Donald Luskin, an author and blogger endorsed by National Review and by the right-wing blog of record, InstaPundit, thinks he has Paul Krugman dead to rights. He doesn't. Luskin objects to the following passage in Krugman's most recent column:
American presidents traditionally make a point of avoiding military affectations. Dwight Eisenhower was a victorious general and John Kennedy a genuine war hero, but while in office neither wore anything that resembled military garb... There was a time when patriotic Americans from both parties would have denounced any president who tried to take political advantage of his role as commander in chief. But that, it seems, was another country.
Luskin posts and links a photo of Bill Clinton in a military-looking jacket, and declares Krugman's point refuted.
Not so fast.
What Krugman writes is true. American presidents don't spend their days in uniform like Latin American dictators from the not-so-distant bad old days. Eisenhower and Kennedy didn't flaunt their military backgrounds. And there was a time -- I'd say it was pre-Reagan -- when taking advantage of being commander in chief for political reasons was regarded as unseemly.
Since the Reagan era, presidents both Democratic and Republican have worn military garb in photo ops. But what Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Clinton occasionally wore in those photo ops could be called dual-use clothing -- military-issue garb that wouldn't seem out of place on a civilian. The picture Luskin links bears this out: Clinton wears a military windbreaker and cap. On Thursday, by contrast, Bush the Younger wore this.
See a difference?
And when Clinton slipped on that olive-drab windbreaker, he wasn't followed by spin doctors feeding every reporter the line that the opposition party might as well not field a candidate in the next election because the photo op was going to be used all through the next campaign, to devastating effect. Right-wingers will sneer that that would have been a foolish gaffe coming from Clinton -- but I don't remember Bush the Elder or Ronald Reagan doing anything quite like that either. They both enjoyed wearing olive drab, and being photographed in it, but they never threatened to make themselves wearing olive drab the main issue in a campaign.
They also never used our military as a prop in quite this manner, as reported by CNN:
Commanders gauged the wind and glided along at precisely that speed so that sea breezes would not blow across the ship during Bush's speech. That could create unwanted noise, Daniels said.
When the wind shifted during the speech, the ship changed course to minimize the breeze, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Terrance Rice.
The camera angle also was arranged by the White House to ensure it did not show the nearby coastline. A huge banner reading "Mission Accomplished" was strung along the bridge and loomed behind Bush.
The Navy sent all but a couple of fighter jets off the plane Wednesday and Thursday. Those left behind were left on the flight deck as props for Bush's speech.
The Bush people created an excuse for a speech out of whole cloth -- remember, no victory was declared -- then insisted the speech take place on an aircraft carrier of their choosing, then said a tailhook landing in a fighter jet was "necessary." Bush's three predecessors never did anything quite like that.
I'm stating the obvious: this was a cheap, low, dishonorable stunt. Krugman was right to denounce it.