Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2004 / 19 Shevat, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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Dems trying oh so hard to keep tired issue alive | The presidential campaign is already so nasty that the Democratic establishment is taking its cues from filmmaker Michael Moore.

It shows, sadly, that the Democrats believe their core supporters hate President Bush so much they don't care about the truth of accusations that impugn his character.

Moore's politics are so bizarre that even the politically correct Hollywood crowd booed him last year when he slammed Bush during the Academy Award ceremonies when he received an Oscar for his ``Bowling for Columbine.''

A few weeks ago Moore called the president a "deserter," making the unsupported charge that Bush did not complete his military service requirement in the Texas Air National Guard in 1972-73.

The allegation is an article of faith among those who still wrongly believe Bush didn't fairly win the 2000 election. They don't seem to care that there is no proof the charge is true.

Bush has said he completed the meeting and flying requirements, and his honorable discharge proves the point. The loony left raised this issue during the 2000 presidential campaign, but it didn't get any political traction. Democratic nominee Al Gore declined to be associated with the charge, apparently believing that it was both erroneous and politically risky.

The officer to whom Bush was to have reported for duty in 1972, retired Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, has said he doesn't remember seeing Bush on the base. But Turnipseed concedes that he may not have been there during much of the time in question himself.

The lack of any new evidence to give their smear campaign legitimacy doesn't seem to have made a difference to the Democratic hierarchy this time. Perhaps that's because the economy and the situation in Iraq are improving, and the Democrats are desperate for an issue on which to impugn the president's character.

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In 2000, they insinuated that Bush wasn't smart enough to be president, but the public's approval of his performance after the 9-11 attacks made that a non-starter. Democratic presidential wannabe Wesley Clark, the former general Moore has adopted as his candidate, refused to dissociate himself from Moore's remarks after the filmmaker made them at a Clark campaign rally.

When ABC's Peter Jennings, hardly a Bush supporter, suggested to Clark in a nationally televised debate that Moore's remarks were "a reckless charge not supported by the facts," Clark responded by defending Moore's right of free speech. Hardly reflecting the good judgment that he brags his military background gives him, the general ducked the issue, telling Jennings that he didn't know enough to judge the matter.

Clark must realize that the charge of desertion during times of war such as Vietnam is so serious that the punishment could be death. His failure to dissociate himself from Moore's charge, despite the president's honorable discharge from the Guard, constitutes cowardice under political fire.

Not only is Clark's shuffle a sorry comment on his own ethics, it highlights the belief that pandering to Democratic voters by bashing Bush without regard to the truth will win points with the party faithful. Yet, Clark, despite his Oklahoma primary-election victory, isn't going to be the Democratic nominee for president.

What is especially disconcerting is the apparently orchestrated effort to keep the issue alive by front-runner John Kerry, whose primary victories have brought virtually the entire party establishment to his corner.

Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who would not go to the bathroom these days without Kerry's assent, said that, although he thought "deserter might not be the right word - AWOL (absent without leave) is more appropriate" to describe the president's behavior.

McAuliffe's allegation that "the facts are that George Bush didn't show up when he was supposed to in the National Guard" is almost as embarrassing as it is unsupported.

When asked about his view of these allegations, Kerry showed his well-honed political skills that allowed him at various times to portray himself as both a supporter and opponent of the war in Iraq.

Bush's military record is "a question that I think remains open," said Kerry. There is some irony that Kerry, who won a Silver Star for bravery as a naval officer in Vietnam, then tried to weasel away by adding, "I don't even know what the facts are."

And that's the point.

There are no new facts, only the same ones that were reviewed four years ago.

The only explanation is that the Democrats are desperate - so desperate that they're stooping to taking their marching orders from Michael Moore.

If Kerry and McAuliffe have new evidence, let's hear it. If not, they ought to shut up and move on to an issue that's not based on a lie.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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