Military service not likely to be issue in general campaign

Posted 11:14am March 1

By Nell McGarity
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

As the Democratic field narrows, President Bush’s record, particularly his service during Vietnam, has been called into question.

After over three decades, the Vietnam War finds itself as part of the 2004 campaign not only as a challenge to the President’s record from the Democratic party, but also as part of the national security resume presented by Democratic front-runner Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who is a decorated veteran.

Kerry served as a Swift Boat officer in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and received a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts for his service in combat. Bush was a member of the Texas Air National Guard. During the Vietnam era, the Air National Guard did not fight on the front lines, as it currently does now in Iraq.

Bush’s record of service emerged as an issue when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said earlier this month that the President was “AWOL” during his term with the Air National Guard.

President Bush defended himself against McAuliffe’s charge during his February 8 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

Bush said that he would open up his military records to resolve the issue, which he said has come up during prior elections.

On February 10, the White House released some of Bush’s payroll records during his term of service. While this was meant to clarify, it only brought on more questions.

According to The Associated Press, Bush joined the Air National Guard in 1968, and spent most of his service time based near Houston. In May 1972, he requested and received a temporary assignment with the Alabama National Guard so he could serve as political director on the Senate campaign of a family friend. Bush says he recalls showing up for drills in Alabama, but his supporters have struggled to prove it.

Bush was not paid for any service during a five-month period in 1972, from May through September, according to the records released. He was paid for two days in October and four days in November and none in December 1972. He was not paid for February or March 1973, reported the AP. In addition, the records do not indicate what duty Bush performed or where he was.

Bush also left his term of duty early to attend Harvard Business School.

“To this point both President Bush’s military service and Senator Kerry’s military service have drawn a good deal of attention,” said Jim Campbell, a political science professor. “I believe attention to both will decline in importance through the course of the campaign. Kerry has to be worried about appearing to run a war record that is over three decades old and questions about Bush’s record in the guard appear to be subsiding as more paperwork and testimonials come forward.”

“Voters and the media will probably be turning to the twin issues of the economy and the war against terrorism and Iraq. Both candidates have records on these matters that are more directly important to voters,” said Campbell. “I think the real question about the campaign’s agenda involves the third front of social issues.”

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