Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Joshua Green has an interesting piece in the newest issue of The Atlantic which takes a look at the emerging trend of returning Iraq War veterans lining up to run for political office - under the banner of the Democrats. Most of these soldiers-cum-politicos cite mounting frustration with the Bush administration's conduct of the war, and foreign policy in general, as their primary motivators - not to mention what many see as a betrayal of the ideals they fought, and sacrificed, for so recently. According to Green, "crisis of leadership" is a popular refrain. The story of Major Tim Walz is illustrative.
Command Sergeant Major Tim Walz is a twenty-four-year veteran of the Army National Guard, now retired but still on active duty when a visit from President George W. Bush shortly before the 2004 election coincided with Walz's homecoming to Mankato, Minnesota. A high school teacher and football coach, he had left to serve overseas in Operation Enduring Freedom. [...]Green provides the typical profile of the new fighting Dems, as well as their geographical concentrations:
The president's visit struck Walz as a teachable moment, and he and two students boarded a Bush campaign bus that took them to a quarry where the president was to speak. But after they had passed through a metal detector and their tickets and IDs were checked, they were denied admittance and ordered back onto the bus. One of the boys had a John Kerry sticker on his wallet.
Indignant, Walz refused. "As a soldier, I told them I had a right to see my commander-in-chief," the normally jovial forty-one-year-old recently explained to a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party dinner in the small town of Albert Lea, Minnesota.
His challenge prompted a KGB-style interrogation that was sadly characteristic of Bush campaign events. Do you support the president? Walz refused to answer. Do you oppose the president? Walz replied that it was no one's business but his own. (He later learned that his wife was informed that the Secret Service might arrest him.) Walz thought for a moment and asked the Bush staffers if they really wanted to arrest a command sergeant major who'd just returned from fighting the war on terrorism.
They did not.
Instead Walz was told to behave himself and permitted to attend the speech, albeit under heavy scrutiny. His students were not: they were sent home. Shortly after this Walz retired from the Guard. Then he did something that until recently was highly unusual for a military man. He announced he was running for Congress—as a Democrat.
The subsequent group of veterans very much resembles [Marine Corps Major Paul] Hackett: they are generally young (most in their thirties and forties), new to electoral politics, and, with varying degrees of intensity, critics of the administration. At a time when the public's opinion of lawmakers in both parties is abysmal, these veterans are running on the attractively civic-minded notion that service in Congress is a patriotic extension of service in the military. They are spread throughout the country but concentrated in military-heavy states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and Texas, where the war and its effects are most keenly felt.Also worth noting is the interplay of the blogosphere and the new citizen/soldier candidates. We of the 'sphere can provide the necessary cog in the effort to raise the financial means needed to compete in these elections - economic resources that these otherwise novice, and reluctant, fundraisers might not have been able to, or motivated to, amass on their own.
Of course, veterans are no more immune than anyone else from the quotidian demands of a congressional challenge. Given their straitlaced demeanor and the service-and-sacrifice nature of their career, the ones I met seemed particularly ill at ease asking for money. Still, they have cause for hope. In the final hour Paul Hackett's Ohio campaign caught fire as Democrats across the country learned of his campaign and, with the aide of activist blogs and Web sites [ed note: those traitorous liberals like Atrios, dKos, etc.], pumped in nearly half a million dollars. The ability of his successors to repeat that performance will go a long way toward determining if this latest charge of candidate veterans is a skirmish or the first wave on the beach.One advantage that cannot be denied is the instant credibility this new generation of Democratic candidates will have on matters of national security. Unfortunately, due to the relentless onslaught of accusations of treason, and the false equation of opposition to the strategically misguided war in Iraq with "softness" in the war on terror, many Democrats face an uphill battle when persuading voters of the strength of their convictions vis a vis national security. This, regardless of the fact that the invasion of Iraq has actually done substantial harm to so many security objectives. No matter the wisdom, the perception of "wrong and strong" trumps "right and weak" - especially in times of heightened fear and anxiety (ignoring the truth behind the seductive yet false conception of "strength").
Rightly or wrongly, the current crop of veterans seems to be inoculated against the standard criticism of Democrats as weak on national security. And most of the voters I encountered appeared to look at service in Iraq or Afghanistan as not just a desirable credential but one that confers unchallengeable moral standing—no small thing at a time when ethical transgressions promise to be central to the fall elections.It is immensely encouraging to see these brave men and women take up the standard of politics in order to actively address the listing and counterproductive policies that they have an up-close familiarity with. Sadly for them, I don't think the "support the troops" GOP will spare them any vitriol or character assassination. Didn't seem to shield Kerry, or Max Cleland to name but a few. I'm sure Rush, Coulter, Malkin, Savage, Hannity and other GOP apparatchiks are already honing their countermeasures: cultivating their misinformation, recruiting their slanderers and manning their Swift Boats. Still, I don't think these Democrats will shrink from the fight. Neither should we. Good luck.