Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Newest Democratic Fad--Veterans as Candidates

Stu Rothernberg, writing in Roll Call (subscritption may be required), examines the last candidate recruiting fad--veterans. Democrats in particular are keen on drafting (pardon the terminology) veterans to run for office.

Here is a fair use exception from Rothenberg:
For months, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liberal Web logs and major media outlets have been trumpeting the large class of Democratic House candidates who are veterans of the military.

More than three dozen non-incumbent veterans are running for Congress this year, all but a small handful of them as Democrats.

While they have received plenty of ink, it is far from clear that any of them will win. While a few high-profile veterans, including Democrat Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, are running in open seats, most — including Democrats Tim Dunn of North Carolina, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania and Steve Filson in California — face GOP incumbents in districts that range from narrowly to reliably Republican.


A military record is a credential that voters may consider, but they often prefer to use other vote cues to pick the candidate for whom they will vote. They will surely use partisanship and incumbency. They’ll likely use issues such as taxes and abortion. They’ll see what kind of interest groups are supporting which candidates.

Being in the reserves or even on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan or at the Pentagon almost certainly isn’t enough, by itself, to get any of the veterans elected. They’ll need to talk about domestic policy, raise money, define their opponents and, most importantly, connect personally with voters. And, obviously, if the Iraq issue starts to recede by the fall, these veterans could lose any special appeal that they might now have.

If one takes a long, hard look at the biographies of our nation's elected leaders, a large majority of them have not served in the military. Previous generations of leaders almost universally served in the military. I don't believe the lack of service to be a systematic dismissal of military service as import for political aspirations. Rather, I believe it to be more a function of the all-volunteer force that has been in place since the 1970s. Simply put, the current generation of lawmakers and leaders were not required to serve in the military due to the absence of a draft.

Furthermore, this nation has a long history of selecting national leaders who were war heroes, from George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. I think service in the military is an important part of building leadership skills, but obviously not the only way. I, for one, would like to see more of our leaders with military background, not because I think it necessarily makes them better leaders, but at least they understand what it means to put your country first, above your own desires. Sociologically, military service forces individuals into close contact with those who may be radically different in terms of experience and outlook. The close proximity and the nature of military service requires a degree of understanding and compromise that appears to be lacking in Congress and other governmental bodies.

Rothenberg acknowledges that the intention of the Democrats is to innoculate themselves against the perception that the Democrats are weak on foreign policy and military matters. But their standard bearer in 2004, John Kerry, was supposed to have the same qualifications, and look what happened to the Democrats then.

So clearly, looking for Democratic veterans to run is more about appealing the patriotism, to show America that Democrats are not guilty about being American, that they value people who have served. I also wonder if there is a different purpose.

One of the major criticisms of the Democratic party at this point is that they are a party beholden to the very liberal left. Given that most military members are, at least to a certain degree, more conservative on many issues the the average Democrat, I wonder if the effort to find Democratic veterans is an attempt to moderate the party a little bit.

In any event, Democratic veterans will face the same obstacles as any other candidate, appealing to voters. Perhaps being a veteran will get them a little bit more of a courtesy listen, but what they do with that little extra benefit of the doubt will be what is important, not that they have served in the military.

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