behind the documents. There will be much
hand-wringing about the media in the coming days,
and properly so.
what's good for Dan Rather, who is not running
for president, ought to be good for George Bush,
who is. "There are a lot of questions and they
need to be answered." Surely that presidential
sentiment applies as much to Bush's Guard service
as to Rather's journalistic methods.
New York Times put the relevant questions on the
table yesterday in a lengthy review of Bush's
life in 1972, "the year George W. Bush dropped
off the radar screen," as the Times called it.
The issues about Bush's National Guard service,
the Times wrote, include "why he failed to take
his pilot's physical and whether he fulfilled
his commitment to the guard."
I can hear the groaning: "But why are we still
talking about Vietnam?" A fair question that has
several compelling answers.
except for John McCain, Republicans were conspicuously
happy to have a front group spread untruths about
John Kerry's Vietnam service in August and watch
as the misleading claims were amplified by the
supposedly liberal media. The Vietnam era was
relevant as long as it could be used to raise
character questions about Kerry. But as soon as
the questioning turned to Bush's character, we
were supposed to call the whole thing off. Why?
Because the media were supposed to question Kerry's
character but not Bush's.
please, none of this nonsense about how Kerry
"opened the door" to the assault on his Vietnam
years by highlighting his service at the Democratic
National Convention. Nothing any candidate does
should ever be seen as "opening the door" to lies
about his past. Besides, Vietnam veterans with
Republican ties were going after Kerry's war record
long before the Democratic convention.
most important, there is only one reason the story
about Bush's choices during the Vietnam years
persists. It's because the president won't give
detailed answers to the direct questions posed
by the Times story and other responsible media
organizations, including the Boston Globe. Their
questions never depended on the discredited CBS
could end this story now so we could get to the
real issues of 2004. It would require only that
the president take an hour or so with reporters
to make clear what he did and did not do in the
Guard. He may have had good reasons for ducking
that physical exam. Surely he can explain the
gaps in his service and tell us honestly whether
any pull was used to get him into the Guard.
a guy who is supposed to be so frank and direct
turns remarkably Clintonian where the National
Guard issue is concerned. "I met my requirements
and was honorably discharged" is Bush's stock
answer, which does old Bill proud. And am I the
only person exasperated by a double standard that
treated everything Bill Clinton ever did in his
life ("I didn't inhale") as fair game but now
insists that we shouldn't sully ourselves with
any inconvenient questions about Bush's past?
as weary as you are that our politics veer away
from what matters - Iraq, terrorism, health care,
jobs - and get sidetracked into personal issues
manufactured by political consultants and ideological
zealots. But the Bush campaign has made clear
it wants this election to focus on character and
leadership. If character is the issue, the president's
life, past and present, matters just as much as
Rather has answered his critics. Now it is Bush's
Posted: September 23, 2004