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Christmas in Cambodia, Texas Lt. Governors Who Travel Through Time

One thing about Law Review articles: at least in theory, someone's checked the substantive facts behind every single sentence. We've gone to the sources, checked out their pedigree, and in general tried to make sure stuff stands up.

Now if only you could say that for the media. The latest "where were you in 1968" story (answer--not born yet) involves former Lt. Governor of Texas Ben Barnes. In an internet video, he's quoted as saying:

I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and Im not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you're in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and Im very sorry about that and Im very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

(emph. added) Prof. Yin's co-conspirator gleefully points this out and asks when Bush will apologize. But let's not just pick on Prof. Heller. Maybe he read Molly Ivins, who's lived in Texas long enough she should know better. Or maybe the New York Times, which reports on this at face value. Anyway, this comes down to another of those stories that gets analyzed in blogs but not the media.

So what's wrong with this picture? Well, I'm not the first to point this out--no one credit me for originality--but it's pretty obvious. Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes takes office in 1969. Whereas even Mother Jones is quite happy to admit--whilst making the same accusation--that young Bush enrolls on May 27, 1968--almost a year earlier.

Now, perhaps Mr. Barnes got Bush his position when he was House Speaker, as Mother Jones says. But of course, all of this has arisen because Barnes is speaking out (Quicktime) about this now, in an agonizingly personal confession. At least he's not said the event was 'seared' into his memory. Perhaps someone should have reminded the man of his own resume?

(As mentioned, I read this elsewhere--if anyone can spot the first source, I'll give a link.)

UPDATE: A keen reader writes in to remind me of another time-travelling member of the Kerry Support Network, Lewis Lapham of Harper's. You can follow the story through this Volokh thread, but the long and the short of it is that Mr. Lapham provided color commentary of the speeches at the Republican Convention several weeks before they occurred. Apparently the laws of the space-time continuum aren't what they used to be.


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This is actually an uncontroversial claim. See explanation here Bush and his campaign have accepted Barnes' story as true. Barnes simply misspoke at a live campaign event, misremembering the date at which he became Lt. Governor by a couple of months. I suppose there's an alternative explanation, in which he's trying to surreptitiously piggyback some new story onto the old, accepted one, by playing fast and loose with the timing of things because clearly the electorate thinks it's appropriate for the Speaker of the House to pull strings for friends but it's completely out of line for the Lt. Governor to do so. But Occam's Razor does rather slice that apart, I think. I really don't think there's a gotcha here.
Agreed it's a mistake. But then, so are most of Bush's "misunderestimated" statements. I've yet to see the press or punditry cut him much slack on them. Besides, if you're going to make a webcast accusation against a man, it behooves you to get the facts straight.
Agreed it's a mistake. But then, so are most of Bush's "misunderestimated" statements. I've yet to see the press or punditry cut him much slack on them. I think most people no longer bother fussing over Bush's minor trip-ups in phrasing. Outlets like Slate are still mining this silly ground, but the real anti-Bushies have moved on. The apparently non-existant links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, and the missing WMDs, are much juicier targets. When people are screaming, "Bush lied, people died!" they're not referring to "misunderestimated" type statements. Also, when it comes to the daily life experiences of Americans, there's a significant difference between saying "We will create X number of jobs by November 2004" and saying "I was in place X on date Y." Kerry/Edwards's delusions about "winning the war on terrorism" are far more disturbing than Kerry's or Barnes's confusion about the exact dates when they were in particular places, whether it's Cambodia or the Lt. Gov's office.

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