E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post:
It is to be welcomed that President Bush wants to clear up questions about his National Guard service. He wants more details out there, and good for him. This story should be laid to rest, and the one person who can do it is named George W. Bush.
Up to now, Bush has been interested in a rather narrow aspect of the story. He wanted Dan Rather and CBS News to come clean about whether they used fake documents in reporting on the president’s Guard service back in the 1970s.
“There are a lot of questions and they need to be answered,” Bush told the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., last week. “I think what needs to happen is people need to take a look at the documents, how they were created, and let the truth come out.”
I couldn’t agree more. And apparently CBS came to the same view. CBS messed up, and yesterday, Rather fessed up. He said the network could no longer stand behind the documents. There will be much hand-wringing about the media in the coming days, and properly so.
But what’s good for Dan Rather, who is not running for president, ought to be good for George Bush, who is. “There are a lot of questions and they need to be answered.” Surely that presidential sentiment applies as much to Bush’s Guard service as to Rather’s journalistic methods.
Bush could end this story now so we could get to the real issues of 2004. It would require only that the president take an hour or so with reporters to make clear what he did and did not do in the Guard. He may have had good reasons for ducking that physical exam. Surely he can explain the gaps in his service and tell us honestly whether any pull was used to get him into the Guard.
But a guy who is supposed to be so frank and direct turns remarkably Clintonian where the National Guard issue is concerned. “I met my requirements and was honorably discharged” is Bush’s stock answer, which does old Bill proud. And am I the only person exasperated by a double standard that treated everything Bill Clinton ever did in his life (“I didn’t inhale”) as fair game but now insists that we shouldn’t sully ourselves with any inconvenient questions about Bush’s past? [Emphasis in original.]
The whirlwind around CBS and their memos is a perfect diversionary tactic that the Bush administration and their chorus of harpies mastered long ago. What is lost in all the dust about the provenance of the Killian memos is the plain fact that George W. Bush has not told the truth about his Texas Air National Guard service. How many times do we have to say that before it sinks in?