Where was Bush?

A new report digs into downtime in the governor's military service record. Gore gears up for the debates and dares Bush on soft money. Hillary Clinton hits the halfway mark.

By Alicia Montgomery
September 28, 2000 1:21PM (UTC)
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If George W. Bush wasn't on duty for a year of his Air National Guard career, what was he doing? Not much, according to a new report on the Web site TomPaine.com. Iowa farmer Marty Heldt gave Bush's service record a thorough review, digging deeper into previously reported holes. Though everything looks fine from Bush's enlistment in 1968 until May 1972, the paper trail from then until his November 1974 discharge goes awry. Heldt contends that the records show Bush never reported for duty anywhere from May 1972 to May 1973, that though his request for a transfer from Texas to Alabama was promptly denied, his response to that denial wasn't prompt at all. In short, Bush gave himself a summer break from the Guard, and then played hooky for seven more months. When he did come back to his Texas unit in 1973, he served sporadically, never making up the missed time. Heldt further asserts that Bush extended his period of duty for an additional six months to correct the record, "working" at an inactive unit in Denver during his first semester at Harvard Business School. That job didn't require Bush's attendance.

His spotty record didn't keep Bush quiet about his military days until the presidential race. In the Winter 1998 issue of the National Guard Review, Bush is quoted musing about his time as a pilot in the Air National Guard: "There was a sense of shared responsibility in that case. The responsibility to get the airplane down. The responsibility to show up and do your job."


Poppa Bush hits the trail
Though he has played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the campaign, former President George Bush has been missing in action from the public side of his son's campaign. But no more. The Chicago Tribune reports that the elder Bush has promised to come out of hiding at an Illinois rally for his boy. "Well, it's getting down to the wire -- want to do everything I can to help," he said. According to Bush, his wife, Barbara, hasn't watched television coverage of the race since the primaries. "I'll tell you why. It hurts more when it's your kid, when your son ... Sorry, I've said that one time at an event," Bush rambled. "I said, 'I'm proud of this kid of mine or this boy of mine,' and the national media went into orbit. 'Oh, you're calling him a boy. That means he's daddy's boy.'" But Bush isn't backing off from his proud-poppa talk anymore. "He's my son, and I am proud of him," Bush declared. "But he's Barbara's son, and she is proud of him. And if people don't understand family in this country, there's something wrong with them."

In addition to lending his support, the elder Bush has handed down several of his advisors to his son's campaign, including Gen. Colin Powell, foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice former Secretary of State George Shultz and running mate Dick Cheney.

Gore gears up for debates
The current vice president cut his national debating teeth in 1992, battling the rhetorically challenged Dan Quayle. But now, the Associated Press reports, Al Gore wants to downplay expectations that his match with the Texas governor will be a cakewalk. "I don't have an overconfident bone in my body," said the Democratic presidential hopeful, citing Bush's performance in his 1994 Texas gubernatorial match with Ann Richards. "He was supposed to be slaughtered in that," Gore said. "She's certainly a better debater than I am; she's got a very quick wit and silver tongue and is just smart as a whip, and he beat her in that debate, so put that in your formula." To better prepare for a Lonestar State debater, Gore is sparring with Texas Clintonite Paul Begala. Diction aside, Begala sees few similarities between himself and the Texas governor. But Begala thinks that he can do a fair imitation, especially of Bush in attack mode. "One thing I like about Bush, we both have an affinity for the occasional smart-alecky line," he said.


Tale of the tape
Begala was Gore's second choice for Bush debate stand-in. His first choice, former New York Rep. Tom Downey, recused himself after he received a videotape and Bush debate strategy documents in the mail. Though Downey turned over the materials to the FBI immediately, the Bush team remains unconvinced that Gore's staff is playing fair. The Dallas Morning News reports that the Texas governor's staff is pressuring the feds to probe the incident further. "Our campaign manager outlined our concerns that we felt that a thorough and serious investigation would look at both the Bush campaign and the Gore campaign," said Bush communications chief Karen Hughes, referring to the campaign's contact with FBI chief Louis Freeh. She concluded, "It is after all the Gore campaign that ended up with one of our tapes." But there was, after all, an Austin postmark on the mysterious package, a fact that has led the FBI to do significant sniffing around Bush's headquarters.

Truth or dare
Campaign finance reform is a favorite line of many political candidates this year, including Gore. The New York Times reports that the vice president is telling Bush that he's ready to put up or shut up when it comes to soft-money curbs. Following a model set by New York Senate hopeful Rick Lazio, Gore has told Bush that he's willing to agree to drop the use of unregulated dollars for the balance of the race. "If the Bush-Cheney campaign will take the same action with the Republican National Committee, I will call upon the Democratic National Committee to cease all soft-money radio or television advertising that aims to influence the presidential election," Gore wrote in response to efforts by campaign finance poster boys Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold. "And I will also call on all independent organizations to do so as well." So far, however, Bush won't bite. "I don't trust him, to be frank with you," the Texas governor told talk show host Larry King, tentatively turning down Gore's offer.

Hillary hits halfway mark
It's hard to believe that the New York Senate battle is setting an example for campaign finance reform. So far, however, Lazio doesn't seem to be getting credit for starting the soft-money ditente. The New York Daily News reports that Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading in the latest poll, and has reached 50 percent voter support. According to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, she's now ahead of Lazio 50 to 43 percent, with a three-point margin of error. The survey was conducted Sept. 20 through 25 and queried 889 likely voters. Though Clinton's current support represents only a one-point increase over the Sept. 12 Quinnipiac survey, poll director Maurice Carroll calls the halfway mark a crucial psychological victory. "Forty-nine is not just one point different than 50," he said. "If you've got 50, you can't lose." Don't tell that to Lazio, who says that he's "not concerned" about the new numbers. "I know that I am the underdog in this race," he said.


On the trail
Bush: Wisconsin and Michigan.
Buchanan: Louisiana.
Gore: Washington.
Nader: To be announced.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 46 to Gore 44 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 24-26).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 19-23).
  • Gore 47 to Bush 45 (Newsweek Sept. 21-22).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 19-23).
  • Gore 42 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 42 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Gore 47 to Bush 47 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 24-26).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 19-23).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Sept. 21-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Aug. 30-31).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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