Staying Out of Harm's Way

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, September 14, 2004; 11:07 AM

President Bush speaks today at noon Pacific time to the National Guard Association convention in Las Vegas, and it looks like it's going to be a speech with a lot of subtext.

When young George W. Bush secured a National Guard post in 1968, it got him out of harm's way. Getting in the Guard meant you weren't going to get drafted and very few guardsmen were sent to the jungles of Vietnam.

Today's Guard is very much in harm's way. More than 225,000 guardsmen -- roughly half the force -- have been called to active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. They are heroically bearing a considerable portion of the burden of the war in Iraq.

And while today's George W. Bush find himself facing many questions about his Guard service -- how he got in, whether he fulfilled his obligations -- when the president speaks in Las Vegas today, he's expected to stay out of harm's way on that whole issue, as well.

Deb Riechmann writes in the Associated Press that Bush is "not expected to address the controversy swirling around unexplained gaps in his service in the Texas Air National Guard in his address to the 126th National Guard Association of the United States conference Tuesday in Las Vegas."

Instead, he is expected "to express his pride in commanding the tens of thousands of guardsmen mobilized for the war on terror and other missions at home and abroad."

Maria L. LaGanga writes in the Los Angeles Times: "When President Bush arrives in Las Vegas today to address a convention of National Guardsmen, a group of families will be there as well, intent on protesting the Iraq war and a president who they say used his Guard service to avoid combat.

"'We think the real issue now is the Iraq war, it's not the Vietnam War,' said Charley Richardson, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, which organized the protest. 'But we can't help notice the irony that a person who managed to avoid going to combat by joining the National Guard is now sending the National Guard into combat in a war based on lies.'"

Tom Bowman writes in the Baltimore Sun: "During the Vietnam War, the National Guard was seen by many as a haven from the draft and the jungles of Southeast Asia. . . .

"Only 7,000 Guard soldiers deployed to Vietnam, a tiny percentage of the more than 2 million U.S. troops who served there. . . .

"But now, combat brigades, such as the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade (Armor) of the North Carolina National Guard, serve in Iraq alongside active-duty soldiers and Marines. Thousands of part-time soldiers are providing security at bases in the United States and overseas. . . .

"Moreover, the National Guard has been thrust to the fore in the presidential campaign, with charges by Kerry that the 'stop-loss' policy that prevents Army soldiers, including Guard troops, from leaving right before or after deployment overseas amounts to a 'backdoor draft.' . . .

"Bush, who is to speak today at the association's annual convention in Las Vegas, has tried to borrow the mantle of the current Guard soldier, many of whom are patrolling in hazardous alleyways of urban Iraq, when discussing his service as a stateside fighter pilot. 'I would be careful not to denigrate the Guard,' Bush said this year. 'There are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.'"

Joshua Chaffin writes in the Financial Times: "Mr Bush will face a delicate task in wooing reservists. After playing a modest role in the Iraq invasion, they now account for nearly half of the troops on the ground and are taking equivalent casualties. The reliance on reservists in Iraq has disrupted families and businesses on the home front, while also triggering complaints that the president sent part-time soldiers into battle with insufficient training and equipment."

Michael Martinez writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Concerns about strain on the Guard are held by many of the 4,700 who were on hand for the conference's opening day Monday. They are proud that they and reservists make up 40 percent of the troops in the Iraq, playing a high-profile role not seen since World War II, they said. But as the 17-month conflict drags on, the citizen soldiers who make up the National Guard wonder how long they will be forced to juggle the demands of combat deployment as well as their civilian careers and family."

Bill Nichols writes in USA Today: "In more than two dozen interviews of the nearly 4,000 delegates and exhibitors arriving here, current and retired Guard members offered the same advice to Bush and Kerry: Focus on the future of the military and give the rehash of Vietnam a rest."

The Docu-Drama

Michael Dobbs and Howard Kurtz write in The Washington Post about the "growing evidence challenging the authenticity" of the memos allegedly from President Bush's former squadron commander aired Wednesday on CBS's '60 Minutes.'"

Here's Dan Rather on the "CBS Evening News" last night, sticking by the documents, which he says he still believes are authentic.

Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times that White House communications director Dan Bartlett said yesterday that Bush did not defy a direct order when he failed to take his annual physical in 1972.

Even if the documents are legit, they're benign, Bartlett argues.

"I don't accept that premise, that he defied a direct order. He did not take a flight physical because he was no longer going to fly," Bartlett said.

"It's not as if he was defying, as people try to say, a direct order. He was speaking to the very commanders who were in charge of the unit at the time about his personal situation and what he was doing and explaining why he wasn't going to take the flight exam. ... I think the commanders were obvious in saying, then keeping your flight status up was irrelevant."

Curl writes that Bartlett said he had showed the documents to Bush, "and he did not remember them.

"He remembers not taking the flight exam, obviously, but he said, 'It wasn't a big deal because I was going to Alabama where I wasn't going to be flying.'"

John Cook and Andrew Zajac writes in the Chicago Tribune: "CBS News on Monday stood by its story, but First Lady Laura Bush said she believes the documents are fakes."

Meanwhile, Phil Hirschkorn reports for CNN: "A business school professor who taught George W. Bush at Harvard University in the early 1970s says the future president told him that family friends had pulled strings to get him into the Texas Air National Guard."

Dana Milbank writes in his White House Notebook column in The Washington Post: "The White House is no longer saying the 'entire file' has been released. In fact, the search for Bush's Guard documents continues -- and is being directed by a three-star general, according to a person with knowledge of the situation."

Yesterday, Milbank asked Bartlett if he knew of any more Bush Guard records.

Bartlett replied: "Based on our experience, we have continued to ask the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau for any and all official documents. They are working hard to ensure that we have recovered them all."

(In his other notebook items, Milbank also explains how "only those with big bladders need apply for the White House beat.")

Big-Government Republican?

Mike Allen writes in a Washington Post news analysis: "The expansive agenda President Bush laid out at the Republican National Convention was missing a price tag, but administration figures show the total is likely to be well in excess of $3 trillion over a decade.

"A staple of Bush's stump speech is his claim that his Democratic challenger, John F. Kerry, has proposed $2 trillion in long-term spending, a figure the Massachusetts senator's campaign calls exaggerated. But the cost of the new tax breaks and spending outlined by Bush at the GOP convention far eclipses that of the Kerry plan."

Allen notes a certain disingenuousness from the president on the issue. "Discussing his agenda during an 'Ask the President' campaign forum in Portsmouth, Ohio, Bush said Friday that he has 'explained how we're going to pay for it, and my opponent can't explain it because he doesn't want to tell you he's going to have to tax you.'"

But, Allen writes: "The White House has declined to provide a full and detailed accounting of the cost of the new agenda."

Of course it's possible that Bush does intend to cut spending in his next term, but just doesn't want to explain how until after the election.

Allen writes: "The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include $2.3 billion in spending cuts from virtually all domestic programs not mandated by law, including education, homeland security and others central to Bush's campaign."

Assault Weapons Ban Expires

Press secretary Scott McClellan was repeatedly asked in yesterday's gaggle to describe one step -- any step -- the president took to have the assault weapons ban reauthorized. He couldn't.

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "Bush had said he supported the law, but he did not pressure the GOP-led Congress to extend the 10-year ban on 19 firearm models that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994."

On NBC's "Nightly News" Carl Quintanilla reported that Sen. John F. Kerry's attack on the expiration of the assault weapons ban has put Bush "on the defensive."

And his report has video of Bush campaigning in Michigan, ignoring the shouted question: "Mr. President, why allow the assault weapons ban to expire without a fight?"

Bush Stumps on Health Care

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush sped across southwest Michigan on Monday, assailing Senator John Kerry for plans that he said would result in nationalized health care. Mr. Bush also defended his proposal to privatize part of Social Security, saying longstanding Democratic contentions that it would undercut the system amounted to 'the most tired, pathetic way to campaign for the presidency.'

"Mr. Bush's characterizations of Mr. Kerry and his plans seemed to grow more heated as the president moved from rally to rally during his 21st visit to this state, which he narrowly lost in 2000."

Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn provide some context for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Bush's assertions, which are also the subject of a new campaign ad, repeat the criticism of former first lady Hillary Clinton's plan to overhaul health care. . . .

"In fact, Kerry's health-care plan studiously avoids any similarity to the one proposed in 1993 by the Clintons. It relies on existing agencies and on tax breaks to employers and tax credits to individuals to ensure access to the same health care program available to members of Congress and federal employees.

"Kerry would have the federal government underwrite the cost of catastrophic care, a step that would ease expenses on companies and their employees but add to the federal government's costs."

Here's the full text of Bush's speeches in Muskegon, then Holland, then Battle Creek.

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Bush twice during the day cited what he called an 'independent study' that concluded Kerry's health plan would cost the taxpayers $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

"The study is from the American Enterprise Institute, a Bush-friendly think tank; Vice President Cheney's wife, Lynne, was a scholar there, and one of their daughters, Liz, is a fellow."

Allen also calls attention to this utterly fantastical tale Bush told yesterday, while arguing that his audience would have to pay more taxes to fund Kerry's plans.

"So I said to him the other day, well, how are you going to pay for them?" Bush said at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds in Holland, Mich. "And he said, 'That's easy -- just tax the rich.' "

I'm not missing something here, am I?

Janet Hook and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times take a long look at the candidates' health policies and conclude: "Kerry would expand the existing system of employer-provided insurance and federal health programs for those who slip through the cracks. Bush, in healthcare as in other aspects of social policy, wants to rely on market-oriented alternatives to government programs."

Wallsten also writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush on Monday repeated his opposition to allowing seniors to buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies as a way to save money, calling it unsafe for consumers."

The Cost of Tax Simplification

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush has vowed to make tax reform a centerpiece of a second term, but an internal Treasury Department study in late 2002 warned that any fundamental simplification of the nation's tax system would 'produce windfall winners and losers,' would likely lower taxes for the rich, and could have devastating political consequences for its champions.

"The document was posted last week on a Web site maintained by author Ron Suskind, who received thousands of documents from former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill for the preparation of a book about O'Neill's tenure in the Bush administration."

Here's the study.

Bush and the Environment

Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times: "Over the last three and a half years, federal officials have accelerated resource development on public lands. They have also pushed to eliminate regulatory hurdles for military and industrial projects.

"From the start, Bush officials challenged the status quo and revised the traditional public-policy calculus on environmental decisions. They put an instant hold on many Clinton administration regulations, and the debates over those issues and others are intensely polarized.

"The administration has sought to increase the harvesting of energy and other resources on public lands, to seek cooperative ways to reduce pollution, to free the military from environmental restrictions and to streamline - opponents say gut - regulatory and enforcement processes."

Debate Prep

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been sparring with mock-debate partners since midsummer, getting ready for Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards.

"In late July, Bush began practicing with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., inside the White House residence, officials said Monday. Gregg also played Al Gore in debate preparation in 2000.

"Cheney started debate rehearsal in early August, jousting with Rep. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and longtime Bush family friend."

The Things Left Unsaid

Carol Giacomo writes for Reuters: "As he campaigns on a platform of having made America safer, President Bush usually does not talk about nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran that show no sign of resolution."

Kitty Kelley Watch

Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today: "Seven weeks before Election Day, a new book that paints an unflattering picture of President Bush and his family is putting celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley in the eye of a political hurricane."

Kiely writes that while Kelley "did nearly 1,000 interviews and compiled 2,800 files and about 10,000 pages of transcribed tapes . . . her most sensational allegations of personal impropriety by the current president and his father are less definitively documented. The one raising the most controversy is Kelley's charge that the current President Bush used cocaine with one of his brothers at Camp David when their father was in the White House. . . .

"During his 2000 campaign, Bush was asked about drug use but he never gave a direct answer," Kiely writes.

"Bush, who has admitted problems with drinking, swore off alcohol on his 40th birthday, in 1986, three years before his father became president. His defenders say that makes the story of cocaine use at Camp David even less credible."

The Washington Post's Linton Weeks had lunch with Kelley yesterday.

The first reviews are out, from Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times and David Talbot of Salon.

And Kelley underwent another barrage today on "Today," the second of three, with Matt Lauer throwing many of the White House talking points at her.

Kelley was unfazed.

"This isn't the first time that the White House, the Bush White House, has tried to trash the messenger who is bringing the message," she said. "Just read the book and look at the documentation. The American people will have to make up their own mind."

© 2004