Gore and Bush and Vietnam

Guess which fortunate son claims to have never felt "more alive," while the other flew an obsolete plane back at home?


Anthony York - Kerry Lauerman
July 11, 2000 12:33PM (UTC)

The New York Times profiles the experiences of both George W. Bush and Al Gore during the Vietnam War, with a few surprises about Gore, including that he "probably assumed more risk than he had to, choppering around South Vietnam interviewing soldiers who had just seen action," and that, weirdly, he "found much of the experience exhilarating and loved feeling 'more alive,' to use his words, in the middle of the war that he and millions of other Americans hated."

George W. Bush stayed home, as is already well-known, to fly nearly obsolete fighter planes with the National Guard. The piece quotes Bush saying that he did go to his commander and ask to be signed up with a program that could have sent him to Vietnam. The commander, however, is now dead, so the story couldn't be confirmed.

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Pro-Confederate flag group had Bush ties
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a mass mailing to tens of thousands of South Carolina conservatives on the eve of the state's Republican primary in February, bashing John McCain for "denigrating the Confederate battle flag atop the state's Capitol," was in part paid for by a Bush ally, Richard Towell Hines, a lobbyist for the government of Cambodia. At the time, both McCain and Bush were mum on the subject of whether the flag should fly over the state's Capitol. (Subsequently, McCain came out against the flying of the flag.)

Post exclusive: Tipper is a nice lady!
Tipper Gore is profiled in another endlessly long and seemingly narrative-free Washington Post political story. Instead of linking to the story, let's quickly summarize it with this representative sentence from the piece: "Her sunniness exists side by side with a steely resolve to remain herself."

Bush reaches out to the NAACP
Bush continued his minority outreach tour Monday, speaking to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, touting his message of "compassionate conservatism" and vowing to "advance racial harmony and economic opportunity."

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The Associated Press reports that "Bush delivered his 17-minute speech to a politely skeptical crowd, which applauded but never cheered. The only outburst preceded his speech, when a handful of people shouted protests against the execution of Gary Graham, a black man, for murder in Texas. The NAACP has also protested that execution, and has called for a national moratorium on capital punishment. Bush didn't mention the issue.

But on Fox News Sunday, Kwesi Mfume, president of the NAACP, said the Texas governor would have to do more than pay lip service to helping minorities. "We'd like some definition on 'compassionate conservatism,' quite frankly," Mfume said. "There are questions out there that really have to be answered, not just rhetorically about education, but in terms of a plan, an action plan."

Do-nothings vs. Dixiecrats
Gore, meanwhile, continued his new line of attack against what he calls the "Do Nothing for People" Congress, attempting to link Bush to Capitol Hill Republicans. Gore ticked off a laundry list of proposals on everything from healthcare to Social Security to education that are currently stalled in Congress, and challenged Bush to "pick up a phone" and help grease passage for the measures.

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Bush sent out a release Monday plugging the vice president's latest campaign tactic as the "I'm Not a Leader Tour" and "calling on the Governor of Texas to pass legislation his administration has failed to get done for the past eight years."

"Today's remarks by the vice president were pretty amusing," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher. "The sitting vice president of the United States admits he's not strong enough to lead the Congress, so he asks the governor of Texas to do his work for him. Harry Truman said 'The buck stops here.' Al Gore asks 'To whom can I pass the buck?'"

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Bush's spokespeople went so far as to get Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., to blast Gore's lack of Truman-esque credentials. "In Al Gore's latest reincarnation, he claims to be Truman-like, blaming Congress while ignoring the Clinton-Gore Administration's failure to provide leadership," the statement, sent out on Bush letterhead, read. "Mr. Gore, I knew Harry Truman. I ran against Harry Truman. And Mr. Gore, you are no Harry Truman." Of course, there was no mention of the fact that Thurmond ran against Truman on a platform based largely on racial separation, blasting the incumbent's policy of desegregating the military. Perhaps he was not the ideal spokesman on the day of Bush's big address to the NAACP.

Gore also attacked Bush's position on the missile defense system in the wake of this weekend's failed test of the proposed system. In an online chat hosted by the Washington Post, Gore denounced Bush's own missile defense plan as "less likely to work" and said it was "calculated to destroy arms control agreements with Russia that have calmed down the old arms race for the last 28 years."

Convention mania
As the two parties' nominating conventions approach, the National Governors' Association meeting in Pennsylvania has been ground zero for vice presidential speculation. While certain governors -- particularly host Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma -- have done nothing to diminish the attention they're receiving, one Democrat officially checked out of the race for his party's No. 2 spot -- again. California Gov. Gray Davis said Monday he would turn Gore down if the vice president asked him to be his running mate, the Associated Press reported. "I would say no," Davis said. "I still believe the best thing I could do for the country is to elect Al Gore and the best way to elect Al Gore is to carry California and remain his chief spokesman," Davis said in an AP interview.

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Newsweek's Howard Fineman tries to make the case that there is more to the political conventions than the veep speculation. "You've heard the conventional wisdom, I'm sure: This summer's political conventions will be dull, meaningless affairs that the Big Three broadcast networks are right to ignore," he writes. "Well, I'm here to tell you that my self-loathing pundit-colleagues couldn't be more wrong. Conventions are as crucial as ever, but in subtler, newer ways."

Meanwhile, the GOP Monday laid out its "feel-good" game plan for the romp in Philadelphia: Colin Powell on Monday, John McCain and Liddy Dole on Tuesday. McCain is not scheduled to speak on campaign finance reform, his signature issue, but McCain spokesman Todd Harris said the Arizona senator "never misses a chance to talk about" the issue. T-minus-20 days and counting.

Father knows best
Of course, the outcome of this election is already a foregone conclusion to some. In an interview with the New York Times' Frank Bruni Saturday, Bush got a vote of confidence from an important constituent: his father. But while the elder Bush is convinced historical forces beyond his control are on the side of his son, Time's Lance Morrow is not so sure. In the process, Morrow takes a few personal shots at the former president and his wife, Barbara. "The obstreperous Mrs. Bush kept interrupting her husband in order to fire stray shots at Al Gore, and the former president would testily shush her," Morrow writes. "'What are you doing?' he asked her at one point. 'You're not going to be in this interview if you're going to start talking like that. George will call and he'll be furious.' The interview sounded like the pilot for a sitcom."

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Poll positions

  • Gore 46 to Bush 45 (Newsweek June 29-30).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 39 (CNN/Gallup/USA Today June 23-25).
  • Bush 40 to Gore 39 (Associated Press June 21-25).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal June 14-18).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 40 (Voter.com June 11-13).
  • Bush 50 to Gore 40 (Los Angeles Times June 8-13).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (Zogby June 9-12).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).

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  • Anthony York

    Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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    Kerry Lauerman

    Kerry Lauerman is Salon's Editor in Chief. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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