By now, you've probably heard of the Ben Barnes story.
Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, in a video posted on the Internet, says he is ashamed that he got President Bush and other young men from important families into the Texas Air National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam.
Barnes, a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, in the past has not personally discussed his role in getting Bush into the Guard. He previously said in a statement that he recommended Bush for a pilot's position at the request of a Bush family friend.
Bush has denied entering the Guard in 1968 to avoid Vietnam service.
The Barnes video was shot at a May 27 meeting of Kerry supporters in Austin.
"I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas, and I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I did it," Barnes said. Barnes actually was Texas House speaker when Bush entered the Guard.
Bush's father at the time was a congressman from Houston.
"I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that's what people should do when you're in office: You help a lot of rich people."
Barnes told the crowd he came to seriously regret his actions recently after visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and seeing the names of men and women who died in the Southeast Asian conflict.
Now of course, Republicans will counter that Barnes' statement is politically motivated and conveniently timed. They're right on both counts, but that doesn't matter. Nobody seems to be disputing the fundamental truthfulness of Barnes' statement, just the motivation behind it. Josh Marshall reminds us of the first time this issue was raised, and how then-Gubernatorial Candidate Bush responded, from a story by Jim Moore.
During the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush, I was a panelist on the only televised debate between the two candidates. The question I chose to ask Bush first was about the National Guard. I had lost friends in Vietnam, and many of them had tried to get into the Guard. We were all told that there was a waiting list of up to five years. The Guard was the best method for getting out of combat in Vietnam. You needed connections. George W. Bush had them.
"Mr. Bush," I said. "How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?"
"Not that I know of, Jim," the future president told me. "I certainly didn't ask for any. And I'm sure my father didn't either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."
Maybe. But it's more likely he was there at the right time with the right name. Col. Buck Staudt, who ran the air wing in which Bush served, had filled his "champagne unit" with the politically connected and wealthy. The sons of U.S. Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower of Texas were in that unit, along with the son of Texas Gov. John Connally and the two sons of Sidney Adger, George H.W. Bush's closest friend in Houston. I should have let that speak for itself.
UPDATE: The WaPo fills in some blanks.
[Barnes] intervened on Bush's behalf sometime in late 1967 or early 1968 at the request of a good friend of Bush's father, then a Republican congressman from Houston, the sources said. The friend, Sidney A. Adger, was a prominent Houston business executive who died in 1996. The Guard official contacted at his behest, Brig. Gen. James M. Rose, died in 1993.
Both Bush, now governor of Texas and front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, and his father, the former president, say they did not ask for any help with Guard officials and have no knowledge of any assistance from Adger or anyone else.
"Gov. Bush did not need and did not ask anybody for help," said a Bush campaign spokesman, Scott McClellan. "President Bush has said he did not seek any help for his son in getting into the National Guard."
Jean Becker, a spokeswoman for former president Bush, confirmed that the senior Bush and Adger were good friends, but she said Bush firmly denies talking to Adger about helping his son get into the Guard.