‘Tis the season for political punditry passing as books. In the ticker-tape tornado of tomes about the Texan, we now have Unfit Commander. Glenn W. Smith addresses the president’s military record with the focus and intensity of a victim of OCD washing his hands for the fiftieth time. He admits a certain amount of narcissism when he says, “My own feelings about the issue are deeply personal.” The degree of relevancy of this perennial issue aside, it is unlikely that anyone that has been awake through this or the 2000 presidential campaign doubts that there is something questionable about George W. Bush’s appointment and subsequent performance in the Texas Air National Guard. But it is also apparent that, despite the fact that there are legitimate questions about his service, the voters are willing to overlook them both in Texas and in the nation as a whole.
The first chapter, and the only real writing done by Mr. Smith, is a long and rambling journey through Bush’s military past and his administration’s somewhat deconstructionist interpretation of the documents related to it. He wanders in and out of his own narrative, reminding us that this is a right and good fight that he fights. He says, “the real reason for publishing Unfit Commander [is] because in the swirl of charge and counter charge, it is imperative that Americans not lose sight of the real question, which is, quite simply, How did George W. Bush choose to serve his country during the Vietnam era?” Chapter Two is entirely concerned with the White House press briefings relevant to the documents that have trickled down throughout 2004 regarding Bush’s military record. Finally, in Chapter Three, we are actually presented with the documents themselves. The reader can thumb through page after page of blurry and hard to read copies that chronicle, more or less, George’s brief and inglorious military career.
The facts are there. If it were not so before, this book makes it crystal clear that something was not completely fair about George W. Bush’s time in the military compared to that of any other young man of that time whose family was not rich and politically connected. But there is little to that. That is to say, this has been true throughout history and, fair or not, there is a degree of grudging acceptance of it by the voters. Nor is there anything new to the fact that the White House has tried to spin the story. There might have been a story here if the young George had turned down what was offered him then or if the White House now freely admitted that the obvious conclusions are also the right ones. All in all, though, Mr. Smith’s cry for truth is a weak one in the roaring whirlwind of spin and re-spin that crowds the shelves of the bookstores here at the end of this campaign season.