Senator John Kerry’s recent comments to a group of college students that they could work hard in school or risk getting “stuck in Iraq” put the draft dodgers in the Bush Administration in predictable paroxysms of rage. Kerry, who first responded with anger at the GOP’s criticism but later apologized, should stop being nice about the Deserter in Chief. He should be reminding voters that the President who has sent more than 3,000 US soldiers and allies and untold thousands of Iraqis to their deaths deserted his post during the Vietnam War.
Kerry should be reminding voters that while he served honorably in Vietnam, a war he disagreed with, almost the entire Bush team dodged the war that they supported. Just as few if any of the legislators now calling for staying the course have any family members out there in Iraq.
He’d do well to bring to voters’ attention the continuing arrogance of the President, as revealed to Bob Woodward in Bush at War: “I’m the commander–see, I don’t need to explain–I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
Finally, Kerry should consider drawing public attention to Bush’s own conduct during the Vietnam era, drawn from my 2004 book, Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past.
When the government was drafting George W. Bush’s contemporaries and sending them to Vietnam, Bush joined the Air National Guard in Texas, and ticked the box saying “no” to overseas service: a choice denied most of his contemporaries then, who did not have the Ivy League connections to enter such units. More important, such choices are denied now to the National Guardsmen who were not only called up for service in Iraq but have found their terms extended while they were out in the desert. All over the world, men and women are now dying and being maimed because Bush had lived through “the war of his generation” without hearing a shot fired in anger, and perhaps because “Little Googen,” as his indulgent parents called him, has been trying to emulate his genuinely heroic father–without actually risking his life. His father left school at 18 and used his family connections to become the youngest pilot in the Navy.