Bush Campaign Lies

Monday, February 23, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #1: Bush Volunteered to go to Vietnam 

On the NPR program Morning Edition, on February 23, 2004, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said:

"John Kerry served his country very honorably, and we salute his service. We would never, for a moment, diminish his service to the country. At the same point in time, the President served his country very honorably too. He signed up for dangerous duty, he volunteered to go to Vietnam, uh, he wasn't selected to go, but nonetheless, served his country very well."
It is well known that there are some unanswered, and potentially embarrassing questions floating around George Bush's record of National Guard service. What is beyond dispute, however, is that George W. Bush never seriously attempted to fight in Vietnam.

Bush explicitly checked the box marked 'Do Not Volunteer For Overseas' on his 'Application for Extended Duty with the United States Air Force' (scroll to page 22 of the document). In his not-so-memorable interview on Meet The Press with Tim Russert on February 8, 2004, Russert stated the facts: ". . . you didn't volunteer or enlist to go [to Vietnam]", to which Bush replied "No, I didn't. You're right." In fact, The Nation reports that Bush's primary motivation for entering the Guard was to avoid a trip to Vietnam. The Nation quotes a 1994 Houston Chronicle article in which Bush allegedly said "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes." This quote may apocryphal, as different sources cite it from the 1990 Houston Chronicle or the 1990 Dallas Morning News. On the other hand, when given the opportunity to do so, White House spokesman Scott McClellan didn't deny the accuracy of this quote.

But Bush's campaign chairman somehow forgot this critical element of Bush's controversial military record. He decided not only that Bush volunteered, but that his service "compares very favorably" to Kerry's.

Bush's defenders will likely argue that although Bush did not volunteer for active-duty military service, in 1970 he did volunteer for the "Palace Alert" program, which sent qualified F-102 fighter pilots from the National Guard to Vietnam. But it's quite unlikely that Bush really expected to get sent to southeast Asia. According to an extensive piece in the Washington Post published prior to the 2000 election, Bush volunteered for the program just weeks before it was closed down, and anyway hadn't logged enough flight time to qualify for it.

Josh Marshall is most likely right when he says: "if he did sign up, he did so to sign up, not to go." So Racicot's statement may have been technically accurate, but was meant to deceive or give the wrong impression. By our ground rules, that makes it a lie.


Update: Via Josh Marshall, we've learned that on February 27, NPR did a follow-up report on the original interview with Racicot, which confirms everything written here. Racicot refused to be interviewed for this story, but the Bush campaign explained Racicot's statement by referencing media accounts of the Palace Alert program.

8:50 PM