Vietnam Syndrome

It seems to me that most of the underhanded tactics being employed in this election center around the Vietnam War, and how each candidate served his country during that war. Most of that is wasted effort (or should be, and at least is for me).

To see why, let’s assume the worst for each candidate. Let’s say Bush pulled family connections to get into the Air National Guard, was lazy and/or incompetent and/or insubordinate for his entire time in the Guard, and again pulled strings both to whitewash his record and get himself out early. So? Isn’t Bush’s ill-spent youth, and his subsequent turnaround, a part of his story? Certainly one would think a proven DUI conviction would be a lot more damaging than controversial and ill-sourced allegations over his diligence in military service.

Similarly, what if Kerry tried to avoid military service, used a little (unsuccessful) savvy to dodge dangerous duty, and embellished his war record to take advantage of a loophole and get out after only four months? It’s a part of his story, and speaks to his credibility to a degree (if all this is true, why hasn’t he been honest with us?), but it’s also water under the bridge. Kerry may not be making the case for his own ill-spent youth, but he certainly deserves as much consideration as Bush does on that score. More importantly, it seems clear to me that Kerry did deserve at least some of the honors bestowed on him during that time, which makes the endless nitpicking at his record all the more distasteful.

Both candidates have thirty years of activity separating them from their Vietnam duties, which should be plenty of time for either candidate to make up for any blemishes on his military record. If the indiscretions of three decades ago are all the negatives we have to judge each candidate, then we have two very fine candidates indeed. In the real world, the more relevant negatives that do exist (and they do, for both candidates) should be consuming the bulk of the time currently being spent on Vietnam.