Remember Dan Quayle’s disastrous debut as vice-presidential candidate in 1988? Quayle flubbed a round of TV interviews concerning his draft avoidance during the Vietnam War. Perhaps the most appalling quote Quayle served up was to CNN: “My desire was to go on to law school as soon as possible, so the National Guard allowed me to go to active duty for six months.” Quayle’s unembarrassed acknowledgement that his selfish desire to attend law school trumped any patriotic impulse–even retrospectively, Quayle displayed no capacity for introspection about this–led to a furious media frenzy.
Twelve years later, the Republicans have picked another Vietnam draft-avoider to be their vice-presidential candidate. Cheney didn’t even serve in the National Guard; he just took advantage of student and then marriage deferments. Cheney is, of course, a smarter and more polished politician than Quayle was in 1988. But Cheney’s explanation for why he failed to serve–uttered to George C. Wilson of the Washington Post in 1989–was no less obtuse than Quayle’s. He said: “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service.”
Guess how many times that quote turns up in a Nexis news database search? Two hundred times? Nope, too high. One hundred times? Still too high. Cheney’s maladroit “other priorities” line has thus far appeared in the Nexis-searchable public prints a mere nine times. The breakdown is as follows:
- Five times since his selection to be George W. Bush’s running mate;
- Twice in the period during and immediately after the Gulf War (during which Cheney was defense secretary);
- Once in a 1994 Dallas Morning News profile occasioned by Cheney’s brief flirtation with running for president in 1996;
- Once in the original Wilson piece.
What the hell kind of media frenzy is that?
It’s possible that Cheney was engaging in a bit of self-mockery when he told Wilson about his “other priorities”–that he was referring to his carousing youth (he dropped out of Yale after bad grades cost him a scholarship) as opposed to asserting that he was too busy to serve in the military. That would mitigate his comment somewhat. But only a little, since Cheney doesn’t seem to have followed up with any expression of sincere regret. Of course, Bill Clinton hasn’t expressed much regret either about avoiding military service during the Vietnam era. But Clinton, it should be remembered, opposed the war. Cheney and Quayle, on the other hand, did not oppose the war. They just didn’t want to fight it.