Shortly before 7 the Friday night of a three-day weekend, a favorite time for the White House to disclose bad news, reporters were handed 2-inch-thick packets of President Bush's military and medical records.
The records did not, as the White House had hoped, answer the question of whether the young George W. Bush did his required National Guard service between May 1972 and May 1973.
Indeed, the records raise another question: What happened to Bush during his Guard service to turn him from a promising young officer and fighter pilot who hoped to make a career in aviation into something like a military dropout?
Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968. In 1970, a superior described him as "a dynamic outstanding young officer." In 1971, he was described as "an exceptionally fine young officer." As of May that year, he had 625 hours in the cockpit.
Some time after that, it seems as if he simply stopped flying, and in August 1972 he was suspended from flying status for not taking a required physical. It seems as if he became casual to a fault about his duties.
In May 1972 he requested a transfer to a non-flying post in the Alabama National Guard so he could work a Senate campaign there. His superiors there say they never saw him, and there is no documentary evidence he showed up.
The sole military evidence that he was even in Alabama is a January 1973 dental checkup in Montgomery. Once Bush was back in Texas, there is evidence of only sporadic National Guard attendance for unspecified duties. Bush left the Guard in September 1973, seven months before his enlistment was up, to go to Harvard Business School.
Bush has made no secret of the fact that he led a raucous, aimless youth and that his life turned around when he married Laura, quit drinking and got religion, and maybe just wandering away from the military after so promising a start was all of a piece.
All this is interesting, even fascinating, but it happened over 30 years ago. What's happened in the last four is what's truly important.