August 31, 2004

THE MAN IN THE RING:

Being There: What does 9/11 tell us about Bush? Nothing. (William Saletan, Aug. 31, 2004, Slate)

For the past month, a group of veterans funded by a Bush campaign contributor and advised by a Bush campaign lawyer has attacked the story of John Kerry's heroism in Vietnam. They have argued, contrary to all known contemporaneous records, that Kerry was too brutal in a counterattack that earned him the Silver Star, and that he survived only mines, not bullets, when he rescued a fellow serviceman from a river. President Bush, who joined the National Guard as a young man to avoid Vietnam, has been challenged to denounce the group's charges. He has refused.

Now the Republican National Convention is showcasing Bush's own heroic moment. As John McCain put it last night: "I knew my confidence was well placed when I watched him stand on the rubble of the World Trade Center with his arm around a hero of September 11 and, in our moment of mourning and anger, strengthen our unity and our resolve by promising to right this terrible wrong and to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear."

Pardon me for asking, but where exactly is the heroism in this story? Where, indeed, is the heroism in anything Bush has done before 9/11 or since?


Set aside for a moment the likelihood that flying a Guard jet was more dangerous than working a swift boat when Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry chose their forms of national service during the Vietnam War. Consider this instead:
Assassinations and Attempts in U.S. Since 1865
* Roosevelt, Franklin D. (president-elect of U.S.): Escaped assassination unhurt Feb. 15, 1933, in Miami.

* Truman, Harry S. (president of U.S.): Escaped assassination unhurt Nov. 1, 1950, in Washington, DC, as 2 Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to shoot their way into Blair House.

* Kennedy, John F. (president of U.S.): Shot Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Tex., allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald; died same day. Injured was Gov. John B. Connally of Texas. Oswald was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby.

* Ford, Gerald R. (president of U.S.): Escaped assassination attempt Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento, Calif., by Lynette Alice (Squeaky) Fromme, who pointed but did not fire .45-caliber pistol. Escaped assassination attempt in San Francisco, Calif., Sept. 22, 1975, by Sara Jane Moore, who fired one shot from a .38-caliber pistol that was deflected.

* Reagan, Ronald (president of U.S.): Shot in left lung in Washington by John W. Hinckley, Jr., on March 30, 1981; three others also wounded.
Add in the plot to kill George H. W. Bush and the nuts who crashed a plane into the White House and sprayed shots at it while Bill Clinton was in office and you've got one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Indeed, the President was probably the target of the 4th jet on 9-11. Mr. Saletan's point is unbelievably stupid even for Slate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2004 6:58 PM
Comments

Not the 4th jet, but the 3rd, was the one with the President's name on it...The 4th was headed for the Capitol. Were it not for airport delays (and a lack of knowledge of the President's travel schedule), they would have taken out 2/3 of the gov't, in addition to the WTC.

Posted by: brian at August 31, 2004 7:21 PM

"has been challenged to denounce the group's charges. He has refused."

I thought Bush did say that he felt Kerry's service was admirable. End of subject.

True he didn't say the word "denounce", there are a lot of words he didn't use. Is Bush now expected to run Kerry's campaign for him?

Posted by: h-man at August 31, 2004 7:27 PM

You left out the major presidential candidates who were targets also-- T.R.Roosevelt, H.Long, R.Kennedy and G.Wallace.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 31, 2004 7:38 PM

Slate has pretty much become unreadable - Saletan and Weisberg have become caricatures (Chait miniatures, as it were).

The professional left wants Bush to be evil (sort of like Nixon). Too bad he isn't. But how they spin on.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 31, 2004 8:10 PM

Seriously. Tell me what Bush has done to fight the war on terror in a way that will make us safer?

I really want to know. Seriously. I want to hear what it is.

Posted by: mkultra at August 31, 2004 9:06 PM

Killed Osama

Deposed the Taliban

Replaced Saddam

debilitated al Qaeda

Turned Pakistan and the Sa'uds into warriors against militancy

Gotten Qaddafi in line

Negotiated trade pacts with Morocco & others

Marginalized Arafat

Etc., etc., etc...

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 9:18 PM

Brian:

Do you have confirmation of that? I knew one of them was aiming for the Capitol or the WH, but damn...2/3s of the government taken out?

Hooeeee, I need a drink.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 31, 2004 9:19 PM

Kerry wants to be president, "one of the most dangerous jobs in America." Does that make him heroic too?

Posted by: Howard at August 31, 2004 10:33 PM

Howard:

Of course it does.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 11:43 PM

Matt: No proof, but looking at the jet that hit the Pentagon it appears that that wasn't the primary target. The flight path took it over the Pentagon, across DC to the Capitol, where it turned around and flew back to the Pentagon and dove nearly straight down into it. Why do so? The pilot was likely looking for the White House, which isn't very easy to spot in mid-flight by an untrained pilot, since it's fairly well obscured. After 2 missed attempts, he probably defaulted to hitting the Pentagon, which has none of the spectacular effect that destroying the WTC, White House, Capitol, has. I believe it has been reported that AQ captives have said the Capitol was the intended target for Flight 93. If they haven't said that the White House was the target of the Pentagon plane, it can be attributed to AQ's vested interest in portraying themselves as criminal masterminds.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it...

Posted by: brian at September 1, 2004 1:06 AM

"Set aside for a moment the likelihood that flying a Guard jet was more dangerous than working a swift boat when Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry chose their forms of national service during the Vietnam War."

Are you basing this on any facts? I'm just curious how the survival rates of jet practice in the States vs. swift boat patrols in a war zone compare. You must have these figures at your fingertips to even speculate that it is more likely that the former is more dangerous. Could you post them?

"one of the most dangerous jobs in America"

And probably the most elaborate security setup in the history of our planet.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 2:38 AM

creeper:

Pure supposition, but a logical one.

The security hasn't helped, has it?

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 7:35 AM

Orrin (I assume that's you):

"Pure supposition, but a logical one."

Logical how? Flying jets is not without its dangers, sure, but to assume without referring to facts of any kind that it was likely to be more dangerous than patrolling rivers in a war zone doesn't strike me as "logical". A simple partisan smear attempt.

Let me put it this way: if the Republican candidate had served in Vietnam and the Democratic candidate had served flying a jet in Texas, would you make the same "logical supposition"?

"The security hasn't helped, has it?"

No president killed since Kennedy. I'd say the opposite of what you say is true. The security has most definitely helped. Without it, the assassination attempts on Roosevelt, Truman, Ford and Reagan would have succeeded.

That reminds me: was it President Garfield who was killed and had no security whatsoever?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 8:46 AM

NOTHING is too unbelievably stupid for Slate..

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at September 1, 2004 9:02 AM

creeper:

Obviously patrolling the Mekong was dangerous, but as the Senator says he volunteered for Swift Boats because they weren't doing anything so risky at the time. He served and served honorably despite quite sensibly trying to stay out of danger to exactly the same degree as W.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 9:04 AM

"exactly the same degree as W"?

Kerry volunteered to go to Vietnam - hardly a risk-free environment at the time, even on a Swift Boat.

Bush stayed out of Vietnam thanks to family connections.

Maybe you think they're "exactly the same" - I still think there's a difference in degree... but we can agree to disagree on that.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 9:48 AM

As I said, I suspect that if you look at injury rates for swift boats and Guard pilots in the year before each man made his choice the latter was more dangerous. Both served their country and did so honorably and demonstrated courage. It's folks like Cheney and Clinton who failed to serve who deserve opprobrium.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 10:03 AM

We want a president who inspires heroism in others, and that is what GWB did after 9/11. We don't ask our presidents to lead the charge in battle, but to lead the moral charge against our enemies, and that is what GWB did. The Vietnam protest generation will always have a problem understanding what heroism is and isn't.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 1, 2004 11:38 AM

Jeff Guinn posted a clear answer (on a different thread) about the dangers of flying the F-102.

It should also be noted that Bush has never talked about the dangers, either to boost himself or to cover his lack of combat experience.

The tone of those attacking Bush's service reveals where they stand.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 1, 2004 11:43 AM

jim hamlen:

"The tone of those attacking Bush's service reveals where they stand."

Bush choosing the National Guard as his way of serving the country is questioned by relatively few. What has been questioned and criticized are (on some occasions) how he got into the National Guard and (far more often) whether he fulfilled his obligations once he was in there - a question that has not been settled by existing documentation to this day.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 12:17 PM

creeper:

He got in the Guard because he was a Bush. Big deal?

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 12:24 PM

oj:

"As I said, I suspect that if you look at injury rates for swift boats and Guard pilots in the year before each man made his choice the latter was more dangerous."

In the absence of us actually knowing those survival rates, I posit that we simply do not know which choice was more dangerous. It makes sense on the face of it to think that one's life and limb would be more endangered in a war zone than training back home. We have no factual basis to come to a different conclusions - feel free to post some if you have them. And again, if the Republican candidate had served in Vietnam and the Democratic candidate had served flying a jet in Texas, would you come to the same conclusion?

There is certainly no basis to think that Bush chose flying jets in Texas to demonstrate his heroism. "Going to Vietnam on a Swift Boat is for sissies - here's what I'll do, I'll jump ahead of all those other people on the list and be a pilot in the TANG, show people I'm not afraid!" It just doesn't add up.

"It's folks like Cheney and Clinton who failed to serve who deserve opprobrium."

If Bush jumped to the top of the list to join the TANG, I would see that as good reason not to equate his service with that of someone who volunteered to go to Vietnam... and surely he'd deserve at least a little opprobrium for not waiting his turn.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 12:42 PM

creeper:

What more do you need besides Senator Kerry's own statement that he sought swift boat duty--think he'd have gotten his choice if not for who he was?--in order to avoid combat?

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 1:05 PM

What more do you need besides Bush's own statement that he joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 1:08 PM

oj:

"He got in the Guard because he was a Bush. Big deal?"

If undue influence was exercised, yep. If you want to slap me with something Kerry or someone else on the left did, knock yourself out. I stand by the statement regardless of party.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 1:13 PM

It's influence, it's not undue. The Bush's and Kerry's earned it.

No further evidence. They both did what they could to avoid combat but both proved their physical courage in the event anyway.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 1:20 PM

How so?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 1:27 PM

How did George W. Bush and John F. Kerry earn that influence?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 1:30 PM

They're aristocrats.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 1:42 PM

Is it your position that, in the US, aristocrats are entitled to have corrupt officials do their bidding behind closed doors and back channels because they "earned" it?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 2:06 PM

Yes, it's my position that we have an aristocracy and that they've earned special treatment. Indeed, that's the position of the American people generally as witness the two candidates they chose.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 2:14 PM

Granted, it's pretty much impossible to run for higher office in the US unless one is wealthy or comes from an influential family.

There is a schism there - you can't get to the top unless you're rich or come from money, but at the same time you have to play it up for the 'common man' - clearing brush at the ranch and so forth.

But: do you think that such people are entitled to have corrupt officials do their bidding in ways non-transparent to the public?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 2:19 PM

Entitled? No. But it happens everywhere, in every strata of America, from NASCAR to the 'hood. Get over it.

Clinton went to Oxford - had he actually deigned to serve in the military (or at least followed through with registration), he might have been a much better President. Couldn't have hurt.


Posted by: jim hamlen at September 1, 2004 2:32 PM

creeper:

It is transparent, it just doesn't work the way you think it does. When I applied to college I was the 5th Orrin Judd to either go or be a trustee there. No one had to say anything about my getting in or them getting further donations--it's understood. I was admitted early decision on December 13th before many kids had even applied. I got my best grade in the Orrin Judd Memorial Room. I was a bad student but the school got lots more money. We WASP patricians have the system gamed, even if there's no official aristocracy.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 2:37 PM

jim:

It's not hard to argue that Bill Clinton was profligate with power because he came from a background that didn't accustom him to wielding it gracefully. FDR was a bad president, but he knew how to govern people.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 2:42 PM

Lesson One:

"Dynasty" in the sense of "hereditary aristocracy" means Junior gets the Throne AUTOMATICALLY because it's Dadsie's.

As applied to Dubya:

Dubya does not get into the White House AUTOMATICALLY because his name is Bush and his dad was President.

But that does NOT mean he's automatically banned from running for President.

(Yes, his family history as a Bush does give him some advantage in running for office -- not so much a Conspiracy of Connections (TM) as just that he grew up learning the family business. Deal with it.)

Posted by: Ken at September 1, 2004 3:37 PM

oj:

"It's not hard to argue that Bill Clinton was profligate with power because he came from a background that didn't accustom him to wielding it gracefully."

GWB came from an 'aristocratic' background, yet I would argue that he has not handled holding the reigns of power gracefully. The thing is, you mentioned that such people have 'earned' their status. I would say this is more the case with Bush Sr., who worked harder and had a more complicated and accomplished career path than Bush Jr. Some members of this aristocracy have not 'earned' it in the individual sense, even if the clan as such has established a certain amount of respect and influence. GWB is one of those who had it thrust upon them. Left to his own devices and without his family influence, GWB would not have amounted to much.

GWB had a life of leisure up to a certain point in his life (relatively late - 40, I think), and then entered a number of business ventures where his family background and influence (aristocracy, you say) certainly helped him along.

And yet it is also a part of American politics that such elitism should not be shown off in public. Recall the number of criticisms of Kerry being "too patrician", and Bush's pained efforts to make himself look like a man of the people, clearing brush at his ranch and so forth - this is important PR for the American electorate.

By the way, and please pardon my ignorance, I only just stumbled onto this blog: Are you any relation to the Sisters Judd?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 3:51 PM

Don't know the Sisters, though we have one, but all Judds in America are descended from Thomas Judd.

You don't earn aristocratic entitlement personally, your family earns it for you. The assumption is that you're worth treating differently because of your background and because of your ties to the institutions that cut you the slack. George W, Bush has amply repaid that supposition. Whatever he did or didn't do around Vietnam he's the most spectacularly successful military commander in chief in history, liberating 50 million people in a few weeks of fighting with minimal casualties.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 4:16 PM

The "liberation of 50 million people in a few weeks with minimal casualties" is a simple consequence of the fact that the biggest military in the history of mankind attacked two extremely weak countries.

It is not a result of Bush's military genius (other than the no-brainer of choosing weak opponents), nor does it in any way confirm that allowing aristocrats a leg up in the political process is the best way to pick a leader.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 4:24 PM

There aren't any other strong countries out there.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 1, 2004 4:56 PM

creeper:

No, it makes him a humanitarian genius.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 4:59 PM

jim hamlen:

"There aren't any other strong countries out there."

Would the US have a hard time attacking India, China, Russia? I'm guessing yes.

Worse yet, with a hefty chunk of the military parked in Iraq for the foreseeable future, would the US have a problem attacking Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia?

Iraq was supposed to be easy, but then it turns out it doesn't end with toppling some statues in the capital. That invasion has cost us dearly in terms of military flexibility.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 5:53 PM

oj:

"No, it makes him a humanitarian genius."

Knocking out an evil dictator/repressive regime: good, and potentially the work of a "humanitarian genius".

Fumbling post-war planning and leaving the region to return to chaos: decidedly not the work of a "humanitarian genius".

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 5:58 PM

creeper:

We can remove evil regimes, we can't impose good ones. We failed the test in WWII but don't have much trouble seeing it as worthwhile.

Those troops in Iraq need to go somewhere now that they're done and we still have missiles and nukes out the wazoo.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 6:22 PM

oj:

"We can remove evil regimes, we can't impose good ones."

Germany, Japan... at the very least we can create the conditions that allow good regimes to prosper.

"We failed the test in WWII but don't have much trouble seeing it as worthwhile."

We failed the test... why? Because we didn't create perfect clones of the US?

"Those troops in Iraq need to go somewhere now that they're done"

Ummm... they "need to go somewhere now that they're done"?? You think they're done and are now idling? Did you miss the part about how they've been asked to stay beyond their original tours of duty, and reservists are being called up?

It's not like they're just waiting to catch the next flight home - those numbers in Iraq will be maintained for some time to come.

"we still have missiles and nukes out the wazoo"

Pity those poor missiles not blowing up. Awww... (See the movie Dark Star - a bomb seeking its ultimate destination.)

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 6:54 PM

"We can remove evil regimes, we can't impose good ones."

Isn't imposing a good regime in the Middle East the very point of this notion of reforming the Middle East via one good democracy right in the midst of it? If, as you claim, we can not impose a good regime, then this rationale would fall away in its entirety.

Is this just a sad realization in hindsight? If you had known that we can not impose a good regime from the outset, how would you adjust the spreading-democracy-in-the-Middle-East justification to make it worthwhile?

Or would you have dropped the justification?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 7:01 PM

Germany? We brutalized the country into submission and then left half the country to Communist predation. we nuked Japan for cripesakes. I bet if we nuke Baghdad things quiet down there too.

The justification for war in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the two regimes were illegitimate in a world that applies a liberal democratic standard.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 7:18 PM

"Germany? We brutalized the country into submission and then left half the country to Communist predation. we nuked Japan for cripesakes."

Yes, that was the "removing of evil regimes" bit. Imposing good regimes or creating conditions favorable to same: see Marshall plan etc. Two distinct phases.

"I bet if we nuke Baghdad things quiet down there too."

Deadly quiet, actually. Chances are you'd hear some complaints from the neighbors though.

"The justification for war in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the two regimes were illegitimate in a world that applies a liberal democratic standard."

Kindly direct me to the relevant declarations of war or speeches by the president that made that claim. Somehow it came across as something about handing over OBL/al Qaeda (in one case) and confronting a "grave/gathering threat" and eliminating "weapons of mass destruction" (in the other case).

If it was all about the regimes being "illegitimate in a world that applies a liberal democratic standard", it must have been in some mighty small print.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 7:32 PM

It's not the small print, it's the case he made:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/20020912-1.html

WMD was added for Blair's sake later on.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 8:14 PM

"WMD was added for Blair's sake later on."

How so? WMD are pretty prominent right in this very speech. Like I said, it was one of the major justifications Bush pushed before invading.

Where does it say that the regime was illegitimate, by the way?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2004 8:27 PM

If the US set off a nuke in Fallujah, the mullahs in Tehran would be eating apple pie and buying Chevrolets the next morning. And Putin would immediately follow our example and give the Chechens the same treatment.

One would suspect that killing 20,000 to 30,000 of your own citizens every year ad nauseum makes for a lot of illegitimacy, no matter the voting records.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 1, 2004 10:48 PM

creeper:

That's the $64k UN resolution--it requires Saddam to relinquish power. We had our legal pretext so long as he remained in power.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 11:57 PM

oj:

There's a difference between legal pretext and justification. Still, neither cited Saddam's regime as being illegitimate - not any of the UN resolutions at the time, nor any of the speeches Bush gave. Both mention Iraq being in violation of UN resolutions, but that's a very different thing from a regime being illegitimate.

Posted by: creeper at September 2, 2004 1:46 AM

jim hamlen:

"If the US set off a nuke in Fallujah, the mullahs in Tehran would be eating apple pie and buying Chevrolets the next morning. And Putin would immediately follow our example and give the Chechens the same treatment."

Another possibility: Muslims worldwide rise up against American institutions, rioting in the streets, US condemned by its allies. I'm hoping we'll never find out.

Posted by: creeper at September 2, 2004 1:49 AM

creeper:

They aren't our allies.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2004 6:56 AM

creeper:

" He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge -- by his deceptions, and by his cruelties -- Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities -- which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime's repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents -- and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state."

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2004 6:58 AM

oj:

All true, but none of it makes the Iraqi regime of the time illegitimate. Criminal, yes; illegitimate, no.

Posted by: creeper at September 2, 2004 1:58 PM

As a legal matter he was violating the UN Resolution by retaining power.

As a moral matter he was illegitimate because unjust.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2004 2:39 PM
« IS THE SENATOR AWARE INDIA EXISTS?: | Main | NIHILISM FOR FUN AND PROFIT »