A "privileged" former Army Reservist, author Jane Smiley and others weigh in on the debate over George W. Bush's dubious military record. Plus: Will Kerry bounce back?

Published September 10, 2004 11:12PM (EDT)

[Read "Stung!" by Eric Boehlert.]

I don't begrudge anyone having pulled strings to get into the National Guard or Reserves during the Vietnam War. Truthfully, I did the same thing. My father made many connections in the Guard and Reserves during 22 years of active service in the Army, and he was able to find me a Reserve slot just ahead of the "Greeting" letter from the draft board in 1968. The unit, a large general hospital at the old Boston Army Base, had many connected members, including several players from the Red Sox and the Celtics.

Each and every member of my unit, however, knew (because we were constantly reminded) that missing drills or summer camp meant being called up to active duty and likely serving in Vietnam. We all showed up, or we made the drills up in a timely fashion -- even the wealthy reservists from prominent families. When my job moved from Boston to Albany (and later, back again) I was told in no uncertain terms to find a new slot within sixty days, or else -- and I did.

It interests and saddens me that the modern, ultra-conservative GOP has mastered the art of the Big Lie. Historically, we liked to think that was the province of totalitarian dictators.

-- Peter Ross

As much as I thought I was prepared to believe that Bush is capable of any sort of cheating, I am shocked by what the missing paper trail concerning Bush's service and the political aftermath reveals about the cynical deceptions practiced by Bush, Rove and all their cronies.

I wonder what a similar analysis of Cheney's Vietnam era activities would reveal?

-- Jane Smiley

After reading Eric Boehlert's article, the real story is not the Bush administration's transparent spins of his Air National Guard duty, but that the answers to George W. Bush's missing military records were meticulously researched and posted on a Web log for all to see by a Philadelphia caterer with an admittedly partisan agenda.

I find it utterly appalling that national news outlets no longer ask the hard questions necessary of our country's leaders. Today's media outlets either serve as mouthpieces for the worst aspects of the GOP, place too much emphasis on celebrity, or seem more concerned with stemming the losses of their parent companies than actually practicing journalism.

Thirty years after the brave reporting of Woodward and Bernstein forced a sitting president to resign, journalists seem content to not "make waves" for fear of losing a scoop from glorified P.R. flacks from both political parties. That a Web log like the "AWOL Project" even exists simply adds credence to the argument that the next generation of fearless reporters will be found online.

-- Charles Sudo

I understand the need to hit back after the Swift Boat nonsense dented Kerry's numbers, but don't you think Lukasiak and the Globe are basically telling us what we already knew?

Frankly, I don't really care if Bush used to bend the rules, drink, and sniff coke, and take advantage of connections, since that description matches most successful people I know.

It's time for us to stop whining about the fact that Bush is a lazy rich kid who has had a lot of strings pulled on his behalf. It's never been a secret, and anyone who believes otherwise will find Lukasiak and Texans for Truth to be as partisan and malicious as we find the Swift Boat jerks.

I know there's too much at stake to stay out of the mud, but it just seems to me that it's time to refocus on what the president is doing now, instead of what he was doing 35 years ago. Shouldn't record job losses, the fumbling of intelligence pre-9/11, a bungled engagement in Afghanistan, 1,000 Americans dead in Iraq and $200 billion spent with no end in sight, along with a complete disregard for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution be enough?

-- Ed Tarkington

One of the biggest myths of this election is that Vietnam experience really matters. Leading a country is a lot different than captaining a swift boat. Abandoning one's post in the Air National Guard is a lot different than abandoning the Oval Office. Furthermore, Vietnam was nearly a lifetime ago. And is it inconceivable to believe that a person as changed after nearly 30 years?

Vietnam is a thin reed for Kerry to lean on. And so far, Bush is still standing while his reed broke long ago. Simply put: Move on.

-- Garrick Merlo

[Read "Can Kerry Come Back?" by Tim Grieve.]

Tim Grieve quotes Dennis Kucinich: "This is George Bush's war, and we've got to make sure people know that." I disagree, and believe this misconception is behind Kerry's recent problems. The problem is not that this is George Bush's bungled war, but that the war on terrorism, bungled or not, conflated with Iraq as it is, needs to be won, and belongs to the world, not to George Bush and the neo-conservatives.

Unfortunately, Bush has successfully blurred the line between Iraq and terrorism, and it is simply too late to undo this. By equating Iraq with terrorism, and being responsible for Iraq, Bush has misappropriated the fight against terrorism for himself and the Republican Party. At this point, it makes no sense to try to unravel this equation. The more Kerry tries to distance himself from Iraq ("I would have done it differently"), the more Bush becomes a champion. The more Kerry makes the distinction between Iraq and the fight against terrorism, the more ineffectual he seems.

Kerry has to take the Iraq-terrorism confusion as a given and move on. He needs to emphasize that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a threat to the whole world. By dividing the West and dividing our country, Bush has greatly weakened our position and chances of success. And should America be subjected to four more years of Bush's going it alone, we may be headed for unparalleled disaster.

Kerry needs to stop saying that he would have "done it differently" and rise to the challenge, project sober confidence in what we might accomplish if we unite, and force even the most xenophobic Americans to consider that we can't win this one on our own. Kerry is now the only one who could potentially unite Americans and our allies against terrorism. If he is unable to make this clear without seeming like a Eurocentric weakling, then we are all in trouble.

This war is most definitely not George Bush's; he just wants you to think it is.

-- Michael Jacobson

It really is amazing that Kerry has such a hard time expressing why he ought to be president in simple terms. Why is Kerry yammering on about $200 billion? It's a number so large that no one knows what that means. Wouldn't it be better to say "The Iraq war has cost your family, and every other family in America, $2,000 and there's no end in sight. Has the president been honest with you about this?"

And why does Kerry think he has to acknowledge all his votes? "I voted for funding the troops, but I also wanted it paid for -- unlike the president, who wants the money to come from your children and grandchildren." End of statement.

Let the other side splutter about how it's actually more complicated. Bush takes credit even for things he opposed; Kerry somehow has trouble taking credit for things he supported.

Democratic candidates should set up hotlines where any supporter could call in tactical suggestions. Whatever came in could hardly be worse than the advice they apparently get from the pros.

-- Jeff Smith

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

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