Democracies cannot dispense with hypocrisy any more than dictatorships can with cynicism.
Georges Bernanos, Nous Autres Franais
A free ride. That's what Republicans get. I'm not referring to the fact that President Bush didn't have to pay anything for landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in an S-3B Viking to announce that the war against Iraq had been won. He didn't. The taxpayers footed the bill. I'm referring to the reaction Mr. Bush's landing generated compared with what a similar landing by former President Bill Clinton would have generated. The images would have been quite similar the reactions completely different.
Mr. Clinton never took up the valuable time of a member of the armed services to receive a briefing on the details of a 30-mile flight from land to an aircraft carrier for which the briefing was nothing more than a boost to Mr. Bush's ego. Mr. Clinton never emerged from the briefing room of a military base clad in full fighter-pilot regalia, proudly carrying a helmet like a 6-year-old boy who's just been given a fighter-pilot costume. Mr. Clinton never landed on an aircraft carrier in an S-3B Viking plane and then "strutted" (a word used by The Wall Street Journal and number of other papers to describe Mr. Bush's gait about the deck), alternately saluting and slapping backs of the service personnel who greeted him.
It was a good thing Mr. Clinton did none of those things. Had he done them, the giggles and guffaws would still be echoing from the empty chambers of right-wing heads. And we would have been reminded over and over of Mr. Clinton's lack of military service. We would have been reminded that Mr. Clinton did not serve in Vietnam nor in any branch of the military. We would have been reminded that he enrolled in the Arkansas Army ROTC program and backed out of the agreement after he drew a number in a draft lottery that made his induction unlikely. Copies of the letter he wrote to Col. Eugene Holmes explaining his decision not to follow through on the ROTC would have been posted on lamp posts throughout the country. In short, his refusal to serve and subsequent strutting about an aircraft carrier would have made him the object of unending ridicule.
Mr. Bush got a free ride and lots of glory even though he was a bigger coward than Mr. Clinton and a scofflaw to boot. He did not simply avoid the draft by enlisting in the Texas Air National Guard. According to a report by Peabody Award-winning reporter Bill Gallagher, Mr. Bush learned to fly in the National Guard at a taxpayer expense of $1 million, then proceeded to become absent without leave also known as AWOL for which many service personnel have received jail sentences. Mr. Bush's official biography shows that he served as a pilot with the Texas Guard from 1968 to 1973. Mr. Bush did not go to Vietnam. According to Mr. Gallagher's and other published reports, Mr. Bush went to weekend meetings at the Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Ellington Field in Houston from June 1970 until April 1972. Then a funny thing happened.
Mr. Bush went to Alabama to work on the U.S. Senate campaign of one of his father's friends. He continued serving in the National Guard, he says. That may be a lie. It wouldn't be his first and it certainly won't be his last. The records of the Montgomery unit he claims to have joined do not show that he ever served there. His annual effectiveness report, signed by two superiors, said he had not been observed at the unit to which he was assigned.
Mr. Bush has said that one of the things he learned from his service was the importance of showing up and doing the job. From 1972 to 1973 there is no evidence he did either. He was AWOL. That is a more serious offense than the offense committed by Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Bush is not embarrassed by the missing year. There's no reason for him to be since no one really cares. His military training stood him in good stead, even though he was a bit of a coward. He learned to fly and as he shouted out in response to one questioner after landing on the ship: "Great job, great job. I flew it. Yeah, of course I liked it. It was fantastic." He explained that he had taken the controls for a third of the 15-minute trip, which comes out to five minutes. But he was appropriately modest. He only flew it on the "straight" part.
He went on to explain that the plane was a lot more sophisticated than the jets he flew in the Air National Guard when he wasn't AWOL. (He didn't add that last bit.) That explains why he only flew the "straight part."
In response to another questioner he said: "I miss flying. I can tell you that." He would have missed it a lot less if he'd spent the missing year flying instead of politicking. No one cares. He is, after all, the president. His lying doesn't seem to matter since he's a Republican president. It only matters when a Democratic president does it.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera