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Yesterday I offered the following commentary on the debate over the authenticity of the alleged memos on Bush’s alleged no-show for Air National Guard appointments: Blah blah blah. As devastatingly brilliant as that response was, that didn’t stop it from netting some critical responses from intelligent people; so it’s worth taking a bit of time to follow up a bit on why I think that the issue isn’t worth taking a bit of time to follow up on. (If this seems paradoxical, you’ll have to review the object language / meta-language distinction.)

Sam Haque defended the claim that Bush’s war record does matter:

Well the issue is important beacause as President he shouldn’t be giving orders for US soldiers to do things he wouldn’t do himself. These countries are being invaded on the authority of President who knows of war from Hollywood. To quote Vonnegut, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who’d really fought.

I responded to some of these points in situ on the page; but there is a larger point to insist on here. Although I certainly agree with Sam that Bush’s bellicose Hollywood strutting (bomber jacket, War President, and all), when held up in comparison to his (perfectly rational!) unwillingness to ship off and fight in Vietnam, reveals him as a pretty contemptible character, I don’t think it would have made him better to have signed up to fight in Vietnam. John Kerry’s voluntary enlistment in Vietnam was bold but it was not courageous–there is no virtue in letting yourself get duped into volunteering to ship off and kill people for another dumb imperial war. John Kerry was courageous to live up to his own conscience and, after getting out of Vietnam as quickly as possible, standing up to oppose the war. Which is part of the reason it’s too damn bad that he can’t seem to live up to that anymore.

All well and good, but the thing is that none of these issues, or the issue that Sam originally raised, are the issue that’s being debated in the bluster over the Killian memos. All the parties to that debate are already well aware that Bush dodged the draft by heading into the Texas ANG, and that part of his ability to land that cushy position was due to being the fortunate son of a powerful Dad. The debate here isn’t over whether he dodged the draft, but whether (a) he dodged the draft and then failed to show up for some of the pointless rigamarole involved in a pointless position he never should have been coerced into taking, or (b) dodged the draft and then showed up for all the stupid stuff he was told to show up for. (Actually, that‘s not even the debate; the debate is over whether or not some of the evidence claimed for (a) is genuine or a forgery.)

On that note, I echo my own statements from yesterday’s post, and sympathize with John Lopez’s comments:

Not at all. My interest is in the fact that Dan Rather is a confirmed lying sack of garbage. I don’t care one iota that Kerry and Bush dodged the draft – I’d say “good for them”, if I didn’t hold them both in utter contempt. As for what “the most important political issue in the world” is, that happens to be my one-and-only life, which is affected more by the culture of willful self-deception we live in than by, say, the mess in Iraq.

George Bush had every right to dodge the draft, and happened to have the opportunity at hand. If he was also able to get away with skipping some of the pointless rigamarole that his draft-evasion technicality supposedly required, then more power to him; would that everyone had the opportunities that he did.

If there is any interesting issue here, as John Lopez rightly points out, it hasn’t got anything to do with whether or not Bush actually failed to show up for something or another. The only real point where interesting discussion might be possible (unless other observers are willing to honestly take on the issue of individual rights, the draft, and Vietnam–and they are far too busy dickering over the latest inconsistent poll numbers for that) is CBS’s conduct: whether one thinks that they published a major exposé based on forgeries, and if so, how culpable they were in the process.

John thinks that they are forgeries, and that CBS and Dan Rather are being revealed as at best casually indifferent to the truth. I don’t have much of a dog in that fight–I haven’t spent much time researching the issue, have mostly skipped over posts about it on other blogs because of the fact that I don’t care, and only mention it at all here in order to point out why I think the whole debate is a waste of time–in particluar when it’s being pursued by apparatchiks such as Drum or that other Charles Johnson dude, who–unlike John Lopez–are trying to make some partisan hay out of the memos (whether at Mr. Kerry’s or Mr. Bush’s expense). I will say, though, that I think that, say, the on-going disaster in Iraq and the never-ending stream of lies and Newspeak coming out of the ruling class in the attempt to justify it or explain it away, or the know-nothing bellicosity that the rank and file of the Right lap up, is a lot more troubling than the sort of nonsense that’s produced by the everlasting jabber of court intellectuals talking to each other about each other’s opinions. (N.B.: I’ve read too much of John Lopez’s excellent contributions at No Treason to include him in this characterization–but I do think that he has–as we all do sometimes–fallen victim to one of its smelly red herrings.)

If you want cases that reveal Rather and his colleagues in network and cable news as a bunch of dishonest gasbags, war coverage is where it’s at. (When PIPA found that television news actively made you stupider about the Iraq War, nobody should have been surprised.) And these are the sorts of lies and prevarication and ruddy-faced ignorance that actually hit home, that most people end up listening to and arguing about and having to sort through when they think about how politics impacts their lives. Not to mention, say, the crying need for rational discussion of abortion rights–which reminds me that I need to get back to part II of Pro-Choice on Everything–or something, Jesus, anything that actually bears on your life or the lives of some folks that you know.

The kind of gossip-rag material that flies around most election coverage, on the other hand, is an excellent indicator of how degraded political culture has become. But the rules of the game with the chattering class are so twisted that it’s no longer clear that either truth or rationality is even expected–even part of the rules in the language game. Or perhaps that these terms could, in those contexts, only be deployed to indicate the conformity of a position to the party line. Spending much of any time trying to get to the bottom of this sort of noise, or to correct it, seems much less to the point than simply working to replace it; certainly it’s not a strategy that has ever seemed to me to be well-justified by its success. The sort of people who bring themselves to hang on the twists and turns of issues such as these–who provide the major market niche for channels devoted to 24-7 soundbite repetition–who are outraged at Dan Rather but not at Brit Hume (or vice versa)–are not really the sort of people who are worth worrying about, or addressing, or trying to convince of the bankruptcy of the professional news media.

Further reading:

2 replies to Yadda yadda yadda Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. jim

    I consider the fact that Bush dodged the draft to be vitally important, because he thought it was just fine for other people to go and fight. Just not him.

    One of his Harvard business school instructors remembers him saying exactly that. And it fits in with every example of his current character, as shown in the past few years.

    “Here was Bush, wearing a Texas Guard bomber jacket, and the draft was the No. 1 topic in those days. And I said, ‘George, what did you do with the draft?’ He said, ‘Well, I got into the Texas Air National Guard.’ And I said, ‘Lucky you. I understand there is a long waiting list for it. How’d you get in?’ When he told me, he didn’t seem ashamed or embarrassed. He thought he was entitled to all kinds of privileges and special deals. He was not the only one trying to twist all their connections to avoid Vietnam. But then, he was fanatically for the war.”

    Tsurumi told Bush that someone who avoided a draft while supporting a war in which others were dying was a hypocrite. “He realized he was caught, showed his famous smirk and huffed off.”

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/09/16/tsurumi/index1.html

    So, war is good enough for other people to die fighting for, but not something good enough for him to risk his life for. He’s better than that.

    This is the sort of attitude that he has clearly displayed throughout his presidency. In a commander in chief, that sort of attitude is completely, totally unacceptable.

  2. Rad Geek

    Jim is right to point out–as has already been pointed out in this space several times–that Bush’s conduct during the Vietnam War probably shows him to be a perfectly contemptible person, and there’s good reason to believe that as a person Bush was then, and is now, shot through with a sense of personal entitlement that shapes the way he has spent the past four years. Fine, but there are two important points to be made in the context of this post.

    1. There is no reasonable debate at all over the fact that George Bush dodged the draft (as he had every moral right to do!) by using his fortunate position to secure a spot in the Air National Guard. But the bluster right now is not bluster over whether George Bush dodged the draft. That’s universally granted. It’s over whether (a) he dodged the draft in a cushy ANG position and went through with all of the pointless rigamarole that they expected him to go through with, or (b) he dodged the draft in a cushy ANG position and didn’t bother to show up for some of the stupid bullshit that they expected him to go through with as part of avoiding military enslavement. Whatever interesting facts Bush’s wartime attitudes and activities may tell us about his character, this debate offers no interesting insight into anything at all.

    2. When it comes to George Bush’s decision to dodge the draft, you may very well be right that it revealed him as a hypocrite and the worst sort of armchair warrior. But the way that many critics of Bush are framing the issue now–particularly when they contrast Bush with John Kerry–completely misses the point. Bush would have been more consistent, but he would not have been more noble, if he fanatically supported the war and volunteered to go fight in it. The war he fanatically supported was a bloody, futile, immoral assault; following his beliefs to participate in that pointless slaughter would just have made him a bolder belligerent ass rather than the cowardly belligerent ass that he was. The rhetoric that many Kerry partisans use–of Bush “shirking” his duty (what duty is there to kill yourself and others in pointless and immoral wars?), and of Kerry heroically standing up and doing his duty (what duty is there to fight in a war that he was duped into supporting, but later rightly condemned as a moral disaster and a giant con?) is a complete perversion of the actual history of the Vietnam War and what it meant to participate in it.

    3. Finally, on a similar note, I hope I hardly need to mention the not-so-subtle sexism involved in using this overblown warrior rhetoric to praise Real Man John Kerry and condemn Sniveling Girly Man George Bush. Being willing to run around the world blowing people up, rather than having a sensible regard for your own person, is not a virtue, and I can’t think of any reason for praising it as a virtue unless you have the fucked up idea that Real Men kill things, and people with a sensible aversion to combat are weenies. But the problem with George Bush was not that he refused to fight–which is exactly what he should have done–but that he didn’t have the wit, the courage, or the judgment to recognize the war for what it was, and therefore stop supporting it.

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