Trail Mix: Did Bush go AWOL on Guard?

Rick Lazio's running start leaves Hillary Clinton at a loss for a target and voters cautiously optimistic.

Published May 25, 2000 2:36AM (EDT)

George W. Bush didn't just dodge duty in Vietnam, he apparently skipped out on
his stint in the National Guard as well. The Boston Globe reports a one-year gap in Bush's military records after he went to
work for a political campaign in Alabama in May of 1972. Though Bush
promised to continue his service while stationed in that state, there is no
evidence that he ever showed up for Alabama Guard duty. "Had he reported
in, I would have had some recall, and I do not," said retired Gen.
William Turnipseed, who commanded the Alabama unit at the time Bush claims
to have served. "I had been in Texas, done my flight training there. If we
had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered." Furthermore,
Texas National Guard records indicate that Bush failed to return to service
there even after the Alabama campaign ended in November 1972.

Bush, however, insists that his military service is complete. The
candidate told the Associated Press, "I served my full obligation with the
Texas National Guard. That's why I was honorably discharged."

Gore bashes elder Bush

Family ties are fair game in Al Gore's campaign. A week after slamming
the Texas governor's Social Security plan by using
Bush's statements,
the vice president accused George Bush senior of
trying "to bully
during his presidency. Gore made the remark in a foreign
policy speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Though he
emphasized the need to keep close ties with Israel, the vice president
declined to endorse moving America's Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, a pledge
Bush has already made.

Lazio hits ground running
Rick Lazio has stepped into Rudy Giuliani's shoes as the GOP's candidate for the Senate, much to the dismay of scandal-loving reporters and the relief of fretful New York Republicans. But many voters have yet to discover what he stands for. According to an analysis by the Albany Times Union, Lazio has forged a path right down the middle of the political road, choosing bits and pieces from each party's philosophy. For example, Lazio breaks with fellow "family values" conservatives by supporting abortion rights, but sticks with them in his opposition to gays in the military. Likewise, Lazio's views on gun rights split the ideological difference. He voted for the Brady Bill, which mandates waiting periods for handgun purchases, but opposes new measures like nationwide registration for gun owners. Unlike many congressional Republicans, Lazio scores high among environmentalists, and even won a Sierra Club endorsement in his earlier races. He has also been at the forefront of public housing reform, which earned the praise of former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Part of Lazio's appeal is his very un-Giuliani personality: friendly, cooperative and unassuming. "He comes in with a self-deprecating joke and puts people at ease," said Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "People know if they work with him, he's not going to be hogging all the limelight."

Power of the unknown

Obscurity has its advantages, and that might lead Lazio to the Senate, according to the New Republic's Ryan Lizza. "Lazio is a politician calculated not to offend, a Milquetoast Republican without sharp edges or fiery convictions," writes Lizza. "In short, he's probably a smarter choice than Rudy Giuliani to run against Hillary Clinton." In taking on a Democratic legend, Lazio may be walking in the footsteps of his mentor, giant killer Gov. George Pataki, who ended Cuomo's long career. Lizza suggests that Clinton's fame has earned her more enemies than friends and that Lazio's blank slate may be an upside for the GOP. Alan Crocket, of the polling group Zogby International, agrees. "The focus will be back on the foibles and frailties and shortcomings of Hillary Clinton," he said.

Goodbye, Rudy ...

Lazio may turn out to be a winner, but Joseph Dolman will miss
Giuliani's showmanship.
Writing for, he
recounts with relish the New York mayor's evolution from hatchet man to Hamlet. Given Giuliani's pre-confession bashing of Clinton, his tirade against the Brooklyn Museum of Art's controversial "Sensation" show and his fierce smear of Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed man shot dead by New York cops, "many New Yorkers had simply assumed that Giuliani was too mean to bow out," Dolman writes. The cancer diagnosis, adultery and marriage crisis made Giuliani increasingly fascinating, and lent the Senate race the urgency of a soap opera cliffhanger.

Though Dolman clearly mourns the potential for drama of a Giuliani run, the New York mayor's departure properly completes a compelling story. "Just imagine 'A Christmas Carol' -- with Giuliani playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The mayor spends a month writhing in pain as the truth about his political and personal life swirls before him. Laid low by disease, yet bolstered by newfound love, he resolves to do better. Like Scrooge, he goes public with his new self to bravos all around," Dolman writes. "Hey, it beats being remembered as a misanthrope with an above-average record."

... And good riddance

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne rejoices over a
Rudy-free race,
one that replays the classic
liberal-conservative ideological battle without the Hollywood-on-the-Hudson star power or scandal. While wishing Giuliani well, Dionne writes, "We should also appreciate that his leaving the race has saved us from a nightmarish campaign that would have been high on low entertainment but higher still on pretentious moralizing and heartburn." Dionne predicts the new match "will be (1) a real, if often nasty, debate on issues; (2) a tougher race for Mrs. Clinton than her contest with Giuliani would have been; and (3) a far more satisfying campaign for voters, who would have wearied of the Clinton-Giuliani psychodrama."

Fence sitters jump for joy

Undecided voters surveyed by the New York Times welcomed the little-known Lazio's entrance into the campaign, and hoped that a Lazio-Clinton race would push scandals out of the spotlight and bring substance in. "The good thing is, it will now be an issue-centric campaign," said independent voter Doug Taggert. "And there are clearer differences between the candidates."

However, Clinton's and Lazio's shared enthusiasm for name-calling failed to impress undecided voters. None bought the Democrats' charges that Lazio is an undercover Gingrich clone with a narrow conservative mind-set. Said Long Islander Thomas Beck, "I've seen him grow as a politician; he's not averse to looking at other people's ideas." Likewise, Republican-leaning Bob Harrison believes that Clinton has done plenty to shed the carpetbagger tag. "She has shown she cares," he said.

Lazio: Pro-choice or multiple choice?

Abortion is one issue that may creep into the forefront of the new race. CBS News reports that Lazio's sta nce on abortion puts him at odds with Pataki, his main backer. Though he's pro-choice, Lazio reiterated his opposition to Medicaid funding for abortions and the "partial birth" procedure.

The Clinton campaign immediately seized on the issue, using it as part of its strategy to paint Lazio as too conservative for New York. "New Yorkers will learn that Rick Lazio isn't really pro-choice. He is multiple choice and never met an abortion restriction he didn't like or vote for," said Clinton campaign manager Howard Wolfson. But Lazio dismissed the criticism as so much spin. "The other side will pick what they can to try and be divisive," he said. "I'm not going to be divisive."

New York parties on

Giuliani's disappearing act helped sort out the complicated alliances of the state's influential Conservative and Liberal parties. According to New York Newsday, Conservative Party chairman Mike Long has announced his group's wholehearted endorsement of Lazio, calling him "a mainstream candidate who represents the overwhelming views of all New Yorkers." Liberal Party chairman Ray Harding said Clinton should expect "overwhelming" support from his organization.

Pre-Lazio, both parties' endorsements were on hold because of Giuliani. Long and Giuliani had long been political rivals, if not enemies, and the Conservative Party chief grumbled that Giuliani's candidacy left true conservatives in the lurch. The Liberal Party had been contemplating a Giuliani endorsement because of the New York mayor's close ties to party leaders.

Poll positions

Presidential race (p revious</A):

  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (Zogby May 10-13).

  • Bus h 47 to Gore 39 (CBS News/New York Times May 10-13).

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (ABC News/Washington Post May 7-10).

  • Bus h 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 45 (Pew Center May 2-6).

  • Bus h 48 to Gore 42 ( May 1-3).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1).

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (Gallup/CNN/USA Today April 28-30).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):

    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • John Kaisch, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    Sound off

    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at

  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

    MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

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