Phil Carter, who I think in many ways is the real deal has an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune (login using ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’) on Bush’s service and what it means in terms of his opinion of Bush as a leader and President.
It’s well written, serious, accurate, and amazingly wrong.
I’ve actually been dinking away on something on this and this gives me an opportunity to put the issues out there.
Here’s some of what Phil has to say:
Leadership by example is a principle that’s hammered into every newly minted American military officer. Soldiers want to follow leaders they trust, and the proven way to earn that trust is by force of personal example.
In practical terms, this means doing morning physical fitness training with your soldiers, carrying the same amount of weight as them, ensuring they eat before you do, and putting their welfare before your own. Above all else, it means never asking your soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.
President Bush’s 30-year-old service record from the Air National Guard is relevant because it shows us something about his willingness to share the same hardships as the soldiers he now commands today from the White House. The issue has never been whether he was guilty of desertion or being AWOL–two slanderous charges leveled without regard for the facts. The real issue has always been the character of his service, and whether it was good enough to set the example for America’s 1.4 million citizens in uniform.
I believe in the same kind of leadership that Phil describes here; the CEO who can get on the phone and sell, or sit down and design next year’s products, or who makes coffee when the pot is empty; the police chief who periodically takes a shift and makes arrests.
The sad reality is that our culture is dominated by players instead.
By ‘player’ I mean someone who uses gamesmanship, relationships, and manipulation rather than genuine accomplishment to advance. I’m not someone who’s going to say that it wasn’t always so; I’m willing to bet that in many cases it was. But we’ve advanced the art pretty damn far, and we’ve managed to make it some kind of an ironically self-aware aspect of our culture and about our expectations of power in it.
And sadly, virtually no one at the high levels of politics (or industry, or entertainment) these days is free of it. Phil is even more generous when he points out that Bush didn’t necessarily use connections to skate on his commitments:
The second issue that has relevance to today’s military is Bush’s early discharge. In 1973, the president sought and received an early discharge to attend Harvard Business School. He could have elected to serve longer, or to serve with a unit near Harvard for his last six months. But the Air Force discharged him early, largely because it had a glut of pilots at the Vietnam War’s end and it wasn’t about to keep a guardsman in that it didn’t need if he wanted to get out. Everything about this early discharge looks legitimate.
Nonetheless, this early discharge sends a symbolic message to today’s reservist, for whom such an early discharge isn’t an option. There are more than 200,000 reservists on active duty today in support of the global war on terrorism. The Pentagon takes a dim view today of reservists who ask to get out while they still owe time to the service. And on this president’s order, hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been kept in the military beyond the term of their enlistment contract with “stop loss” policies that prevent their discharge or transfer into the inactive reserves. Thirty years ago, Bush was willing to serve less than his full enlistment in order to pursue an MBA at Harvard. But now that he’s commander in chief, he wants to ask more of America’s military than he was willing to give when he was wearing a uniform.
It’s a great myth that we demand of our leaders that they share our sweat, sacrifice and effort. The great ones did – or appeared to – even while descending from wealth and privilege.
Let’s look at Kerry’s record (and I’ll do so in more detail soon).
Wounded three times in Vietnam, but missed minimal duty due to the wounds, but parlayed it into an early transfer from Vietnam.
Along with Kerry’s unquestionable and repeated bravery, he also took an action that has received far less notice: He requested and was granted a transfer out of Vietnam six months before his combat tour was slated to end on the grounds that he had earned three Purple Hearts. None of his wounds was disabling; he said one cost him two days of service and the other two did not lead to any absence.
Afterward, he requested and was granted an early discharge from the Navy to run for Congress.
It’s not a matter of doubt to me that Kerry – as much or more than Bush – used privilege, probably connections, and his knowledge and ability to manipulate the system to get himself what he wanted; possibly, in my estimation, to get his ticket punched so that, like his hero John Kennedy, he could campaign as a warrior.
Why does this matter? Not because I’m making a ‘Kerry is as bad as Bush’ argument (although I reserve the right to make it later). But it matters, because in truth if you look closely at the resumes of the thousand people in the country who could plausibly run for President, what percentage of them do you think have gamed portions of their careers?
Clap if you believe in fairies, or if you believe that the percentages are small.