Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Sometimes The Answer Says It All


I hate to even speak about this non-issue - this post is not about Bush's Guard service so much as it is about honesty and responsibility - two values Bush claims are synonymous with "conservativism".

Sometimes you don't need a direct answer to spot deception or evasion:
"Did you use cocaine 23 years ago?"
"No."

"Did you use cocaine 24 years ago?"
"Certainly not."

"Did you use cocaine 25 years ago?"
"That, sir, is none of your business."
I can't get bent out of shape over the notion of Bush using his family's influence and connections to avoid military service through the Texas Air National Guard, as I can understand why (even though he supported the war) he would not have wanted to put his own life on the line. Characterize that as "selfish" if you will - but self-preservation is very much a part of human nature. There was a reason it was so difficult to get into the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war - because huge numbers of applicants also hoped to avoid the war. I'm not particularly impressed by the manner in which Bush apparently performed his Guard service, but as Richard Cohen points out, he would not have been alone in taking advantage of lax reporting requirements.

At the same time, Bush - the grown man... the President - should have the courage to be honest about his service. His non-answers and evasions on the subject, and selective amnesia about the last two years of his Guard service, speak loudly. They support the fair inference that Bush shirked his duties and, whether as a result of lax enforcement or political connections, nonetheless scored an honorable discharge at the conclusion of his dubious service. It appears to be very much within Bush's power to clear the smoke that is hovering over his military record.

Had Bush kept his mouth shut on this issue back in the 1999 campaign, or in recent months as the issue has again arisen, there might be something to a refusal to answer. However, he has not done so. He has suggested that he served honorably, and has suggested that his service is somehow parallel to the Guard service of today - that is, his joining a unit that he knew would never see battle is equivalent to joining a Guard unit presently on duty in Iraq. That, to me, is every bit as dishonest as proclaiming, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman". It's a word game meant to mislead, when the truth seems to be something else entirely.

Presumably, Bush can come up with a better explanation for his conduct during the war than Cheney's explanation of his own non-service ("I had other priorities in the '60s than military service.") - he's had at least four years to think about it. So how about it, Mr. President - how about putting this issue to rest, with an honest, responsible statement on the subject of your Guard service.

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