I haven’t jumped into the Bush AWOL fray so far, though I’m glad that Kevin Drum and others have done so. This is something that I researched briefly a year or two ago, so I’ve known for that there’s a problem there for awhile. Of course, it’s also true that many from that generation (mine) have skeletons in their closets, and I have never thought that military service should be a prerequisite for political leadership. So this is a tricky one.
I also somewhat agree with those who think we shouldn’t pin too many of our hopes on this issue. Even if GWB’s Guard service turns out to have been adequate, he will remain one of the worst Presidents in American history. And if it turns out that Bush’s service was unproblematic, then all the usual suspects will be able to feign horror at Democratic slime tactics, and we’ll be seeing the same old “Democrats are no better than Republicans” meme again.
(Isn’t it interesting, though, that “The Democrats are just as bad” always counts as a defense of the Republicans? No one ever argues that the Republicans aren’t creeps.)
And while the hypocrisy issue still can be raised, there’s so much hypocrisy in politics that for many voters indignation fatigue has set in.*
However, the problems with Bush’s military service do make a pretty good wedge issue. A lot of Bush’s support comes from people who vote more on character than on issues. For them physical courage, personal integrity, and a strict sense of honor are primary requirements for leadership. Those who think this way aren’t terribly analyitic or curious, but they do care about details — for them, certain acts are just inexcusable. Many of them have been flimflammed by Bush so far, but they will turn against him if they find out that his record is seriously blemished. This group might be small, but it’s part of Bush’s core constituency, so it’s important.
And on the other hand, perhaps this issue (ignored in the 2000 campaign) might just be the last straw for a lot of people. Problems with the Iraq War and its justifications, Bush’s loopy economic plans, his waffling on tariffs, the weird marriage-promotion boondoggle, the weird Mars mission trial balloon, etc., etc., might have pushed a lot of centrists and moderate conservatives to the point that they’re willing to look at the evidence (which has always been there) about Bush’s military service. Once someone loses the benefit of the doubt, people start looking at the little things. I think that’s what has happened, and it’s about time.
There’s still a problem here: the kingmaker role of the corrupt monopoly media. If they’ve actually turned against Bush, that’s a good thing, but it’s a very limited good. As long as the media select our Presidents for us, we’re in trouble.
* This makes it seem that I myself don’t care much about personal character. I have to admit that after more than forty years on the scene, the idea that someone in politics might be full of integrity strikes me as a dream from a bygone day, like King Arthur or Good King Wenceslas.