In his speech last night at the Democratic national convention, Clinton was in top form. He pretended to be self-deprecating when comparing himself and, more importantly, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney to John Kerry. Kerry served in Vietnam for four months, whereas the others stayed home. Of course, quite a few others served in Vietnam for even longer than Senator Kerry. If Vietnam service were an essential attribute in a President, why not run them? On the other hand, both Presidents Clinton and Bush have demonstrated that Vietnam service is not essential (not even a "nice to have"). I have a personal preference as to which outperformed the other, but that's another discussion.
Of course, there are plenty of Vietnam vets with honorable service. Kerry is easily outdistanced by them. But that doesn't qualify them to be President. It's largely irrelevant.
On the other hand, how one avoided service might be an issue. Some avoided military service during the war by leaving the country. President Carter offered these men amnesty and I won't argue with that decision. There is a time for forgiveness. Still, I would be reluctant to raise such a person to the office of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. It just might rankle some to be asked to risk their lives by someone unwilling to do the same.
Clinton did not dodge the draft. He didn't have to. It seems likely that he would have if it had been necessary. He made plenty of preparation to avoid this service, as did many others his age, but in the end he didn't need to dodge the draft as he pulled a lucky lottery number.
The disturbing thing about Clinton and the draft is how he did his best to obscure the means by which he avoided military service. This was the first, or one of the first, tastes we got of the Clinton modus operandi: slowly let the truth eke out, never apologize for the lies and half-truths that preceded it. We would later see this regarding the FBI files scandal, the White House Travel Office scandal, the campaign finance abuse scandal, and ultimately, the lies under oath that brought about his impeachment.
The ironic aspect of this is that a few of the most die-hard Bush haters, those who are quickest to give a pass to Clinton for his lack of military service and his reluctance to tell the truth about it, are the first to claim that Bush is hiding something regarding his 6 years in the Texas National Guard.
But of course, Clinton knows the subtext of the veiled criticism of himself, Bush and Cheney: "Now, I know y'all will forgive me for this, but don't let that stop you from beating Bush and Cheney with this stick all night long". The double standard is obvious. When Clinton ran for office, Kerry said (in a rebuke to Clinton primary rival Bob Kerrey)
I am saddened by the fact that Vietnam has yet again been inserted into the campaign, and that it has been inserted in what I feel to be the worst possible way… What saddens me most is that Democrats, above all those who shared the agonies of that generation, should now be re-fighting the many conflicts of Vietnam in order to win the current political conflict of a presidential primary.
But of George W. Bush he said
I've never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard. Those are choices people make.
Excuse me, but some of us draw broad distinctions between avoiding the draft by going overseas or to jail, and minimally putting yourself at risk as a C.O. or joining the guard. Some of Bush's fellow guardsmen died flying the same type of plane in which Bush logged many hours of flight. Nonetheless, why is it Kerry considered Vietnam service taboo when used against Bill Clinton, but now that it is to his potential advantage, it bears repeating unto distraction.
Clinton knows that whatever mistake or sin he may have committed, he will be forgiven by his fellow Democrats. His wife suggested that this is because "He showed Democrats how to win again". Perhaps. Although, James Taranto is skeptical of just how accurate that assessment is:
Let's just say it's unproven. Of course, he was the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term as president. But when he took office, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Within two years, the party had lost both chambers. They made some gains in subsequent elections (in the House in 1996-2000 and the Senate in 2000), but not enough to make up for the 1994 losses.
This may be why they are so quick to forgive Clinton. I rather think the explanation is even simpler than that. I think that Democrat politicians just don't care that much about practicing piety or adhering to principle. Democrats do, I mean, ordinary Democratic voters do in their daily lives, but they excuse it in their political leaders. Politicians in general, and Democratic politicians more than the rest, are never afraid to rise above principle for the sake of their party. Clinton gave them ample opportunity to demonstrate this, or more devoutly to be wished, to prove me wrong on this. But sadly, they did not. Though Clinton out-Nixoned Nixon, they knew better than to let him suffer Nixon's fate, lest their party suffer what Nixon's party suffered.
Republican Senators, when faced with the misdeeds of their party leader in 1974, refused to hang tight and defend him. Nixon probably suborned perjury and obstructed justice. But then so did Clinton, and he explicitly perjured himself to boot. What we learned from Clinton is that you can get away with it. Had the Republicans hung tight and refused to vote for removal, Nixon would have finished his term. He might even have turned survival of humiliating impeachment into a badge of honor. Of course, Nixon did not let it come to that, and that is at least something to his credit. For all his faults, he lacked Clinton's hubris.
And what good can we say about Clinton? He sure gives a good speech. He has a way of making even the most absurd things sound reasonable. He accuses Republicans of not caring about others, of being a ruling elite devoid of compassion for their fellow men, of robbing from the poor to give to the rich. None of this is true, mind you, and it tends to sicken and infuriate those who are accused as such. But he says it with a smile and a wink and darn it, it's hard to stay mad at him (unless of course, you have an IQ over 100 and Alzheimer's has yet to take hold).
Here are some examples:
So Republicans want Republicans to run the show. What? And Democrats don't want to put Democrats in charge?
The Republicans in Washington believe that America should be run by the 'right' people — their people...
...in a world in which America acts unilaterally when we can and cooperates when we have to...
Of course, the opposite is true. Bush sought and gained cooperation from allies both in the Afghanistan and Iraq operations. He didn't achieve universal consensus, but at least he tried. Clinton did not even attempt to get either NATO or UN support before sending troops into Bosnia or bombing Serbia into submission. But, as I said before, Clinton deceives as easily as he breathes.
They believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political and social views...Mind you, the tax cuts Bush championed do not take into account anyone's ideology or political affiliation. No one was denied this or any other benefit because of their economic, political or social views, nor can Clinton point to a single law signed by Bush that does. But why bother with facts when you can make a real spiffy point by ignoring them?
And isn't it rather disingenuous to claim that Republicans are concentrating wealth whilst the standard bearers of Clinton's party are multi-millionaires, Kerry's wife is a billionaire and both Clintons are millionaires? What of George Soros, Michael Moore and Denise Rich? Have the Bloodworth-Thomasons drifted into the poorhouse over the last few years? Has Terry MacAuliffe lost his Global Crossing millions? Who exactly is doing the concentrating here?
...leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security.I have to agree with him on this last bit. Sensible people of every stripe expect that ordinary citizens fend for themselves when it comes to health care and retirement security. We also expect them to feed themselves, clothes themselves, make their own beds and wipe their respective hind ends. What's wrong with this?
This is truly where Democrats and Republicans part company. Republicans will gladly extend a helping hand to those in need, the poor, the indigent, the handicapped. But ordinary people, well, we expect them to pull their own weight. How could the country function otherwise? Is Clinton suggesting that the rich should pay for the health care and retirement checks whilst all the rest, the ordinary citizens, relax and drink pina coladas? Pardon me for noticing, but that way leads to ruin. The accounts won't balance.
Certainly, I am disappointed with Clinton's speech, and yet I expect such baloney from him. My greater disappointment stems from the wild and unthinking acceptance of his blarney by the Democrats in Boston and those listening across the country. This nation needs a strong, vibrant, intelligent party to oppose the Republicans. Absent a reasonable alternative, the Republicans would have free rein to do as they like, regardless of the wisdom or ultimate effect of their actions.