Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
September 8, 2004 6:17PM (UTC)

After weeks of hype over bogus allegations about John Kerry's service in Vietnam, some in the media are now focusing on George W. Bush's National Guard duty. Kerry's record remains untarnished despite the smear campaign orchestrated by anti-Kerry vets aligned with longtime friends and allies of the Bush family and Karl Rove. But Bush's record doesn't stand up under scrutiny. The Boston Globe reports today, after an examination of the record, that Bush "fell well short of meeting his military obligation." Bush's punishment for not fulfilling his duty: Nada.

"Twice during his Guard service -- first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School -- Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty."

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"He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, the records show. The 1973 document has been overlooked in news media accounts. The 1968 document has received scant notice. On July 30, 1973, shortly before he moved from Houston to Cambridge, Bush signed a document that declared, ''It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months. . . " Under Guard regulations, Bush had 60 days to locate a new unit."

"But Bush never signed up with a Boston-area unit. In 1999, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told the Washington Post that Bush finished his six-year commitment at a Boston area Air Force Reserve unit after he left Houston. Not so, Bartlett now concedes. ''I must have misspoke," Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director, said in a recent interview."

"And early in his Guard service, on May 27, 1968, Bush signed a ''statement of understanding" pledging to achieve ''satisfactory participation" that included attendance at 24 days of annual weekend duty -- usually involving two weekend days each month -- and 15 days of annual active duty. ''I understand that I may be ordered to active duty for a period not to exceed 24 months for unsatisfactory participation," the statement reads. Yet Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, performed no service for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show."

The Pentagon has discovered new documents related to Bush's Guard service after the Associated Press requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. The newly-found records showed Bush "let his pilot status lapse and missed a key readiness drill in 1972."

"The Pentagon and Bush's campaign have claimed for months that all records detailing his fighter pilot career have been made public, but defense officials said they found two dozen new records detailing his training and flight logs after The Associated Press filed a lawsuit and submitted new requests under the public records law." "'Previous requests from other requesters for President Bush's Individual Flight Records did not lead to the discovery of these records because at the time President Bush left the service, flight records were subject to retention for only 24 months and we understood that neither the Air Force nor the Texas Air National Guard retained such records thereafter,' the Pentagon told the AP."

"Out of an abundance of caution," the government "searched a file that had been preserved in spite of this policy" and found the Bush records, the letter said. "The Department of Defense regrets this oversight during the previous search efforts."

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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof interviews Bob Mintz, who served in the Alabama National Guard and says he looked for Bush but never found him.

"Mr. Mintz says he had heard that Mr. Bush - described as a young Texas pilot with political influence - had transferred to the base. He heard that Mr. Bush was also a bachelor, so he was looking forward to partying together. He's confident that he'd remember if Mr. Bush had shown up."

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"I'm sure I would have seen him," Mr. Mintz said yesterday. "It's a small unit, and you couldn't go in or out without being seen. It was too close a space." There were only 25 to 30 pilots there, and Mr. Bush - a U.N. ambassador's son who had dated Tricia Nixon - would have been particularly memorable."

Mintz will appear in ads sponsored by a group called "Texans for Truth" questioning Bush's Guard duty.

Tonight, CBS will air its exclusive interview with former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes about his regret in pulling strings to get George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968. (For a preview, read Eric Boehlert's piece in Salon last week about Barnes.)

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Meanwhile, the largest group of gay Republicans has abandoned George W. Bush. The New York Times reports the Log Cabin Republicans voted last night not to endorse any candidate for president. The group has ditched Bush because of his support for a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"The decision ends six months of soul-searching as the group, which endorsed Mr. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996, wrestled with its divided loyalties. Although the group was immediately critical when the president announced his support for the amendment in February, it pointedly refrained from ruling out an endorsement. Its effort to balance loyalty to the party with opposition to a major item on the Republican agenda has made it a target of criticism from both supporters and opponents of the proposed amendment."

" ... In a meeting last night in Washington, the group's board voted 22 to 2 to withhold its endorsement, a spokesman said, declining to name the holdouts. In a statement afterward, Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, cited exit polls showing that more than one million gay men and lesbians voted for Mr. Bush in 2000. That included 45,000 in the pivotal state of Florida, which Mr. Bush carried by roughly 500 votes."

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The Bush-Cheney campaign has been known to screen campaign event attendees for their support for the president, even making people who want to see Bush and Cheney speak sign loyalty oaths. This fear of encountering Americans with different views apparently has seeped into the presidential debate negotiations. A Bush aide anonymously tells the Washington Post that Bush may skip one of the proposed debates with John Kerry because of a fear that "partisans" may slip into the audience of undecided voters chosen to attend the event.

"Bush aides refused to discuss their opening position. Officials familiar with the issue said he plans to accept the commission's first debate, which is to focus on domestic policy, and the third one, which is to focus on foreign policy. The audience for the second debate, to be at Washington University in St. Louis, was to be picked by the Gallup Organization. The commission said participants should be undecided voters from the St. Louis area."

"A presidential adviser said campaign officials were concerned that people could pose as undecided when they actually are partisans. 'It's not a fear of the format,' said the adviser, who refused to be identified to avoid annoying Bush. 'They want two debates that are focused on clear differences on foreign and domestic policy. We benefit from the differences.'"


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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