[FoRK] Salon on Bushs' (lack of) Service

J.Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Thu Sep 9 00:37:08 PDT 2004


On Sep 8, 2004, at 11:19 PM, Elias Sinderson wrote:
> Stung is right... Just one more reason why I like Salon. Big question 
> - will other media outlets pick this up? Will it matter whether they 
> do or not?


I find most of this campaign season distasteful, but I think there is a 
lot of misunderstanding on the military record issue.

While I think 30-year old military records are largely irrelevant and I 
wish both sides would drop the matter, I find the confusion of the 
media on the whole mess pretty interesting -- they appear at a loss to 
explain what is going on.  I've been watching this with a great deal of 
interest if only because I don't recall anything quite like this 
happening in any other election.  Whether or not it gets "picked up" 
won't matter, and here is why:

This whole "Swift Vet", National Guard service, and other irrelevant 
historical military bits that seem to be dominating this election serve 
to sway only one demographic, namely military veterans.  My WAG is that 
this group represents something like 5% of the US population, which is 
a not insignificant voting block, especially in a tight election, and 
it splits pretty evenly for both parties (probably slightly Republican) 
all things being equal in most years.  If you are not in this 
demographic, all these stories and accusations will likely go over your 
head and therefore not play a huge factor in your voting decisions -- 
there is a lot of required context to really grok the picture.  And 
polls seems to support this for the most part.

For somewhat complex cultural reasons that I will not go into too much, 
the Swift Boat ad was absolutely damning, Kerry's "Daisy" for military 
veterans.  The first time I heard it my jaw almost hit the floor 
because that ad is by protocol and convention a de facto court martial 
and dishonorable discharge of John Kerry by The Military as a 
community, broadcast to the military veterans of the entire country.  I 
cannot think of anything that could have cause more irreparable damage 
to Kerry with the military community than what that ad did.  It is very 
clear that the media still does not really understand what happened 
here and is confused by the whole thing.  IMHO, that ad cost him any 
chance he had of getting elected.

The Salon article is almost certainly correct with respect to Bush's 
National Guard service, but I don't think it will change any minds in 
the demographic that it would matter to -- military veterans.  
Technically, Bush violated a whole mess of military regulations 
regarding his NG service, something I won't dispute, but the context is 
lost in the presentation.  In practice, probably half of all people in 
the National Guard and Reserves are routinely guilty of exactly the 
same breaches of regulation -- such things are institutional.  As to 
why it is institutional, the military regulations are too strict and 
inconvenient for people who have real jobs and non-military lives as a 
practical matter, and rather than kicking out two-thirds of the Reserve 
and National Guard forces, there is a set of unofficial regulations in 
practice that differ significantly from the technical rules.  Everyone 
who has been in the military understands this.  Furthermore, as I go 
down the list of specific violations mentioned in the Salon article, 
they all appear to be regulations that I know from experience to be 
routinely skirted and worked around in the way Bush did.  This isn't 
because Bush was "connected", as anyone could have gotten away with 
these things with tacit approval from the CO and usually did.  This 
will get a big "So what?" from military veterans, most of whom will see 
these things as non-issues.  It is certainly not a defense capable of 
blunting the attacks on the Republican side.

In short, the attacks on Kerry's military record have been extremely 
effective, in no small part because they are extremely credible to 
military veterans in a fashion that is hard to adequately convey to 
non-veterans.  Absolutely brilliant as a campaign weapon.  The 
"scandal" surrounding Bush's service in the National Guard has no real 
weight because people who have been in the military will see the issues 
raised as a non-issue; they'll be familiar with how those things work.  
On this issue, the Bush campaign deftly out-maneuvered the Kerry 
campaign and allowed him to fully commit himself straight into an 
ambush.  Worse, Kerry has defended himself very poorly and allowed this 
to become a defining issue.  Whoever is running the Bush campaign was 
worth the money they paid him.


It does make me more confident in the prediction I made a year and a 
half ago on this list:  Bush will win, with 50-53% of the popular vote. 
  If the Democrats had put up a stronger candidate, I might've had to 
eat that prediction.

cheers,

j. andrew rogers



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