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Ben Barnes

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.

There are two things that I’d like to see come out of this. One is a more widespread acknowledgement of the fact that that of the two major candidates for President, one of them benefitted from family connections to avoid combat duty, and the other volunteered for it. Two is a more widespread acknowledgement that for all his affectations of being “down-home” and “folksy”, George W. Bush is a man of wealth and privilege, and he would not be where he is now without those assets.

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.

Will President Bush now categorically deny Ben Barnes’ version of this story? I’d like to see someone ask him.

The video of Barnes making his statement is here. More coverage is here (via Drive Democracy), and here.

UPDATE: Sarah reminds me that Barnes brought down the house at an Austin for Kerry rally back in June.

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.

So let’s suppose that Barnes acted on behalf of someone who was acting on his own initiative. It doesn’t change the narrative of Bush as a man of privilege. One could argue that this shows him to be extra specially privileged, since his wish to avoid combat was magically fulfilled without his direct knowledge or involvement. Good things just happen to George W. Bush. Always have, always will.

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  1. Jack Chizek says:

    Please check when W entered the guard (May 27 1968)and when Barnes was LT Gov (Feb 1969?? Geesh. These things are not that complicated. Barnes was in no position to offer anything, he was not Lt Governor yet or held any office!!! You people crack me up!!

  2. JOhn Sage says:

    What a load of crap… this guy couldn’t remember a thing until an election year… He doesn’t remember helping Bush but he is sorry for it…

    This is nothing more than ANOTHER lie told by Kerry’s people and the idiot Democraps in Austin

  3. dave says:

    Ben Barnes is well known for stabbing his “friends” in the back. He left his partner, former governor John Connally holding the bag in the 80’s banking scandal which ended in the governor’s financial demise. You might remember Governor Connally having to auction all of his belongings in public to stay out of the poor house. Governor Connally survived an assination attempt but something else he never saw coming, which did him more damage, was his business partner and “friend” ben barnes turning states evidence (probably also trumped up)against him. What a loyal friend.

  4. Duane says:

    It just doesn’t matter. Kerry’s service wouldn’t even matter if he’d just shut up about it. I’m a Viet Nam vet and I’m sure that doesn’t make me CIC material. “You ain’t great until you’re great!” Kerry is not great, Bush is.

  5. Mark says:

    This Barnes dude is just another typical fat-cat, rich dude that help hundreds just like him skip the war. IMO, he should appologize to ALL real vets! Bush did what a lot of rich kids did back then to avoid the draft. Could have been worse I guess – he could have gone to Nam with a film crew to “document” his exploits knowing full well he intented to use them 30 years later for polical gain.


  6. donna hagen says:

    Bush joined the NG on 05/27/68. Barnes became
    Lt Gov in 1969. How did he manage to help Bush
    when he was Lt Gov?