The National Guard question is a window on the world of hurt Bush could be in for if Kerry and the Democrats decide to run a serious campaign for once. Claims that Bush never bothered showing up at his Alabama Guard unit have circulated for years. It is widely perceived to be one of those he said-she said matters that can never be settled conclusively owing to missing attendance records. But a blogger named Phil Carter has pointed out at least three other means by which Bush's active duty could be verified: military pay records, military retirement points, and personal income tax records. It's an answerable question that no one has ever pressed seriously. (Of course we already know the answer: If a shred of paper that vindicated Bush existed anywhere, Team W would have produced it in 2000 to lay the subject to rest.)
There is the story of Bush II writ small: He has been "invincible" to the exact extent that the whole political apparatus has remained unwilling to challenge him. If that is really changing now, a rich vein of scandals awaits unpacking, starting with the terms of Bush's 2000 win: the chicanery at numerous levels in Florida, the scandalous 5-4 Supreme Court vote from which two pro-Bush justices should have recused themselves. (Scalia and Thomas had family members who worked for the Bush campaign.) The lies and intelligence manipulations leading to the Iraq invasion are a lode unto themselves. The ongoing 9/11 investigation, and Bush's efforts to stonewall it at every turn, contains enough explosive material to dominate the news cycle for weeks. Unofficially, it's already clear (from leaks and from the strategic excisions in the congressional 9/11 report) that Bush did receive notice in pre-9/11 briefings of a possible imminent attack on US soil involving Saudi nationals--and, most likely for political reasons concerning US ties to the House of Saud, did nothing. This is not the same as saying Bush "knew" about the attacks, but it smacks of appalling negligence and cronyism--two great themes of the Bush administration, and, one hopes, of Kerry's stump speeches.
The handling of pre-9/11 warnings, in turn, could pave the way for a more comprehensive look at all the ways the administration has been cynical and unserious about homeland security. And we have yet to mention the economy and the deficit. In that connection, one of the most telling lines in Bush's poll chart is the one that's not there. W has never earned a significant bounce in public esteem for anything he's done on the home front.
If attacks on Bush's credibility and performance stay at critical mass for very long--the Republicans desperately need a Kerry scandal--it will upset the White House's entire reelection strategy. It's no secret that Rove means to position Bush as a resolute, in-command war president. But when the Republicans scheduled their three-hanky telethon for New York in September, they could not have anticipated a climate in which the Democratic nominee might be able to stand up and say: "Mr. Bush, it is offensive to see you wrap yourself in the memory of a tragedy that you might have prevented for the sake of your own political gain."
It's early. A dozen things could happen to change the campaign landscape overnight. But for the first time it seems more than plausible that it will be a long, hot summer for Bush--possibly to be followed by a long, hot winter back in Crawford, Texas.