02/11/2004Former Sen. Max Cleland is the Democrats' designated hysteric about George Bush's National Guard service. A triple amputee and Vietnam veteran, Cleland is making the rounds on talk TV, basking in the affection of liberals who have suddenly become jock-sniffers for war veterans, and working himself into a lather about President Bush's military service. Citing such renowned military experts as Molly Ivins, Cleland indignantly demands further investigation into Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard.
Bush's National Guard service is the most thoroughly investigated event since the Kennedy assassination. But the Democrats will accept only two possible conclusions to their baseless accusations: (1) Bush was "AWOL," or (2) the matter needs further investigation.
Thirty years ago, Bush was granted an honorable discharge from the National Guard -- which would seem to put the matter to rest. But liberals want proof that Bush actually deserved his honorable discharge. (Since when did the party of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd get so obsessed with honor?)
On "Hardball" Monday night, Cleland demanded to see Bush's pay stubs for the disputed period of time, May 1972 to May 1973. "If he was getting paid for his weekend warrior work," Cleland said, "he should have some pay stubs to show it."
The next day, the White House produced the pay stubs. This confirmed what has been confirmed 1 million times before: After taking the summer off, Bush reported for duty nine times between Nov. 29, 1972, and May 24, 1973 -- more than enough times to fulfill his Guard duties. (And nine times more than Bill Clinton, Barney Frank or Chuck Schumer did during the same period.)
All this has been reported -- with documentation -- many times by many news organizations. George magazine had Bush's National Guard records 3 1/2 years ago.
All available evidence keeps confirming Bush's honorable service with the Guard, which leads liberals to conclude ... further investigation is needed! No evidence will ever be enough evidence. That Bush skipped out on his National Guard service is one of liberals' many nondisprovable beliefs, like global warming.
Cleland also expressed outrage that Bush left the National Guard nine months early in 1973 to go to Harvard Business School. On "Hardball," Cleland testily remarked: "I just know a whole lot of veterans who would have loved to have worked things out with the military and adjusted their tour of duty." (Cleland already knows one -- Al Gore!)
When Bush left the National Guard in 1973 to go to business school, the war was over. It might as well have been 1986. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had already lost the war, and President Nixon had ended it with the Paris peace accords in January. If Bush had demanded active combat, there was no war to send him to.
To put this in perspective, by 1973, John Kerry had already accused American soldiers of committing war crimes in Vietnam, thrown someone else's medals to the ground in an anti-war demonstration, and married his first heiress. Bill Clinton had just finished three years of law school and was about to embark upon a political career -- which would include campaign events with Max Cleland.
Moreover, if we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.
Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman -- or what Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.
There is more than a whiff of dishonesty in how Cleland is presented to the American people. Terry McAuliffe goes around saying, "Max Cleland, a triple amputee who left three limbs on the battlefield of Vietnam," was thrown out of office because Republicans "had the audacity to call Max Cleland unpatriotic." Mr. Cleland, a word of advice: When a slimy weasel like Terry McAuliffe is vouching for your combat record, it's time to sound "retreat" on that subject.
Needless to say, no one ever challenged Cleland's "patriotism." His performance in the Senate was the issue, which should not have come as a bolt out of the blue inasmuch as he was running for re-election to the Senate. Sen. Cleland had refused to vote for the Homeland Security bill unless it was chock-full of pro-union perks that would have jeopardized national security. ("OH MY GOD! A HIJACKED PLANE IS HEADED FOR THE WHITE HOUSE!" "Sorry, I'm on my break. Please call back in two hours.")
The good people of Georgia -- who do not need lectures on admiring military service -- gave Cleland one pass for being a Vietnam veteran. He didn't get a lifetime pass.
Indeed, if Cleland had dropped a grenade on himself at Fort Dix rather than in Vietnam, he would never have been a U.S. senator in the first place. Maybe he'd be the best pharmacist in Atlanta, but not a U.S. senator. He got into office on the basis of serving in Vietnam and was thrown out for his performance as a senator.
Cleland wore the uniform, he was in Vietnam, and he has shown courage by going on to lead a productive life. But he didn't "give his limbs for his country," or leave them "on the battlefield." There was no bravery involved in dropping a grenade on himself with no enemy troops in sight. That could have happened in the Texas National Guard -- which Cleland denigrates while demanding his own sanctification.