Supporter who believes Republicans are...

A BILL CLINTON

February 12, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

A BILL CLINTON supporter who believes Republicans are behind the Gennifer Flowers story said, "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

The point seemed to be that old stories about George Bush's mistress would be publicized. Listen, if -- if -- the draft dodger stories about Clinton are true, the fact that George Bush may have had an affair with another woman wouldn't help Clinton in a Clinton-Bush race. It wouldn't help Clinton if Bush had had an affair with another man.

A duty scandal is more important to voters than a sex scandal. They take having a slacker as commander in chief seriously. Look at the record:

George Bush was a World War II naval officer. So were Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. Jimmy Carter was at the Naval Academy during the war, an officer in the Korean War. Ronald Reagan was an Army officer from 1942-1945. Bush and Kennedy were be-medaled heroes. Ford won 10 battle stars. Dwight Eisenhower was elected president on the basis of his leading the Allied forces in Europe in World War II.

Eight straight. Hardly a coincidence. And that's not the whole story. Harry Truman was an artillery officer in France in World War I, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy, making three tours of combat areas.

Ten straight presidents with war records. Every president for 60 years. Looks like a trend to me. (FDR's predecessor, Herbert Hoover, was an important civilian volunteer in World War I. He organized a massive relief effort during and immediately after the war.)

That ten straight is a record. The previous one was for Civil War heroes. Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur were Union vets. They held the White House from 1869 to 1885. Civil War veterans again held the White House in 1889-1893 (Benjamin Harrison) and 1897 to 1909 (William McKinley). Teddy Roosevelt followed McKinley until 1909. Too young for the Civil War, he was a combat hero in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. All told, six presidents, 32 of 40 years.

(In a recent column I noted that George Washington and James Monroe fought in the same Revolutionary War battle. I wondered if other future presidents had ever done that. Numerous readers have informed me that it happened in several Civil War battles.)

The only slacker president in the period was Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889, 1893-1897. He was drafted during the Civil War, but under the law of the day, there being no student deferments, he could pay a substitute to serve in his place.

Cleveland also had a well-publicized illicit sexual affair. But that was then. Today a draft-dodging, womanizer can't be elected president. That's why Paul Tsongas will probably beat Clinton in New Hampshire. But Tsongas has his own problems.

Saturday: "He's a lawyer! I mean, please!"

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