- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

Politics makes strange bedfellows, and it does funny things to birds, too. Some of our doves, accustomed to flying on only one wing — the left — are auditioning as hawks.

Over 40 years the Democrats have raised sneering at military service and sacrifice to an art form. The mere sight of a uniform, especially if bedecked with medals and service ribbons, often sends liberals into something close to cardiac arrest. Add a flag or two and a little martial music and some Democrats (a former president and his mouthy wife come to mind) imagine they’re back at the Nuremberg rally.

But now the Democrats have found a bloody shirt, and have both a general and lieutenant eager to wave it. Flags and uniforms are in. Sneering at soldiers is, if not quite out, something to be done discreetly, and peaceniks of all people now imagine themselves qualified to weigh the military contributions of men in uniform.

Wesley Clark ought to know better. Mr. Clark won a Purple Heart in Vietnam and won fame bombing Bosnia, but he is afflicted with a tin ear. He doesn’t hear the difference between the music of Mozart and the din of a machine shop. When Michael Moore, the propagandist whose documentary movies sneer at everything American, repeated his slander of President Bush as “a deserter,” Mr. Clark took pains not to disagree.

“I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this,” he explained lamely a few days later. “I don’t know whether this is supported by the facts or not. I’ve never looked at it. I’ve seen this charge bandied about a lot. … He’s entitled to say that. I’ve seen — he’s not the only person who’s said that. I’ve not followed up on those facts.”

Well, of course he has a right to say it. Anyone has a right to say whatever he pleases, even to say that he has heard it “bandied about” that Wes Clark was asked not to return to his church because he was caught dropping a $10 bill in the poor box and taking out two $20s in change. A retired general, after all, can no longer shop at the PX. But we don’t know whether this is supported by the facts or not. We’ve never looked at it. (In fact, like Michael Moore, we just made it up.)

John Kerry, whose Vietnam War heroics appear to have been more heroic than Wes Clark’s since he won three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, is a politician and Wes Clark is not, so he is leaving it up to his friends to sneer that George W. was just a weekend warrior, and a reluctant one at that.

The rap on George W., noised about mostly by those who would rather go naked in a snowstorm than wear their country’s uniform, is that he went AWOL from a few Air National Guard make-up drills. This accusation got a tryout in 2000, when the Boston Globe measured George W.’s Air National Guard service against Al Gore’s duty writing press handouts in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Now some Democrats are trying to mount this horse, which is still dead.

Mr. Bush, fresh out of Yale, enlisted in 1968, first in the Air Force, as do most Air National Guardsmen, and learned to fly the F-102, a Delta-wing interceptor regarded by pilots as a particularly difficult plane to fly. He was then assigned to the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. His unit was never called to active duty during the four years he served in Texas. Most Guard units were not. Pilots who flew with him called him one of their best, and his flight instructor told the Boston Globe that “I would rank him among the top 5 percent of the pilots I knew.”

In 1972, he moved to Alabama to work in the unsuccessful Senate campaign of Winton Blount, and received permission to train with a squadron in Montgomery. One officer told the Globe that he didn’t remember the young Texan making up drills there; others do remember him. He returned to his Texas unit the following spring and made up some of the missed Alabama drills. Make-up drills were not unusual in Air National Guard units at that time.

George W. left the service in 1973 with an honorable discharge and the thanks of the Air Force. His record does not measure up to Michael Moore’s standards of service and patriotism, and maybe not to Wes Clark’s. But it’s good enough for everybody else.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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