Via Jesse Singal at the Washington Monthly, the Texas Monthly‘s Joe Hagan does a longform retelling of George W. Bush’s first big signature screwup (and the blowback that’s distorted American politics ever since):
… It was the 1988 presidential campaign of Bush’s father that first raised the issue of a privileged son from Texas getting special access to the National Guard—only the privileged son wasn’t a Bush. Michael Dukakis, the elder Bush’s opponent, had recently chosen Senator Lloyd Bentsen, of Houston, as his running mate. One Sunday morning in August of that year, George H. W. Bush’s campaign co-chairman, New Hampshire governor John Sununu, went on TV to attack Bentsen for allegedly helping his son, Lloyd Bentsen III, enter the Texas Air National Guard in 1968. “Someone called Senator Bentsen to point out to him that this special slot, which was rare, came open,” said Sununu, and Bentsen “ran to get his son to fill that.”
This was the first presidential election in which candidates’ Vietnam-era decisions were resonating among the electorate. The question of who did what in the sixties, when an unpopular war divided the nation, had become a litmus test. (Incidentally, this was also the year that Dan Rather established himself as a Bush family enemy by needling then–vice president Bush with questions about his role in the Iran-Contra affair in an infamous live interview on CBS.) With Democrats attacking the elder Bush’s own running mate, Dan Quayle, for joining the Indiana National Guard during Vietnam, Sununu’s claim was a natural counteroffensive. But it boomeranged. It turned out that George W. Bush, at the time a senior staff member in his father’s campaign, had served in the same Houston unit as Lloyd Bentsen III and was recruited the same year by the same man, Colonel Walter “Buck” Staudt. That unit, the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, tasked with defending the Gulf Coast, was well-known as a “champagne unit” because it housed not only Bentsen and Bush but a number of other sons of the Texas elite, such as John Connally III, son of the former Texas governor and Nixon treasury secretary; Al Hill, the grandson of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt; and several members of the Dallas Cowboys.
Sununu’s attacks died after Bentsen and Staudt denied the allegations, but the issue had been introduced, and the timing and circumstances of Bush’s entry into the Guard were enough to raise eyebrows. In February 1968, three months before Bush graduated from Yale, the Tet offensive left more than five hundred U.S. soldiers dead in a single week. That same month, Walter Cronkite famously declared the Vietnam War “mired in stalemate” just as President Lyndon Johnson canceled draft deferments for most graduate students. Days before he would become subject to the draft, Bush, whose father was then a U.S. congressman from Houston, won a coveted slot as a pilot in the 147th.
Bush maintains he simply interviewed with Staudt and was accepted on the spot. That may be true, but it would be hard to argue that there weren’t more-qualified candidates: Bush received the lowest acceptable score on his pilot aptitude test…
As some disappointed commentors have pointed out, there’s nothing really “new” in this story — not even the slapstick sideshow explaining how Harriet Miers made her bones with the Bush crime family — but it’s a nice tight summary of the whole shameful saga. Word is the story goes behind a paywall shortly, so catch it
before the Bush minions cripple the website while it’s still available.