Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.
A group of veterans motivated by 30-years of resentment accuse John Kerry of exaggerating his Vietnam wartime service, and their attack makes the front pages and cable gabfests. But when a news report showed that George W. Bush had overstated his military experience, Bush escaped without a scratch.
I am not referring to the Bush's missing time in the Air National Guard. That episode did receive much attention--though only in the past year, not when the issue was first raised during the 2000 presidential campaign. Back then Bush was disingenuous about his Guard service. In his campaign autobiography, he wrote that he had completed his pilot training in 1970 while assigned to an air base in Houston and "continued flying with my unit for the next several years." But as the Boston Globe revealed, he stopped flying during his final 18 months of service in 1972 and 1973. Bush had been grounded after failing to take a flight exam, and had won permission to train with a unit in Alabama where he did no flying. There are no records proving he showed up for duty in Alabama, but Bush has insisted he did.
Putting aside the controversy over Bush's Air National Guard service (or dereliction of duty), there was another instance when Bush clearly did not speak truthfully about his military record. In 1978, Bush, while running for Congress in West Texas, produced campaign literature that claimed he had served in the US Air Force. According to a 1999 Associated Press report, Bush's congressional campaign ran a pullout ad in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that declared he had served "in the US Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard where he piloted the F-102 aircraft."
Bush lost that congressional race, but twenty-one years later, the AP questioned him about the ad. The news outlet had a good reason to do so. Bush had never served in the Air Force. He had only been in the Air National Guard. But when AP asked Bush if he had been justified in claiming service in the Air Force, Bush, then the governor of Texas and a presidential candidate, said, "I think so, yes. I was in the Air Force for over 600 days." Karen Hughes, his spokeswoman, maintained that when Bush attended flight school for the Air National Guard from 1968 to 1969 he was considered to be on active duty for the Air Force and that several times afterward he had been placed on alert, which also qualified as active duty for the Air Force. All told, she said, Bush had logged 607 days of training and alerts. "As an officer [in the Air National Guard]," she told the AP, "he was serving on active duty in the Air Force."
But this explanation was wrong. Says who? The Air Force. As the Associated Press reported,
The Air Force says that Air National Guard members are considered 'guardsmen on active duty' while receiving pilot training. They are not, however, counted as members of the overall active-duty Air Force.
Anyone in the Air National Guard is always considered a guardsmen and not a member of the active-duty Air Force, according to an Air Force spokeswoman in the Pentagon. A National Guard member may be called to active duty for pilot training or another temporary assignment and receive active-duty pay at the time, but they remain Guard members.
The AP report said, "It may be a question of semantics." But today I checked with two spokespersons for the US Air Force, and each confirmed that an active-duty member of the Air National Guard is not considered a member of the US Air Force. "If a member of the Air National Guard is in pilot training," says Captain Cristin Lesperance of the US Air Force media relations office, "they would remain on the Guard books. They would be counted as Guard, not as an active-duty Air Force member."
So where was all the hollering about Bush's exaggeration of his military service? True, Bush was hyping his military record way back in 1978. But he repeated and defended the misrepresentation in 1999 while campaigning for the White House. And, no doubt, Kerry's critics would consider any remark Kerry made twenty-six years ago fair game. Admiral Roy Hoffman, a founder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, recently said that his group is not politically motivated: "It would make no difference if John Kerry were a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, Swift Boat veterans would still be speaking the truth concerning John Kerry's military service record." But are any of Kerry's accusers willing to criticize Bush for falsely representing his service?
Kerry, who volunteered to go to Vietnam and won five medals, has made his Vietnam service a central element of his campaign for the presidency. So there is nothing improper about examining his account of his Vietnam days, as long as such scrutiny is done in an honest and accurate fashion. But Bush overstated his own military record (which involved no combat, no derring-do, no wounds, and no enemy fire) for political purposes, and when he was caught doing so he stuck to a phony story. Yet no firestorm ensued. Will Republican funders now underwrite a group called Air Force Veterans for Truth that will demand that Bush withdraw his claim of membership in the Air Force? Don't expect such a shot soon.
Reporting assistance for this story was provided by Shane Goldmacher.
When you're done reading this article, check out David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read about the love letter Pat Buchanan sent to Corn and see the entry on how Bush has let others do his smearing for him.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."