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ELECTION 2004

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The Fallout

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In late 1969, when George W. Bush showed up at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas for flight training, his instructor was a 270-pound judo black belt and self-described "mean S.O.B." named Maury Udell. "I know your dad is a congressman, but that doesn't mean a thing to me," Udell told Bush. After Bush had learned to fly jets, Udell tried to rattle him by getting on his tail in mock dogfights. Bush gave his instructor a hard look and began doing his own high-speed zigzags, "doing his damnedest to lose me," Udell recalled to NEWSWEEK. "He was not a candy a--." Udell rates Bush "among the top 5 percent of fighter pilots I've ever trained."

Bush's frat-brother background was useful at flight school. A favorite fighter-jock game was called Dead Bug. In a bar, when anyone shouted "Dead bug!" everyone, including generals, had to drop to the floor with hands and feet extended into the air, like a dead bug. Last man down had to buy drinks. Bush, who was cheap as well as practiced at drinking games, "would always get to the floor first," recalls Scott Woodfin, a retired Air Force colonel who served in Bush's unit.

The standard rap against Bush is that he was ducking combat by joining the Guard. Actually, the Texas Air Guard had a program called Palace Alert that allowed pilots to volunteer for flight time in Vietnam. Three of Bush's fellow pilots—Udell, Woodfin and Fred Bradley—recalled to NEWSWEEK that Bush inquired with the base commander about signing up for Palace Alert. He was told no; he had too few flying hours at the time and his plane, the F-102, was by then deemed obsolete for air combat.

After his flight training, Bush was mostly a "weekend warrior" for the Guard. In the winter of 1972, he asked to be transferred to the Alabama Guard because he wanted to work in the Senate campaign of one of his father's friends, Winton (Red) Blount. It is still not clear how often Bush showed up for duty. His commanding officers don't recall seeing him, and he failed to show up for a physical to maintain his flying status. The White House insisted that since Bush was no longer flying, the exam was unnecessary, and late Friday, Bush's aides released newly located records showing that Bush did receive "points" for the time he was in Alabama. The only solid evidence that he appeared on base was the record of a dental exam. One former officer emerged to recall Bush's flipping through flight manuals and magazines in his office. Pressed by his anxious staff, Bush himself couldn't recall much about his duty in Alabama. "He remembers shooting the breeze," said communications director Dan Bartlett.

In any case, at the time no one seems to have minded much. The rules were lax, and Bush was never disciplined in any way. When he wanted to go to Harvard Business School in the fall of '73, he was able to get discharged from duty six months early.

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Backing Bush on service
Feb. 13: Joe Allbaugh, the chief of staff for then Gov. George W. Bush, strongly disputes a claim that Bush's Texas National Guard file was "cleansed" of potentially embarrassing orincriminating documents. NBC's Norah O'Donnell reports.

Today show

Bush showed up in Cambridge, Mass., in his bomber jacket and with a chip on his shoulder. He disliked the hippies shouting anti-Nixon slogans in Harvard Square. At the time, Bush's father was chairman of the Republican National Committee. At Sunday lunch at the home of his aunt Nancy Ellis in Wellesley, he would bitterly complain about East Coast intellectual snobs who put down people like him.

Discharged from the Navy in 1970, John Kerry was racked with nightmares about his time in combat. He grew his hair and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Some of the vets, most of whom were working class, resented the patrician Kerry. A VVAW leader named Scott Camil told The Boston Globe that a vet tried to reach Kerry at home and was told by someone, presumably a maid, "Master Kerry is not at home." At the next meeting, someone hung a sign on Kerry's chair that read, FREE THE KERRY MAID.

But Kerry had star power. He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Watching his former Swift Boat captain testify on TV, Jim Wasser "felt angry and betrayed. I was still a hawk," Wasser recalled to NEWSWEEK. "I was still used to taking orders—you know, God and country. But even as I was watching him on TV and getting mad at him, I said to friends, 'This guy is going to be really big some day'."

IMG: Kerry campaign
Courtesy Kerry Campaign
Establishment candidate: Kerry hits the campaign trail in Massachusetts in 1982

Kerry was already thinking about his political future. He had considered a run for Congress in 1970; he lived in no fewer than three Massachusetts congressional districts between 1970 and 1972, shopping for one where he could win. He thought he found potential voters in the suburbs around the old industrial mill towns of Lowell and Lawrence.

The liberal middle class liked his JFK looks and tone and his antiwar message. But the blue-collar voters regarded him as a carpetbagger and joked about "Kerrymandering." Kerry had an unfortunate tendency to preen and posture. Garry Trudeau, who went to St. Paul's and Yale after Kerry and knew his reputation, lampooned him in his new comic strip, "Doonesbury." One strip showed Kerry soaking up the adulation after a speech. He is grinning toothily and thinking, "You're really clicking tonight, you gorgeous preppie." The editors of the Lowell Sun, the local paper, were much tougher, lambasting Kerry as a carpetbagger and a "blow-in" whose campaign coffers had been fattened by Hollywood producers like Otto Preminger. Blowing a big lead, Kerry lost and was devastated.

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