Just when you start


Just when you start debating how much or whether the president’s military service record should be an issue in this campaign, you realize that the main reason it’s an issue is that the president and his surrogates just won’t stop lying about it.

This morning Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot was interviewed by Juan Williams on NPR. When asked about the president’s Air National Guard service he said, the president’s and John Kerry’s service “compare very favorably… He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well …”

He volunteered to go to Vietnam?

Marc, no he didn’t.

Does he think no one is listening?

(For some reason Williams, made no effort to call him on it.)

Let’s set aside the fact that pulling strings to get into the Air National Guard in 1968 is, on its face, quite the opposite of volunteering to go to Vietnam. When the president signed up for the National Guard there was a check box asking whether he wanted to volunteer for overseas service. And he checked off “do not volunteer.”

Now, the president’s defenders have tried to explain this in various ways, hypothesizing that some unknown other person checked off the box or, more plausibly, that he was instructed to do so since what he was actually signing up for was to fly planes in Texas. Of late, they’ve brought forward friends or fellow Guardsmen who say — with no documentary evidence whatsoever — that Bush at one point or another asked about serving in Vietnam.

(There is also the president’s claim that he volunteered for something called Palace Alert, a program that would have taken him to Thailand. But I believe there is no record of this. And as noted in this Washington Post interview from 1999, if he did sign up, it would have been within a week of the program’s being shut down — a fact that points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that if he did sign up, he did so to sign up, not to go.)

But however that may be, it is awfully hard to turn the “do not volunteer” into “do volunteer.”

This is just a preview of what we’re certain to see from the Bush campaign this year since it follows past practice so closely: Wait till the brouhaha subsides and then hopscotch over the remaining unanswered questions about the president’s service by making stuff up that is flatly contradicted by the record.

Who’s going to call them on this?