Please shut up, Terry McAuliffe–that is, about George W. Bush and his missing-time in the Texas Air National Guard.
I keep receiving press releases from flacks at the Democratic Party about Bush’s Guard service (or lack thereof). For instance, moments before John Kerry delivered a major speech on September 20 that refocused his campaign with a blast against Bush’s war in Iraq, the Democratic National Committee press office emailed me and other reporters an invitation to participate in a conference call with McAuliffe on Bush and the Guard. The call was scheduled to occur in the middle of Kerry’s speech.
[Correction: After this column was first posted, the DNC contacted me to complain–about its overall thrust and about the depiction of this particular conference call. The DNC says that Kerry’s speech was scheduled to start at 10:00 am and the conference call was scheduled for 11:15 am. As it turned out, Kerry began late and was speaking at 11:15. But the DNC did not begin the conference call until after Kerry finished. Still, the main point remains.]
Shouldn’t the Democratic Party that day have been reinforcing Kerry’s message that Bush has screwed the pooch in Iraq and that Kerry has a plan for dealing with the mess Bush created? (Click here to read about Kerry’s proposals.) Instead, McAuliffe and his crew at DNC HQ thought it was best to take yet another swipe at Bush for cutting out on the Guard.
Despite the success of the Swift Vets’ assault on Kerry–as fact-free as much of it was–McAuliffe and the party are wrong to obsess over what Bush or did not do three decades ago. I’ve written frequently about Bush and the Guard, and I encourage journalists and researchers to pursue the story. But Bush’s military service should not be a frontline battle for the Democratic Party. By raising the issue incessantly, McAuliffe and the party will not persuade voters. Voters probably have already reached their conclusions about that 32-year-old episode and its significance. Absent new information–material not based on forgeries–McAuliffe should not be beating this horse further.
The matter is a sideshow. Whatever Bush did way back then, his record in the White House is more critical–particularly what he has done since September 11, 2001. Kerry is right to confront Bush directly on the war in Iraq and the misnamed war on terrorism. He has little choice. Bush has deftly and effectively defined the election not only as a referendum on the war in Iraq but a contest to determine which candidate is more decisive and better able to lead a strong and assertive attack on America’s enemy. And as president and as head of a party machine that is maniacally disciplined when it comes to message development and promotion, Bush has the power to set the terms of the debate. (Kerry cannot snap his fingers and declare that this election is really about health care and outsourcing.) So the final stretch of this election will focus on who can best be the protector-in-chief. What Kerry did in Vietnam, what Bush did not in Vietnam (and Alabama) is largely irrelevant in this discussion.