BEFORE THE 2000 ELECTION, I MADE A SERIOUS MISTAKE. I told a number of people that I would be basically satisfied with either Al Gore or George W. Bush as president. I thought that Al Gore had a lot of the micromanagement tendencies that Jimmy Carter had and that his enthusiasm for addressing the big policy challenges of the day might be undone by his management weaknesses.
On the other hand, I thought that Bush was a centrist, and while I liked Gore better thematically, I hoped that if Bush was elected that he would exile the religious right and work at stealing the political center back from Clinton and the Democrats for the Republican Party.
We heard much about allegations of drunkenness, womanizing, and alleged drug use by Bush in his early years. It was clear to me that he was a young screw-up with a powerful dad and grandfather who met a straight-laced wife, gave up booze, and found god.
I just always figured that Bush’s wandering years included his service in the National Guard. The fact that new information is emerging that shows Bush was in fact a screw-up doesn’t surprise me. Whether the Killian documents are real or forged, the issue of Bush being a screw-up remains the same. He didn’t serve his nation “robustly” in the National Guard; we know that. All that seems to be at stake is whether Bush violated a direct order or not. Some will jump on me and say that that is no small matter — but I counter that it is a small matter when compared to the more serious duplicity, obuscation, and wrongheaded, ideologically driven foreign and fiscal policies pursued by this administration.
If Democrats and the Kerry Campaign allow their assault on Bush to be narrowed to the question of the legitimacy of these documents, then this race will soon be over. Some of my progressive friends argue that Killian’s files matter because they help us gain insights into Bush’s character.
He was a screw-up then. Bush is not a screw-up today. This president has turned out to be a real decision maker, and is revolutionary in many ways. The issue at hand is that his policies, particularly his foreign and economic policies, run hard against the best interests of this nation, at least in my view. That is the debate we should be having.
But the Bush team should be scorned and ridiculed for one enormous mistake. It abandoned the “Bush youthful screw-up, matured, found wife and god, dropped booze story.” When the din finally died about rumors of cocaine use (which have now been resurrected by Kitty Kelley), Karl Rove & Co. began marketing “Bush the Infallible.”
They have furiously worked at getting the public to see Bush as someone who sacrificed and did his service faithfully in the National Guard. If Bush did all he was supposed to do, he barely did so, opting for the bare minimum of sacrifice for his nation. And if he didn’t fulfill his duties, we know he flew some hours — got in a uniform now and then — but was otherwise a screw-up.
I just don’t see why this story matters so much to citizens (and to many of you) about to vote for one of these two guys (well, Nader too) in eight weeks.
But infallibility was a stupid course that the Bush campaign and administration adopted.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Infallibility thus:
In general, exemption or immunity from liability to error or failure; in particular in theological usage, the supernatural prerogative by which the Church of Christ is, by a special Divine assistance, preserved from liability to error in her definitive dogmatic teaching regarding matters of faith and morals.
Suffice it to say that despite George Bush’s attempt to recruit the Catholic Church, the Pope, and some priests to his electoral cause, Bush is not the Pope and not infallible.
Rove made a mistake, in my view, drawing attention to Bush’s service in the guard by dropping the screw-up story as an important part of Bush’s public profile. On the other hand, the Democrats — and Terry McAuliffe in particular — made a mistake getting drawn into such a narrow set of issues that have nothing substantive to do with the great policy questions and battles of the day.
— Steve Clemons