Should there be a statute of limitations for presidential candidates on the nutty things one did in that seventies decade?

The Other Charlotte and Peggy Noonan are in favor of a statute of limitations. I’m appalled that we’re debating the Vietnam War, a thirty-year-old war that ended before many voters were born.

But a statute of limitations? I continue to believe that Bill Clinton’s artful dodging on going to Vietnam was highly relevant. It told us a great deal about him. He never grew up, never really changed. I wish we’d paid more, not less, attention to young Bill.

What about GWB? Is he the same rich frat boy who served in the National Guard? An obvious lightweight? One sees a glimmer of the fine man the callow young Lieutenant Bush became in the reports his officers wrote about him, but Bush was still Prince Hal. Unlike Clinton, he changed.

David Brooks correctly summed it up Friday on the Newshour: “When somebody is running for president, you want to know what their service in the military was, how they behaved,” Brooks said. “But when somebody has already been president, you know what he believes. We know how George Bush behaves under pressure because he’s spent three years in the White House.”

So what about John Kerry? War hero or “ideological sidekick to Jane Fonda”? We need to know. Though Republicans are going to have to be very, very careful in dealing with this issue–an aging photo of him at a rally with Fonda won’t quite do it–I don’t see any problem with debating the matter. Having it both ways–decorated hero, war protestor–has been a theme of Kerry’s public life. It matters now more than ever. 

The 1970s, during which I was foggily in quandary over whether to join SDS (I didn’t, but it was a close call), seem so long ago. They were, alas, so long ago. The decade was enormous fun, had a terrible impact on the country, and will keep rearing its ugly head as long as boomers are ambulatory.

Vietnam is the shadow issue of the 2004 campaign. Vietnam caused a rift in our society, triggered a loss of nerve on the world front, and unfairly tarnished the military’s image. It was inevitable that with two presumed boomer candidates we would once again probe our collective psyche with regard to Vietnam. John Kerry sees the Iraq war as Vietnam reprised, and he wants to end it. GWB and hawks like me see the Iraq war as a new kind of war that requires we leave our Vietnam psyche behind. Which will it be?