07/28/2006 05:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bush Family AWOLism

"If this war is so God damn important, why aren't the Bush twins over there in Iraq helping to fight it?"

I hear this complaint all the time in off-the-record discussions about the Iraq War. It personalizes the war. It cuts to the quick about why this war has lost all credibility.

You can argue all day with a die-hard (no pun intended) Republican about the shifting justifications for the war--the 9/11 connection; Saddam's "gathering" threat; the elusive WMD's; liberating the Iraqi people; the preemption of greater conflict; foreign policy confrontation instead of containment; fighting terrorists "over there" instead of "over here"; promoting democracy and freedom; oil; permanent military bases in the Mideast; finishing the mission whatever the hell it is--but you probably won't make any headway: Blah, blah, blah.

But if someone brings up the 24-year-old twins, Jenna and Barbara Bush, watch people squirm.

Mainstream news sources will occasionally provide updates on the Bush twins. Jenna, who was graduated from the University of Texas in May 2004, has been teaching third-graders English and Spanish at the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in the D.C. area. Barbara, a 2004 Yale graduate, works in education programming at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. We sometimes read gossip about parties they've recently attended, along with the color of the cocktail dresses worn on that particular night. You don't, however, hear reporters and national commentators ask the above question (at least not aloud). Why?

I don't think it is an unfair or "cheap shot" question. Or impolite. We've got a war going on. President Bush has billed this war as a noble and supremely necessary cause, rather than a war of choice. Valiant young men and women have trusted the President about the importance of the war. They have responded to his call. They have put their very lives on the line. This war has impacted a lot of families. Jenna and Barbara are able-bodied citizens well within the age of enlistment. Yet they have conspicuously not followed their father's leadership on this urgent life-and-death matter. Why the silence about the twins' not volunteering for military service?

Journalistic protocol deems it out-of-bounds to peer and press into the lives of presidential children while they are minors. But Jenna and Barbara are no longer children. They enjoyed relative privacy throughout their college days, except for some well-publicized drinking incidents. Upon graduation from college, the Washington Post announced that the "kidgloves" treatment was coming off. Yet no one asks Tony Snow the above question (the White House conveniently maintains a strict "no comment" policy on the twins). More important, no one asks Jenna and Barbara the above question.

What would be the excuses? Not their skill-sets? Not their priority at this time? Laura Bush forbids it? I'd like to hear the answers. Yes, teaching public school and programming museum education are worthy pursuits and not to be denigrated. But we're at war, and Jenna and Barbara's father happens to be the Commander-in-Chief. Like it or not, they are public figures in a very public war (compare their tongue-tied detachment with, for instance, the outspoken protests of Dana Olmert, the daughter of Israel's Prime Minister.) Don't Jenna and Barbara owe other young Americans an explanation of some kind? This isn't a "private" matter, to be shoved under the rug. As their father reminds all of us, good American soldiers are dying so that others can live free.

It's beyond spin control and stonewalling. It's a whispered and angry question that just won't go away as this war drags on and on (unless Jenna and Barbara actually enlist):

"If this war is so God damn important, why aren't the Bush twins over there in Iraq helping to fight it?"

A related note: Mary Cheney says (and writes in her book) that 9/11 changed everything, so that she had to support the Republican ticket in 2004, despite its gay-bashing platforms and proclivities. By my calculations, she was, in 2004, still age-eligible for enlistment in the active components of the military (35 years old) and well under the maximum age of enlistment for volunteering in the reserves (39 years old). Talk the talk, walk the walk. Or, was it the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that held her back from serving her country, an ironic twist that resulted in forcing her hand to vote Republican? What goes around, comes around...