Bush bashed for dodging Guard duty

Dems open fire on the AWOL story. Bush and Gore battle for Florida, and a New York paper gives Nader a green light.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 2, 2000 2:13AM (EST)

In the name of avoiding "personal attacks," the media and the Democrats have largely ignored stories about George W. Bush's stint in the National Guard, particularly the gap of several months in his service record between 1972 and 1973. But one big gun in the Democratic Party has now opened fire on that issue. The Boston Globe reports that Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, blasted Bush for dodging combat in the war, and dodging questions about his record during the race. "It upsets me," Kerrey said in an MSNNC interview, "when someone says, 'Vote for me, I was in the military,' when in fact he got into the military in order to avoid serving in the military, to avoid service that might have taken him into the war. And then he didn't even show up for duty."

The Bush team has thus far dismissed Kerrey's comments as a symptom of eleventh hour desperation from Al Gore. Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett called Kerrey's attack "an outlandish claim to make in the closing stages of a campaign."

Gore laughs it up with Leno
Gore stayed away from attacks and played it positive when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" Tuesday evening. The Associated Press reports that Gore did a backstage skit featuring a popular imaginary president, actor Martin Sheen who portrays Josiah Bartlett on NBC's "The West Wing." The vice president got a warm reception to begin his chat with Leno, which covered the vice president's love of Halloween and his thoughts about the final legs of the election marathon. The notoriously affable host did trip Gore up by talking about the vice president's cover photo for the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Referring to rumors that the magazine had to touch up Gore's slacks in the shot "because it was too sexy," the vice president stammered a bit. "Jay, I think people buy that magazine for the articles," Gore said after an embarrassed pause. "Can we move right along?"

Go west and seek your fortune
Gore would probably like to move on from the historically Democratic states on the West Coast, but Bush won't let him. The Washington Post reports that the vice president followed hard on the heels of his rival in California and Oregon, stepping up to the Republican's last-minute challenge in the region. Gore pressed the populist buttons during his California journey, bashing Bush as a lackey of the rich and calling his tax plan "a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest few." On the other side of the country, Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman chose to play the experience card, questioning Bush's readiness for the Oval Office during a New England campaign swing. Lieberman, in a tone more sorrowful than angry, continued to attack Bush on experience. "I hate to say it," the Connecticut senator said, "but George Bush would squander our prosperity."

Putting the squeeze on Florida
Republicans hope that Bush hasn't squandered an opportunity to win the Sunshine State, where he had been declared an early favorite. According to the Miami Herald, former President George Bush tried to drum up support for his son Tuesday by asserting that the Texas governor would restore respect to the presidency. "George will make some mistakes. Every president does," said the elder Bush. "But they won't be mistakes of honor." Meanwhile, Lieberman carried the flag for Gore in the state. "I am coming to you from Manchester, N.H., where the temperature was in the mid-30s," the veep wannabe told supporters in Fort Lauderdale, "so I want to thank you for the warm welcome."

Medicare cures ill-conceived
Gore and Bush are hoping that Florida seniors will warm up to their Medicare reform plans, but USA Today suggests that the cures are worse than the disease. According to a study by the National Academy of Social Insurance, the candidates have painted a more dire picture of the prescription drug problem than necessary. The study found that the majority of senior citizens have little problem paying for their prescriptions. For two-thirds of seniors, out-of-pocket expenses for drugs reach only $500 per year, and just 7 percent of the elderly pay more than $2,000 a year. The Bush and Gore plans, in the interest of maximizing political punch, spread benefits to those who don't need them and do too little for those who need the most help. "Both candidates are trying to spread a thin subsidy as broadly as possible so no voter is left out," said Tom Miller, director of healthcare policy at the Cato Institute, a libertarian-oriented think tank in Washington. "The result is, there's little money left for the most needy. It's a political answer to a real problem."

Backstreet Bill
President Clinton has never had much trouble working a crowd, but Gore has kept him sidelined for much of this year's race. Though Clinton is out on the road, the Dallas Morning News reports that the president has been steered to the side streets of the campaign trail. In his travels on Tuesday, Clinton tried to spark enthusiasm for his vice president among black voters in Kentucky. But the trip had the hint of busywork, since Kentucky's eight electoral votes are far out of Gore's reach. Some experts think that Gore has made a mistake in keeping Clinton out of the spotlight in battleground states. This "somehow reflects to me the gut instincts of Al Gore," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. "It should be a no-brainer. It suggests he has something of a tin ear." But others argue that putting Clinton front and center is hardly risk-free. "Clinton can highlight some issues that are beneficial for Gore, such as the prosperity," said John Sloan, a political scientist at the University of Houston. But Sloan understands why Gore wouldn't want to share a stage with his boss. "Clinton is a much better campaigner than Gore," he said, "so maybe you don't want them side by side."

Paper gives Nader a green light
Gore doesn't want to be side by side with Ralph Nader either, even though many liberals are putting the two men next to each other to decide which one will get their vote. While the New York Times has endorsed Gore, another staple of the New York press has given the Green Party candidate the thumbs up. The Village Voice has endorsed Nader, saying that he's the best man to battle big-money influence in Washington while looking out for America's least fortunate. "We believe Nader would battle poverty and inequality, rein in globalization and an imperial foreign policy, abandon the war on drugs, and work to ban the death penalty," the paper stated, implying that Gore is inadequate and compromised. "The Clinton-Gore administration has done little in these vital areas, choosing to abet big money and placate conservatives instead." The paper further argued that supporting Gore would take American democracy another step down the wrong path, asserting that "a vote for Nader is a protest against lesser-evilism and the rightward drift of the Democrats."

On the trail
Bush: Minnesota and Iowa.
Buchanan: Alabama and Arkansas.
Gore: Florida.
Nader: Wisconsin.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 47 to Gore 44 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 28-30).
  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 28-30).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 45 (ABC News Oct. 28-30).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 46 (Washington Post Oct. 28-30).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 42 (Newsweek Oct. 25-27).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 28-30).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1, Browne 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 28-30).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (ABC News Oct. 28-30).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post Oct. 28-30).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (Newsweek Oct. 25-27).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).

    Sound off
    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at alicia@salon.com.

    Sign up
    Get regular updates from the politics newsletter.

    Hungry for more Trail Mix?

  • Alicia Montgomery

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

    MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------