Coulter on Cleland

I’ve been avoiding Ann Coulter of late, but her latest column is pretty amusing.

Former Sen. Max Cleland is the Democrats’ designated hysteric about George Bush’s National Guard service. *** Bush’s National Guard service is the most thoroughly investigated event since the Kennedy assassination. But the Democrats will accept only two possible conclusions to their baseless accusations: (1) Bush was “AWOL,” or (2) the matter needs further investigation.


On “Hardball” Monday night, Cleland demanded to see Bush’s pay stubs for the disputed period of time, May 1972 to May 1973. “If he was getting paid for his weekend warrior work,” Cleland said, “he should have some pay stubs to show it.”

The next day, the White House produced the pay stubs. This confirmed what has been confirmed 1 million times before: After taking the summer off, Bush reported for duty nine times between Nov. 29, 1972, and May 24, 1973 — more than enough times to fulfill his Guard duties. (And nine times more than Bill Clinton, Barney Frank or Chuck Schumer did during the same period.)


When Bush left the National Guard in 1973 to go to business school, the war was over. *** To put this in perspective, by 1973, John Kerry had already accused American soldiers of committing war crimes in Vietnam, thrown someone else’s medals to the ground in an anti-war demonstration, and married his first heiress. Bill Clinton had just finished three years of law school and was about to embark upon a political career — which would include campaign events with Max Cleland.


The remainder of the column is rather unnerving, making some arguments about the nature of Cleland’s war wounds that I’ve not seen elsewhere. I’d be interested in finding out more on this issue. It’s either libel of the highest order or some crack investigative reporting.

Update: Coulter’s basic story checks out: The Macon Telegraph | 11/01/2002:

A month before his Vietnam tour was up in 1968, Cleland stooped to pick up a grenade he thought had fallen off his belt as he jumped from a helicopter. It detonated, and he was left with one arm and no legs.

Clearly, this is a tragic accident rather than, say, diving on a grenade to save one’s buddies, or even being similarly wounded by a grenade thrown by an advancing enemy. Those who were outraged by Cleland’s defeat in the last election certainly made the circumstances of this tragedy sound more heroic.

Still, Coulter makes it sound like he received this injuries through the equivalent of accidentally dropping one’s grenade on one’s foot during a training exercise. One is certainly less likely to find live grenades lying around Fort Dix than in Vietnam.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tom says:

    She has it fairly right. It has been well known in Georgia for years the Max’s injuried were not from the battlefield. However, it is considered disrespectful in Georgia to bring this up to a man in a wheelchair. Max is also considered to be a good man, and did a good job as our Secretary of State for many years.
    He just was the old guard Democrat who paid his dues, and felt he deserved the Senate Seat for life. The Democrats house of cards tumbled Republicans finally attained enough presence in Georgia, and they still are in shock.
    Sort of how Tammany Hall felt 80 years ago.

  2. Norbizness says:

    Yeah, if it’s one thing that unhinged banshee is known for, it’s “crack investigative reporting.”

  3. Steven says:

    The implication in the column that he was goofing off and heading to down some brewskies is rather tawdry. The point could be made that it wasn’t combat-specific without going there.

  4. chris says:

    I am curious, I was always lead to believe Cleland suffered his injuries as a result of combat. What really happened?

  5. The Other Chris says:


    One of his own fragmentation grenades exploded a few feet from him because it was improperly secured to his load bearing equipment when he exited a helicopter on a combat assault.

    This is from a very pro-Cleland puff piece from his alma mater, Emory, right after me took the oath as a Senator.

  6. Josh says:

    I actually used to live in Georgia, and I’m quite familiar with the FACTS of Sen. Cleland. Ann Coulter is completely wrong. First, Sen. Cleland did not drop the grenade that took his limbs. Here’s one of many articles supporting that FACT:

    And secondly, no one says Cleland is a hero for losing his limbs. He is a hero for volunteering for combat duty and for what he did in earning the Silver Star, four days before the explosion. Here’s the citation that accompanied the Silver Star:

    “Captain Cleland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 4 April 1968 … during an enemy attack near Khe Sanh.

    “When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Captain Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions.

    “Continuing to expose himself, Captain Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment, which had been damaged by enemy fire.

    “His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

  7. James Joyner says:


    As to the first point, Coulter says he “saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up,” not that it was his grendade. The Macon Telegraph article that I cited and excerpted said the same thing. So, what’s your point?

    Terry McAuliffe and others routinely conflate the grenade accident and the Silver Star. He’s not portrayed as a war hero who, separate from his heroism, was tragically injured.

  8. Josh says:

    Coulter also says, “In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman.” She’s flat-out wrong.

    And to worry about which act of heroism Cleland is being praised for is ridiculous. He’s earned the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and lost three limbs in service to his country. Try telling all of the men and women injured in non-combat related accidents or friendly-fire incidents that their injuries aren’t as honorable as those that earn purple hearts.

    Coulter’s whole article was a mistake. I just don’t understand what she’d hoped to accomplish by maligning Cleland.

  9. Victor Ing says:

    Ann Coulter needs to apologize to Former Senator
    Max Cleland…I am very clear on what happened….and how dare her…..we have a President that she supports who was AWOL…and she
    has the never to attack a man who gave his limbs
    to protect a fellow soldier…..Ann….SHAME ON YOU…SHAME ON YOU..SHAME ON YOU….

  10. James Joyner says:


    Other than the fact that Bush wasn’t AWOL and that Cleland was injured in a freak accident having nothing to do with protecting a fellow soldier, you are spot on.

  11. 12string says:

    “I remember standing on the edge of the bomb crater that had been my home for five days and five nights, stretching my six-foot, two-inch frame, and becoming caught up in excitement. The battle for Khe Sanh was over, and I had come out of it unhurt and alive! Five terrible days and nights were behind us. In spite of dire predictions, we had held Khe Sanh. I had scored a personal victory over myself and my fears. … My tour of duty in Vietnam was almost over. In another month I’d be going home. I smiled, thinking of the good times waiting stateside.

    “On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade.

    “A blinding explosion threw me backwards.”
    – Max Cleland

  12. GP says:

    The reason all of this is an issue is that the Republicans are pissed that the Democrats have been making hay of Bush’s less-than-stellar Guard service. Not because of the details in and of themselves (although Bush’s response in many ways made the details look worse). It’s pretty well established that Bush used his family connections to get out of going to war (not a bad idea), and then didn’t take his Guard requirements as seriously as he should have (but he complied more so than not with what he had to do). He was not AWOL (aka a deserter), but even he admits that he didn’t show up for all of his scheduled training. And his flying privileges were taken away for unexplained reasons. And then he used his connections to get out of his Guard service requirements months early (the “I worked it out with the military” nonesense). Does any of this mean he shouldn’t be president? No, these are details that are ancient history, and I doubt most voters care.

    What the Bush people are nervous about on this issue is the fact that prior to Clinton, military service was an unwaivable prerequisite to the presidency. Clinton and Bush II were elected in times of forseeable peace. The big question is whether this will change now that we are on a war footing. Kerry has decorated military service during war time (aka HERO) on his resume, and Bush’s resume is weak on this point (and looking weaker, partly from the way Bush responded). The white house doesn’t want military service to re-appear on the presidency application checklist.

    Further, genuine questions exist about whether Bush pushed the war button in Iraq too soon without exhausting all non-military options and without making sure his evidence of the need to go to war was sound.

    Voters may conclude that someone who has experienced the horrors of war firsthand (Kerry) is going to wait until the point of imminent harm before pushing the button. The Kerry folks are going to be pushing this point hard.

    The White House and its supporters need to accept these facts. They aren’t going to out-hero Kerry on military service record. Further, they aren’t going to de-hero Kerry by denigrating what Kerry and his supporters (Cleland) did for this country. The country is very sensitive about honoring military heros, and the white house and its supporters are riding a fine line of turning off voters if they keep flashing pictures of Jane Fonda, debating whether Cleland was just as likely to get hurt in Alabama, and trying to say that this country owes nothing short of enthusiastic gratitude to Kerry and Cleland for choosing to sacrifice for their country.

  13. James Joyner says:


    I’m a veteran but don’t consider military service a prerequisite. Indeed, we’ve had successful presidents with no real military background–Reagan (he wore a uniform but was just an actor)and FDR to name two major examples–and we’ve had presidents with distinguished military backgrounds (Carter comes to mind) that were flops as prez.

    I basically agree with you on the nature of Bush’s service–it was perfunctory at best–although I’m not sure it was all that hard to get out of the Guard in 1974. The All-Volunteer force was in play and the war over by then.

  14. Hot buttons are funny things. A reasonable guy like you tries, in a much more even-handed way than say Kevin Drum, to get some facts, but because you looking into CLELAND! (whom the Left has beatified), you get it with both barrels.