George Bush, This is Your Life
George W. Bush's past is finally catching up with him. Out of the morass of delays, partial truths, preemptive attacks, and doubletalk come weighty allegations from an indefatigable news service, an important public figure, advocacy organizations and a hack author – all of whom refuse to call off the search. The allegations vary in their authenticity and the depth of their political motivations, but they all add up to Bush taking heat for a past he has never had to publicly account for.
On Sept. 5, in the midst of Labor Day weekend, The Associated Press quietly filed an article alleging that: "Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973.... For example, Air National Guard regulations at the time required commanders to write an investigative report for the Air Force when Bush missed his annual medical exam in 1972."
Though Bush claims to have skipped the exam due to the fact that he already knew he'd be in Alabama, the record actually exposes that rationale as a lie: "Bush was required to take the physical by the end of July 1972, more than a month before he won final approval to train in Alabama."
In response to an AP Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the government claimed that it had released all records that "it can find." AP then issued this challenge to the government: "The AP identified five categories of records that should have been generated after Bush skipped his pilot's physical and missed five months of training."
And lo, three days later, still under pressure from that pesky lawsuit, new records on Bush's service were suddenly "found": "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...."
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan spun the newly released records with unprecended gall, saying "These documents confirm that the president served honorably in the National Guard." But the AP concluded that the records confirm just the opposite:
"The records show his last flight was in April 1972, which is consistent with pay records indicating Bush had a large lapse of duty between April and October of that year."
The Boston Globe, after its own examination of available records, was even less equivocal: "Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation." The Globe quoted a furious Army Colonel who's studied Bush's records and concluded, "He broke his contract with the United States government – without any adverse consequences.... It cost the government a million dollars to train him to fly. So he should have been held to an even higher standard."
Another interesting development has even greater symbolic bearing on the current presidential race, focusing as it does on who will make the better commander-in-chief in the prevention of, and responsiveness to, a surprise attack: "A six-month historical record of his 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, also turned over to the AP on Tuesday, shows some of the training Bush missed with his colleagues during that time... It showed the unit joined a '24-hour active alert mission to safeguard against surprise attack' in the southern United States beginning on Oct. 6, 1972, a mission for which Bush was not present, according to his pay records."
Surprise attack; Bush nowhere to be found. Sound familiar?
Wednesday's AP report ends by reiterating the challenge that even the latest Bush documents "do not include any from five categories of documents Bush's commanders had been required to keep in response to the gaps in Bush's training in 1972 and 1973."
Bob Mintz, a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard who served at the Montgomery base that George Bush was supposed to attend in 1972 went on the record on Wednesday to say that he did not see George Bush in service once. "I never met the man and I'm sorry I didn't because he's somebody important." Mintz underlined his certainty that Bush did not attend, saying, It would have been impossible to be unseen in a unit of that size, referring to the 50 to 60 total pilots who served on the base.
In concert with Mintzs statements, a group known as Texans for Truth has purchased a rasher of advertising time slots in Ohio, Michigan, Oregon, and Arizona for ads that ask for a full account of Bushs attendance records for the National Guard, quoting numerous officers and soldiers who question Bushs attendance.
If all this isn't too damning for the president's aides to spin their way out of, there's Bush's freewheeling Alabama days. The nephew of the Senatorial candidate Bush went to work for, Murph Archibald, worked side by side with Bush until Archibald replaced him; the reason was poor performance. According to Archibald there was also a whole lotta drinkin' – and very little working – goin' on. Speaking to NPR's All Things Considered in March of this year, Archibald commented, "in a campaign full of dedicated workers, Mr. Bush was not one of them.... Ordinarily, George would come in around noon; he would ordinarily leave around 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening."
Why so late? In a word: liquor. "I thought it was really unusual that someone in their mid-20s would initiate conversations, particularly in the context of something as serious as a U.S. senatorial campaign, by talking about their drinking the night before. I thought it unusual and, frankly, inappropriate."
And lest anyone portray this as an isolated incident, All Things Considered summed up Archibald's attitude toward Bush's drunken tales: "the frequency with which Mr. Bush discussed the subject was off-putting to him."
And here's a claim that ought to ruffle the feathers of the law-and-order crowd: "He told us [campaign staffers] whenever he was stopped [for erratic driving while at Yale], as soon as the law enforcement found out that he was the grandson of Prescott Bush, they would let him go. And he would always laugh about that."
Another allegation that's made its way into the mix – despite the general groundlessness of the claim – is that Bush snorted coke more recently than anyone thought. Kitty Kelleys soon-to-be-released biography of the Bush dynasty, The Family, quotes Bush's former sister-in-law Sharon: "Bush did coke at Camp David when his father was President, and not just once either."
Kelley apparently also manages to get in touch with several former classmates for her book, one of who laments, "He went out of his way to act crude. It's amazing someone you held in such low esteem later became president."
During the previous campaign, when Bush was asked if he'd ever done drugs his response was: "I've told the American people that years ago I made some mistakes."
Few of these allegations are new, and many of them Bush succeeded in fending off during his 2000 campaign – but he only had to deal with them one by one. Now these allegations are in the public debate at the same time, and are greater than the sum of their parts: they add up to major scandal about Bush's reckless youth and dishonorable military service in Vietnam. It remains to be seen if George W. Bush can defend and discredit these allegations in the way that John Kerry and his campaign have undermined the Swift Boaters' claims a few weeks ago.