Joe Conason's Journal

Jeb Bush can't make it to his daughter's court hearing -- but he has plenty of time to campaign.

By Salon Staff

Published October 17, 2002 4:20PM (EDT)

Busy, busy Jeb
Poor Noelle Bush. Her father has time to talk about her on national television -- while pleading for family privacy -- but doesn't show up in court when she narrowly escapes a felony charge and gets sent back to jail for 10 days. Her mother wasn't there, either; only her aunt and her attorney showed up.

No doubt Jeb Bush had a good reason for his absence from his troubled daughter's side. Perhaps the embattled governor was reluctant to appear because the judge had refused the Bush family's demand for a closed hearing -- a privilege sought despite the governor's claim that he expected no special treatment for his daughter. In any case, he reportedly spent the afternoon campaigning with his brother the president, less than an hour's drive from the courthouse where the judge sentenced Noelle.

However strangely Jeb and Columba Bush may behave toward their sick child, there is no appropriate reaction except empathy, and a degree of rage. The rage has nothing to do with the circumstances of Noelle Bush's case, but with the persistent blindness of politicians in both parties to the tragedy they have perpetrated in the name of the "war on drugs." Ms. Bush and her family are not the only ones suffering; indeed, their situation is considerably better than that of other nonviolent narcotics offenders who remain brutally incarcerated for years rather than days.

When Jeb isn't campaigning these days, he seems to be walking around with his hand outstretched to every special interest with a bank account. A month ago, the Washington Post caught him lobbying his brother's administration on behalf of the Bacardi liquor company. By then a $50,000 check to the Florida GOP from Bacardi (whose former professional lobbyist Otto Reich is now an assistant secretary of state) presumably had cleared. Then yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Jeb had signed a bill hindering the removal of highway billboards by local communities in Florida, just one week after the Florida GOP took a couple of checks totaling $25,000 from an outdoor advertising mogul. Those checks had no influence on the governor's behavior, as his spokespersons assured the press in each instance. Of course not. By the way, here's a cool picture of Karl Eller, the gentleman who wrote those two checks that had nothing to do with the billboard legislation. He's smiling because he was picking up a Steuben glass eagle from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, for winning its "lifetime achievement award."

Big Easy in a hurry
Many readers have written to tutor me on the significance of the strange "EOF or BOF" error message on that Louisiana GOP Web site, where the "white flight" article was deleted yesterday. According to a reader who works for Intuit: "That this error message arrives instead of a 404 indicates that the record (in this case the story) was deleted right out of the database without anyone telling the programmer, i.e., its removal was incredibly hasty." Others also considerately pointed out that the original article is still available cached on Google, for the time being.
[3:16 p.m. PDT, Oct. 17, 2002]

From ROTC to RNC
A sizable contingent of readers -- including more than a few military veterans -- would be happy if I wrote about Republican chicken hawks every day. Even with Newt Gingrich exiled to the American Enterprise Institute and Dick Armey retiring, there are more than enough of those birds to fill a coop.

Today's question is whether that undistinguished flock includes Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Vietnam vet Pat Dawson of the Queen City News believes that the former Montana governor deserves plucking, and Dawson's Oct. 9 column about Racicot in the Helena weekly has been spammed far and wide this week. Dawson defines chicken hawks as "fellows who themselves escaped or evaded the draft of the Vietnam Era but who are now beating the drums of war."

In 1969, when the first draft lottery was drawn, Racicot's July 24 birth date won him the booby prize of No. 23 (out of 366). He was then a senior at Carroll College. Rather than being inducted after graduation like so many others, Racicot went on to study law at the University of Montana because he had signed up to join ROTC as a graduate student. "By the time he finished law school in 1973," writes Dawson, "the draft was over, Vietnam was winding down, and Racicot went into the Army -- as an officer and lawyer -- and was stationed in West Germany for 32 months, safe, secure, well-paid and privileged."

Dawson adds that he could find no record of Racicot registering for the draft in his home county, although the RNC chief's spokesman, Jim Dyke, says that Racicot did register there in July or August 1966. Not only did Racicot complete his ROTC commitment, according to Dyke, but sought a waiver of his 4-F status after failing a physical that would have exempted him from active duty.

"He is happy to release his military records to anyone who wants them," says Dyke. "It is not only unseemly but extremely inappropriate for anyone to attack someone who has served our country, be they Republican or Democrat, and misrepresent the fact that they served. Racicot is a good guy. He has an impressive story but doesn't like telling it."

In an e-mail to me, Dawson doesn't sound impressed: "Unlike we draftees, Marc Racicot made a career decision to go into the Army -- after the party was over. He did not have to, I'm sure, as they were reducing forces by then. Many ROTC graduates in the early 1970s only served a few months, then were cut loose to reduce personnel strength. Like I pointed out in my column: The Army gig looked good on his resume."

It doesn't seem unfair to suggest that Racicot joined ROTC to avoid the unpleasant and dangerous certainty of the Vietnam draft. Whether he also hypocritically "supported" a war he didn't want to fight isn't clear. Thirty years later, however, he has muted his remarks about the patriotism and martial virtue of his Democratic adversaries -- leaving chicken hawks like Karl Rove to cluck and flap. For ROTC vets such as Racicot, discretion is probably wise. At least the RNC chairman doesn't try to suggest, in the egregious style of Lindsey Graham, that he endured anything more perilous than a desk job.

White noise
Whoever runs the Louisiana GOP Web site must have realized that an article gloating about Republican gains from white flight might not have been the smartest item to post. Within a few hours after I mentioned that piece yesterday, it disappeared from the site. (An African-American reader from Arkansas tartly informed the site's proprietors of their embarrassing debut on Salon.) Hitting the link led to the following cryptic error message, on an otherwise blank white space: "Either BOF or EOF is True, or the current record has been deleted. Requested operation requires a current record."

Yesterday I referred to Dave Lieber as a "Dallas columnist." Lieber, who works for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, tells me he would rather be dead than be mistaken for an employee of the Dallas morning newspaper. (I took this remark as a request for a correction.) He is a former New Yorker who has become a Texan, which explains his attitude.
[9:09 a.m. PDT, Oct. 17, 2002]

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