Thursday, January 25, 2018

Here We Go Again With the "Veterans" Stuff

Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic reports:

Enter a new organization called With Honor.

The group, which is announcing its first campaign endorsements Thursday, has launched a major effort to elect to the House more recent military veterans who commit to working across party lines. The aim is to create a bipartisan core of House Members who are inclined to seek common ground, whatever their personal views.

The only "common ground" that veterans share is that they're former government employees.

Back in the 1990s, one of my online haunts was a local Unix shell service with a discussion forum. The four most frequent participants were four veterans: A former Marine Corps infantry grunt (me), a former Navy submariner, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, and a former Army aircraft crewman.

The political distribution was: Hardcore libertarian, hardcore conservative, thoughtful progressive, hardcore partisan Democrat.

There's no correlation between being a veteran and having any particular set of political views. Or, for that matter, between being a veteran and treasuring any great commitment to "public service" or whatever. Some people join the military because there aren't good jobs to be had in their towns, some to get money for college, some to learn a skill they can make bank with later, and yes, some from this or that (highly variable from person to person) conception of duty, patriotism, etc.

Forming a political organization around veterans is like forming a political organization around restaurant workers, stamp collectors, or avid kayakers. That is, the shared characteristic is not a set of political beliefs, either specific or general.

Furthermore, being a veteran just isn't the credential it used to be where the voters are concerned.

From 1952 until 1992, there was no point in bothering to run for president unless you were a World War II veteran (the semi-exceptions were Jimmy Carter, who graduated the US Naval Academy just as the war ended, and Ronald Reagan, who got stuck making military training films instead of actually hitting beaches).

In 1992, a non-veteran, even slammed as a draft-dodger, beat WWII veteran George H.W. Bush.

In 1996, that same non-veteran beat WWII veteran Bob Dole.

In 2000, an alleged veteran, but plausibly described as a deserter, beat an actual Vietnam veteran.

In 2004, that same likely deserter beat another actual Vietnam veteran.

In 2008, a non-veteran (although possibly a former US intel operative) beat not just a Vietnam veteran, but a former POW.

In 2012 and 2016, neither major party bothered to run a veteran for president. And why would they have, after five elections in which the "credible veteran" candidate lost?

Reorganizing American politics around veterans is a dumb idea. Moreover, given the last quarter century of history, it's a losing idea.

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