Thursday, February 12, 2004

If conservative pundits continue to cite John Kerry's defense of Bill Clinton's service record in 1992, it must be noted that the majority of comments made by Kerry were in response to attacks on Clinton by then president, George H.W. Bush.

While in college, Clinton sought and received a deferment from the draft lottery, which he later relinquished. It was ultimately a high draft number that kept him from service in Vietnam. In the final months of the 1992 presidential race, the Bush campaign latched onto Clinton's service record as a potential major issue.

All excerpts are from The Washington Post.

"In his most biting personal attack of the campaign, President Bush today savaged his Democratic opponent as a weak-kneed waffler who suffers from 'Clintonesia' about his prior statements and whose lack of military service detracts from his ability to serve as commander-in-chief...

It was here in Fort Lauderdale that Bush switched gears from attacking Clinton's Arkansas record and critiquing his economic proposals. Standing in front of the type of torpedo bomber he flew during World War II, Bush let loose with pointed assault on Clinton's character and truthfulness.

'I've finally figured out why he compares himself to Elvis,' Bush said. 'The minute he has to take a stand on something, he starts wiggling...'

The strongly personal tone of the assault - and that it came from Bush himself rather than campaign surrogates - marked a distinct upping of the rhetorical ante in a campaign that has just a month to run.

'It's no-holds-barred from now on,' said Bush-Quayle spokeswoman Torie Clarke."

("Bush Steps Rhetoric In Attacks On Clinton; Rival Called Waffler, Lack Of Service Noted [my emphasis]" 10.04.92)

Note the venomous tone (and the campaign aide who sounds like The Comic Book Guy, from The Simpsons) in the following:

"The Bush campaign makes it clear that further attacks on Clinton are likely. 'We're not going to start moving until we rip the skin off the guy,' said one official, an indication of negative ads likely to begin airing soon.

Another official said the Bush-Quayle campaign could not launch a full-scale attack on the issue of Clinton's credibility until it had 'laid a positive foundation.' Asked what that foundation consisted of, the official pointed to last week's speeches, then said only half-jokingly, 'The only reason you take the high road is to get to the low road.'

Bush aides said they will continue to make the draft part of the campaign dialogue. 'Surely, you jest,' one Bush adviser said when asked whether the president's campaign would drop the issue. 'We will keep whispering in America's ear until it is time to hit them with the hammer.' When will that be? 'In due time.'"

("For Bush Aides, Positive Tack Isn't A Winner, Draft Issue maneuver Points To More Attacks On Clinton" 09.16.92)

The Bush campaign later used a supporter's recording of her bed-ridden, 76-year-old father, to discredit Clinton's service record:

"The Bush campaign, attempting to keep alive questions about Bill Clinton's draft history, yesterday distributed a 'Memorandum for the Record' signed by the former chief of the University of Arkansas Reserve Officers' Training Corps program accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of 'purposely defrauding' the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

In the memo, retired Army Col. Eugene Holmes charged that Clinton deceived him by seeking entry to the Arkansas ROTC program as a 'ploy' to defer military service and failing to inform him about his 'anti-military activities.' Holmes also said he received 'several' calls from Clinton's draft board indicating that the office of Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) was 'putting pressure on them' to get Clinton a slot in the ROTC program so he could avoid the draft.

Holmes's statement was somewhat stronger than comments he made to the press earlier this year, but added little new information to the controversy about Clinton's actions. It was faxed to some news organizations on Wednesday by Holmes's daughter, Linda Burnette of Fort Smith, Ark., a vocal supporter of President Bush and sometime Republican activist who said yesterday that she had compiled it based on tape-recorded interviews she conducted with her ailing, 76-year-old father this summer.

Nevertheless, the Bush campaign, the White House and Republican congressmen seized on the document yesterday as fresh evidence of what they charge are Clinton's character defects. 'He was deceitful and he still cannot tell America the facts about what happened related to his problem with the ROTC and the draft,' White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said, en route to a campaign stop in Oklahoma.

("Bush Camp Distributes Memo In Effort To Keep The Clinton Draft Issue Alive" 09.18.92)

Will Bush Sr. be as "hawkish" on his son's service record?