Last time Clinton told the truth was 23 years ago

ROGER SIMON

September 11, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

The last time Bill Clinton was completely candid about the Vietnam draft was 23 years ago.

That's when Clinton wrote a letter to an ROTC colonel thanking him for "saving me from the draft."

Life was simple for Bill Clinton back then. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get there: He wanted to avoid going to Vietnam. And he went to Oxford (though not Canada) to do so.

Now, life is not so simple for Clinton. He still knows what he wants: He wants to be president. But how to get there?

Sanitizing certain forgiveable but embarrassing parts of his past seems to be the quickest route.

And so in this campaign year, you have to have a road map to follow Clinton's twists and turns on how he escaped the draft after he graduated from college.

Clinton began by stating that his avoiding the draft was "a fluke."

But that was hardly the whole truth. Nor was it the whole truth when Clinton told reporters recently that he did not know of his uncle's efforts to get him a Naval reserve assignment to keep him from being drafted.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the uncle's efforts delayed Clinton's pre-induction draft physical for almost 11 months, twice as long as normal.

Clinton applied to an Arkansas ROTC program, which he never ended up joining, and went off to Oxford, which kept him out of the draft for an extra two years.

At Oxford, Clinton wrote that letter of thanks to the ROTC colonel and said he was not willing to become a draft resister "for one reason: To maintain my political viability within the system. For years I have worked to prepare myself for a political life."

That is pretty far-sighted for a 23 year old. But the 46-year-old Clinton of today has learned even more: Today, Clinton would never put such a thing in writing.

Did Clinton's family help him avoid the draft? Yes.

L Did Dan Quayle's family help him do the same thing? You bet.

That's what happened back then. Vietnam was a place where people were killing and being killed. And if you didn't want to go, you pulled whatever strings you could and you pulled them hard.

(For the record: My draft lottery number was 362 and so I was never drafted. I was pleased.)

But now Clinton's avoidance of the draft is just one aspect of the issue. As Bob Dole said on the Senate floor Tuesday: "Let me be clear: The fact that Bill Clinton avoided military service and did not go to Vietnam are not the issues here. The real issues now are trust, confidence and credibility, and on these three critical standards Bill Clinton is flunking the test."

I don't think Clinton has been totally truthful about his avoidance of the draft just as I do not think he has been totally truthful about his relationship with Gennifer Flowers.

But should we care? The draft is over and any relationship with Flowers is over, too.

Or, as Dole says, should we care that Clinton has not come clean rather than caring what he has not come clean about?

This is part of the game we play every four years: We demand that people running for president must have been completely honest in the past and are completely honest now.

Not that we demand that they be completely honest once they are president. I don't think even his biggest fans can believe Ronald Reagan's was completely honest with the American people during the Iran-Contra affair.

But even if such completely honest people existed, would they ** really seek politics as a career?

Clinton told the American Legion convention in August: "If any of you choose to vote against me because of what happened 23 years ago, that is your right, and I respect that. But it is my hope that you will cast your vote while looking toward the future with hope, rather than remaining fixed to the problems of the past."

Translation: "I didn't do anything wrong 23 years ago, but I promise not to do it again in the future."

Back in March, when asked by a reporter why he has the reputation of being a "Slick Willie," Clinton grew angry.

"I don't have any reservations about the strength of my character or my ability to be president," Clinton snapped.

And I'm sure he doesn't. But the point is not whether Clinton has any reservations.

It's whether the voters do.

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