From her op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, I learned that Kitty Kelly, that erst-while biographer of the rich and famous, attended a Catholic convent school as a young girl. Apparently, she rode the short bus to that institution, because her opinion piece (“Why Aren’t the Bush Daughters in Iraq?”) is filled with the same sort of unadulterated illogic and plain, old-fashioned liberal b.s. that gives the Huffington Post a bad name. If she were still in convent school, I’d say Ms. Kelly’s effort would get a few raps across the knuckles from a nun’s ruler–and rightfully so.
Kelly’s simple-minded thesis is evident in the title. As the war in Iraq drags on, with casualties mounting (and President Bush asking for more patience), why hasn’t the Commander-in-Chief and his family made a greater sacrifice for the cause? To support her contention, Ms. Kelley contrasts Jenna Bush’s budding literary career (and pending book tour) with the war dead from Iraq:
“But while the 25-year-old makes the rounds of TV talk shows this fall in a White House limousine, dozens of her contemporaries will be arriving home from Iraq in wooden boxes.”
Never mind that “wooden coffins” were replaced by more modern–and suitable–containers around the time of World War I; the author of tell-all bios on Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, the Bush Family and other swells couldn’t resist the opportunity to make that comparison. While Jenna Bush is riding around in a limosuine and cashing advance checks, the sons and daughters of the less-connected (the same people John Kerry described as “stuck in Iraq”) will be making the ultimate sacrifice.
I’ll try to keep this simple so that even Kitty Kelley can understand. The reason that the Bush daughters aren’t in the military is because they don’t have to join. Thankfully, we have an all-volunteer military that has worked exceptionally well for more than 30 years. Staffed by young men (and women) who choose to wear the nation’s uniform, the U.S. military remains the most effective and powerful on the face of the earth. And, despite the strains of on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, today’s armed services offer over-whelming proof that it is preferable to defend the nation with volunteers rather than conscripts.
Make no mistake: if either of President Bush’s daughters wants to join the military, I’d certainly welcome them–provided they were genuinely interested in serving in the armed forces, and not engaging in some sort of political stunt. Not that it hasn’t happened before; during Vietnam, the son of a well-known Senator apparently “volunteered” to go to Vietnam to boost his father’s re-election chances. While “in country,” he wound up with a cushy, rear-echelon job, and according to some, even had his own personal body-guard. That soldier was named Al Gore. The former Vice-President deserves credit for his service, but not the purported motives behind it. Four decades later, the same short of short, comfortable military tour by one of the Bush daughters would be viewed with similar disdain.
Ms. Kelley believes the Bushes should emulate the example of FDR and his family during World War II. “Roosevelt’s children enlisted,” she reminds us (actually, it was his four sons who served as officers), and “his wife traveled to military bases to comfort the families of soldiers.” Kelley conveniently ignores the fact that Mr. Bush and his wife have probably visited with more military families than any other Commander-in-Chief and First Lady; many of those gatherings are private, at the Mr. Bush’s insistence.
In the fall of 2004, in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, I happened to be at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio when Air Force One landed. At that point, the state (and its crucial electoral votes) were very much in play, and Mr. Bush had a full campaign swing ahead of him. But before climbing onto his helicopter and heading out, the President held an extended meeting with the families of military members who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The meeting was off-limits to the press–I’m not sure if it even appeared on that day’s presidential agenda–but Mr. Bush spent almost 90 minutes meeting with a handful of families. An Air Force security forces officer–part of the protection team at the base–told me that Mr. Bush emerged from the hangar with red, puffy eyes, indicating that he had cried during his lengthy meeting with the families. Hardly the image of a callous, indifferent Commander-in-Chief that Kitty Kelley is trying to peddle. But, lest we forget, this is the same woman who claimed that Laura Bush was a drug dealer in college, and that George W. Bush snorted cocaine at Camp David during his father’s administration.
Kelley, whose “work” stretches the limits of truth and credulity by any standard, is also selective in deciding who should meet her standards of service and sacrifice. If Kelley wants the Bush daughters to sign up for the military, shouldn’t she demand the same thing from members of Congress? But any attempts at fairness and balance (alien concepts to Ms. Kelley) would also undercut her argument. Let the record show that none of John Kerry’s children have served in the military, and Senator Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, took a pass on the armed services as well. The same holds true for almost every other elected official in the country. In fact, at the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, only seven members of Congress (one Democrat, six Republicans) had sons or daughters in the military. Annecdotal evidence suggests that those numbers have not changed much over the past four years.
The fact that others haven’t volunteered is not surprising. Unlike the World War II generation, military service is no longer a rite of passage for the children of political elites–a fact that also holds true for millions of young men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds. That’s the beauty of an all-volunteer force–and it’s just as well. Today’s military doesn’t need a Bush daughter, Chelsea Clinton or one of the Kerry kids to set a shining example of service and sacrifice for the nation, and the world.
For more on Ms. Kelley, check out Poison Pen, the unauthorized biography by George Carpozi, Jr., published in 1997. In his book, Mr. Carpozi turns the table on Kelley, and dishes quite a plate full of dirt–the same sort of stuff you’d normally find in one of her “biographies.”