Didn't we already fight the battle over the National Guard? It was 1988, and Dan Quayle had just been selected by presidential nominee George H.W. Bush as his running mate. At a news conference in New Orleans, Quayle was asked about his military service in the National Guard by ABC reporter Susan King. Quayle made what some reporters thought was a suspect defense of his motives for joining the Guard. The media accused Quayle of becoming a guardsman to avoid service in Vietnam.
Many of the assertions being made today about President Bush's Guard service were made against Quayle in 1988. They included people's motives for joining the Guard and stories about those who avoided military service through student deferments, high draft lottery numbers or string-pulling.
Could we please get back to issues, which are far more important than who did what and where more than 30 years ago? Does it matter now that John Kerry and Jane Fonda attended an anti-war rally and that a picture of them has been circulated on the Internet and subsequently in many newspapers? I have a picture of Jane Fonda and me together (though not at an anti-war rally). I also have pictures of me with Ted Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Norman Lear and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). The gay congressman Barney Frank and I spent the night in the same hotel following a debate (we were in separate rooms). Al Gore and I have been in each other's company. Does any of this prove something about me? Only that I have a lot of liberal friends and acquaintances.
In 1965, I enlisted in the Army in order to avoid the draft because I was told the chances of getting a good assignment (non-combat) were greater for enlistees than for draftees. I pulled some strings and was assigned to Armed Forces Radio and Television in New York where I fought Commies at Broadway and West 57th Street. When the bureau closed and moved to Washington, lower ranking enlisted men like me were to be shipped to Vietnam, not to serve in combat roles but to broadcast to troops from Saigon, which I was already doing from New York.
I was married with kids by then and had served about half the time I had promised the Army when I signed up. I requested and received an early and honorable discharge.
Would this part of my life story disqualify me from running for president? Should it? Only if my opponents tried to spin it in a way that would damage whatever credibility I have today. And that is the line of attack Democrats, who defended Bill Clinton's crafty avoidance of service, are pursuing against President Bush. Credibility has been President Bush's strongest asset, especially following the Clinton years.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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