7-6-1999

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War record won't hurt Bush, profs say

Some in public indifferent about military service, turned off by scrunity of presidential candidates

by Sally Claunch
The Shorthorn staff

Recent stories questioning Gov. George W. Bush's Vietnam-era military service won't have a negative effect on his presidential campaign, political science instructors say.

The Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News, focused on whether Bush received preferential treatment after he applied to become a fighter pilot during the war.

During elections, candidates who were of draft age during the late '60s and early '70s are going to be asked what they did during the Vietnam War. Even though hundreds of thousands of people served in the National Guard, Bush's service is going to be under scrutiny, said Allan Saxe, associate political science professor.

"I know what they're (the media) trying to do," he said. "They think there must be something else out there about this guy - if this is the best they can do, it's not much."

When Bush turned 21, he went to the National Guard and signed up to be a pilot. He served in the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group in Houston and flew the F-102.

Because Bush's father was a congressman from Houston during the war, speculation about favorable treatment is being bandied about in the media.

Although no illegality has been proven, questions about why he was able to serve in the guard when there was a waiting list remain.

Jim Bath, one of Bush's fellow pilots, said nobody got a free ride in the National Guard because of who their father was. Bush's military file shows that he scored in the 25th percentile on a pilot aptitude test, which was a low but passing, grade for potential pilots. He scored in the 95th percentile in the "officer quality section" on leadership and other qualifications for officers.

Saxe said he didn't think the question of military favoritism was going to be an issue in the elections because many people of this generation do not understand the importance of military service as previous generations did.

He said the only way this could be a detriment to Bush is if the media keep banging away on this subject in the papers, and it distracts him from the issues.

"Or, it could have the opposite effect," Saxe said. "People could turn on the media - they accept his statement and not care about it."

Victoria Farrar-Meyers, associate political science professor, said Bush is being scrutinized because he is the frontrunner. She said this issue came up in the Texas gubernatorial campaign. She said that people could get turned off by the media criticizing someone's character.

"Frankly, they've done a lot of digging, but haven't turned out anything new," she said.

Farrar-Meyers said this will not hurt Bush in the general election, but that in the primaries, people who are rank-and-file Republicans may decide to re-think casting a vote for Bush instead of another Republican candidate.

Michael Moore, associate political science professor, said military service is not an issue anymore.

"It doesn't matter as much in elections as it has in the past," he said. "Fewer folks are of voting age with military service."

He said this doesn't mean that experience is not important, but that the commander-in-chief is not required to be a military expert.

He said that because Bush is the leading Republican candidate, he is going to be scrutinized.

"They're going to pick him apart," he said.