Democrats & Liberals Archives

Is a Military Record an Asset?

Although it is more than two years away, spirited discussion has already begun on potential candidates for the 2008 presidential election. Primary candidates may tell their parties that their military record makes them more “electable”. In fact, a look at modern presidential elections presents little evidence that this is true.

My working definition of a "modern election" is 1960 or later. (Think Kennedy-Nixon debate.) There have been twelve presidential contests since then, and five of them were between two major party candidates with what I deem to be substantially different military records. To illustrate what I mean by substantially different, consider the 1988 election. George HW Bush was a Navy pilot in WWII and Michael Dukakis served in the Army in Korea, albeit during peacetime. While we would all probably agree that Bush's service was more impressive, he could not really call out Dukakis as someone with inferior military experience. (He could call him a liberal, but that's another issue...) In contrast, in 1992 he ran against someone who had not served in the military in any capacity and had arguably dodged the draft. I count that as a substantial difference.

As I said, there were five elections where I see a real contrast: 1968, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004.

1968 - Richard Nixon served in the Pacific in World War II. According to Hubert Humphrey's Wikipedia entry, "During World War II, he became state director of new production training and reemployment and State chief of Minnesota war service program 1942; assistant director, War Manpower Commission 1943..." While one could argue that Humphrey was in some sense serving the military, he was not a member of the armed forces. Nixon, as we all know, won.

1992, 1996 - Clinton had no military experience whatsoever, but beat two members of the "Greatest Generation" who served overseas in World War II.

2000, 2004 - The best you can say for George W Bush is that he served stateside in the National Guard. Nevertheless, he beat two men who had served in Vietnam. (Al Gore is a Vietnam veteran. Really.)

So if you are keeping score at home, the guys with more military experience are 1 for 5, and that single victory was almost forty years ago. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that military experience hurts, I sure don't see any evidence of it helping. So if anyone says that a certain candidate should be nominated because he served in the military, point out these examples.

Posted by Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 7:11 AM
Comment #154690

(You could argue that Gore actually beat Bush, and I would probably agree with you. Then it’s still just 2 for 5.)

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 8:00 AM
Comment #154697

This opens up the question that, if Kerry had not been smeared with the swift boat lies would the election result in 2004 have been different? I believe Kerry would have won had it not been for both those lies and Kerry’s poor handling of the response to them.

BTW: In 1968 — Humphrey wanted to serve in the military but he was classified 4F

Posted by: Steve K at June 6, 2006 8:57 AM
Comment #154698

Steve K,

Could be. I think 2004 illustrates that a military record is not just sitting there on paper but is going to be dissected, interpreted, and sometimes lied about it if the candidate highlights it.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 9:01 AM
Comment #154702

This opens up the question that, if Kerry had not been smeared with the swift boat lies would the election result in 2004 have been different? I believe Kerry would have won had it not been for both those lies and Kerry’s poor handling of the response to them.

Kerry lost because he is a bonehead. He has zero personality and is a shell of the outspoken man he was when he returned from ‘nam. Billions of dollars of katsup sales and silk toilet paper tends to soften an individual.

He would have been a minor upgrade from what we have now, but far far far far far far from an ideal candidate for our president. I pray he doesn’t run again.

That said his running mate is a toolbox too, John Edwards, don’t you think about running!

Posted by: tree hugger at June 6, 2006 9:46 AM
Comment #154717

By the way, Happy Apocalypse Day!

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 10:48 AM
Comment #154723


I think military service is just one component of a person. Bob Dole was a true war hero—no questions about his service, as was the case with Kerry—but he didn’t have some of the other traits necessary to beat Bill Clinton.

I think McCain can use his war status probably to the best advantage, since he truly showed character when he was tortured. I never put much stock in Kerry’s 4 month in-country experience, nor in Gore’s combat journalism position, nor Bush’s TANG service. As far as service goes, I’d rank them in that order (Kerry, Gore, Bush), but I just don’t think their military careers are all that salient when put in context with their ensuing decades of public service.

So I think military service is one aspect, but seemingly not a major aspect when looking at who to elect.

Posted by: jeobagodonuts at June 6, 2006 10:57 AM
Comment #154730


Dole vs. Kerry — we could quibble, but they both lost anyway.

With McCain, keep in mind that he has already lost before to someone with a much weaker military record: George W. Bush. And it seems to me that Republicans would be swayed by someone’s military experience as much as anyone.

I am going to be contrarian and say that no one actually cares that much about McCain’s military experience. Sure, people will say they do, but in the final analysis he is admired or hated for other reasons.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 11:20 AM
Comment #154752


Your sample size is too small to draw conclusion and circumstance are important. Clinton’s successful strategy was to convince many voters that in the post Cold War world, experience in things like the military no longer mattered. He negated the military issue for his opponents and then for Al Gore. Gore’s military experience was not that salient anyway, so I doubt if he could have put it to much use.

Kerry, IMO, negated his military by his subsequent protests. I know that liberals don’t think that is valid, but then it is not liberals who would be impressed by military background anyway. Among most of those who might vote for someone BECAUSE of a military record, he threw away his status along with his ribbons.

It also depends on what you did in the military. For someone like Eisenhower, the military IS his resume. For someone like John McCain it is very significant. For Al Gore, the military was about as significant as his undergraduate major. It did not define him in any way. Kerry, as I wrote, gave up his hero status.

Posted by: Jack at June 6, 2006 12:01 PM
Comment #154755

Kerry didn’t lose because of swift boaters. Jack is right, he gave up his status and then tried to use it in an election. A lot of people couldn’t stand for that and the swift boaters gave them the out they needed.

Posted by: Schwamp at June 6, 2006 12:14 PM
Comment #154757


It’s a small sample size, but it’s all the evidence we’ve got to work with. (I think before 1960 it was really a different world.) Otherwise you pretty much have to take on faith that it will work this time.

Every case is obviously different, and you could always discount a particular case. So Gore’s military experience “was about as significant as his undergraduate major” — why?

You might say that McCain’s military record will give him a boost, but I think that is rather a leap of faith. Remember — he already got beat once by a guy who served in the National Guard. And those were Republican voters!

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 12:17 PM
Comment #154766


Both Gore and Kerry had minimal military experience, and it was at a level where it had little to do with policy etc. Eisenhower dealt with global military issues, which certainly helped him as President.

I’m on record as saying “thank you” to both Gore and Kerry for their service, and I’ve not denigrated either man in this regard. But I also don’t elevate them more than is deserved. They both deserve credit for having gone to Viet Nam. But to suggest that their military service gives them any claim to the Presidency, or any salient knowledge about global military matters decades later would be wrong also. It would be akin to suggesting that a low level management position at Wal-Mart gives a person great insight into the CEO position.

Kerry can run on his 3+ decades of public service, and the decisions he has made. His military history should not be inflated nor decried. It’s better left in the past, in my opinion.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at June 6, 2006 12:33 PM
Comment #154767


Gore’s military experience did not seem to affect him very much. That is just what it seems to me. The early Clinton Administration was anti-military (they learned later). Gore fit in nevertheless.

In some circles they dislike military experience. I have a friend with a PhD who used to be an Army officer. He says that he tries to play down his experience in much of academia. I do not think military experience is a plus among liberal Dems and may be a negative. They tend to want to use military experience as an offensive tactic against Republicans, but everything else being equal would not want it.

I work with lots of liberals. A while back the Marine recruter came to the house to try to get my 17 year old son to join up. I welcomed him. It is my son’s choice. When I mentioned it to my colleague, they were appalled that the Marines would try to recruit a 17 year old boy and that I would invite them into the house. You would think we were discussing a vampire. They then made the obligatory claims that they support the military. They do - in theory.

Posted by: Jack at June 6, 2006 12:37 PM
Comment #154770


I basically agree with you. It fits my thesis.

Re your Walmart analogy, you could actually make the same point about McCain. While his service was admirable, he was a captain when he retired. He was no Eisenhower.

I am not trying to beat up on McCain. He is a pretty strong candidate, but his was experience is not going to make a big difference, IMHO.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 6, 2006 12:42 PM
Comment #154792

Eisenhower was seen as a buffoon, despite the right wing attempts to rewrite history.

Against a failed president, I don’t think military service will matter. This will likely be another Nixon/Carter election. That is if the Dems can find someone who is reasonably clean. Jeb will be smeared with GW and McCain is just the fat boy wanna be. The South won’t support Condi. She’s too black and female.
Hillary has too much baggage and will just entrench the right wing nutjobs.
Kerry is from snob hill.
I actually think John Edwards might have a chance.

Posted by: gergle at June 6, 2006 1:37 PM
Comment #154803

This is a great topic prior to the election build up this summer. I have to admit that many comments from the last election that came from conservatives, especially from FOX News sicken me. These people degrated Kerry’s military experiece. They showed pictures with he and Jane Fonda, video of him throwing away his medals and speaches with him talking about what was going wrong in Vietnam. To many Conservatives it meant that he was backstabbing the troops. My problem is that many of the people that were critical of Kerry have not even served. Kerry CHOSE to go to Vietnam. Kerry CHOSE to be in the sh*t. Then he CHOSE to comment on what he saw. What gives ANYONE the right to criticize him? Yet the right still does. Funny how the press was conserned that Bush was being smeared by CBS, yet none of them realized that they ALL smeared Kerry.

Posted by: Vincent Vega at June 6, 2006 2:20 PM
Comment #154806

And yes, my spelling looks like a 6th grader.

Posted by: Vincent Vega at June 6, 2006 2:21 PM
Comment #154822

Vincent, I agree with you. What’s even more bizarre about the fact that so many people smeared Kerry during the last election is the almost total consensus in this country that the Vietnam War was a truly GIGANTIC mistake of utterly COLOSSAL proportions.
That being said, I believe if Kerry had showed us much more of the man who gave the Winter Soldier speech, rather than the guy who had the stones to go endanger his life on a swiftboat in the first place, he might have gotten enough votes to overwhelm the fact that the election was rigged for Bush in Ohio.
Btw, new photographs and documents have been gathered which completely gut all of the claims made by the Swiftboat Liars for Bush.

As for this article, I think Woody is right. If military assets were so important, John McCain would have been nominated by the Republicans, and Clark would have been nominated by the Democrats. Clearly, it can be an asset, but there has to be much more there to recommend the candidate to the American people than just military familiarity and a history of bravery.

Posted by: Adrienne at June 6, 2006 3:06 PM
Comment #154830


That Buffoon Einsenhower won reelection by almost as much as that buffoon link text. The people at the time seemed to trust him and now elite historians have come around too. Is that rewriting history or maybe just getting it right when they have had more time to study?

Posted by: Jack at June 6, 2006 3:33 PM
Comment #154831

Sorry. Maybe being a buffoon, I didn’t fill in Ronald Reagan’s name in the link text. Reagan won nearly 58% of the vote, a little more than Eisenhower.

Posted by: Jack at June 6, 2006 3:35 PM
Comment #154832

Management positions don’t leed to CEO experience. Hell those overpaid idiots have no responsibility. I as a wrench bender think just about any idiot could do a beter job of being CEO then those boobs that are their. But that is just my view from the bottom. The idiots at the top have no idea what actually happens on the floor of the company. What makes them think that they deserve a 8 figure salery.

Posted by: timesend at June 6, 2006 3:38 PM
Comment #154857

———I am sourly saddened by a parent even considering
a military wolf in sheep’s clothing being invited into his home and offering up his 17 year old son to become a sacrificial lamb to fight in the WAR FROM HELL. Perhaps you should go and make a sacrifice for him and the rest of your family.

Posted by: DAVID at June 6, 2006 4:59 PM
Comment #154879

“I think McCain can use his war status probably to the best advantage, since he truly showed character when he was tortured. “

I’m kind of curious how the republicans could put up McCain, and how they’ll react if Democrats were to float the stories about him that bushco did to win the nomination.
IF, according to bush and rove, McCain is insane, unbalanced from his incarceration, fathered an illegitimate black baby, etc, then why would they now consider him to lead their party?? (facetious post, I know the answer: short memories and lack of character)

Posted by: norby at June 6, 2006 5:54 PM
Comment #154884


You prove the point about the attitude. To the extent your attitude reflects those of liberal Dems, you should not be surprised that you cannot get credibility on military matters.

Posted by: Jack at June 6, 2006 6:05 PM
Comment #154902

——JACK————- I prove my credibility every time I try, and sometimes succeed at repairing some of these young people. I have no intention of trying to prove to you or anyone else that death & mutilation of young people in this war is in anyway justifiable. In the event their was a necessary war or you are over 21 than you must live or die by the choices you make. This is the choice we all are given every day because we all have had some experiences with life once you become an adult.

Posted by: DAVID at June 6, 2006 7:00 PM
Comment #154910

“To the extent your attitude reflects those of liberal Dems, you should not be surprised that you cannot get credibility on military matters.”

Why is it that republicans seem to be unable to distinguish between those who support necessary military action, but oppose bad ideas like Iraq?
As a democrat, I supported the Afghani invasion, although I was very dissapointed at the tactics.
Iraq, I was totally against, and been proven right.
From a right wing critic, I’m a surrender monkey tree hugger pacifist? I dont’ support the troops? I’m supposed to mindlessly endorse ANY war???
Doesn’t make sense to me.

Posted by: norby at June 6, 2006 7:24 PM
Comment #154911

“In the event their was a necessary war or you are over 21 than you must live or die by the choices you make. This is the choice we all are given every day because we all have had some experiences with life once you become an adult.”

Knowing now how little I knew at 18, it’s even more sad that we pretty much only promote military service to those with little capacity to understand its true implications.
We don’t trust you to drink, but we’ll allow you to sign away your life.

Posted by: norby at June 6, 2006 7:28 PM
Comment #154943

Here in Kansas it’s simple:

If you’re a Republican you support the troops.

If you’re a Democrat you don’t.

So, if you’re a Republican you automatically qualify as a veteran of at least “supporting” the veterans.

Why is it that Oliver North is more highly regarded than John Kerry?

True values, whether those espoused through prior military service or otherwise, mean nothing anymore. You can sell your soul to the devil and it’s OK as long as it’s the Devil in the “Red Dress”. If you do the same to the Devil in the “Blue Dress” it’s all over.


Posted by: KansasDem at June 6, 2006 9:19 PM
Comment #154956

ollie n and the contra have you forgoten?

Posted by: DAVID at June 6, 2006 9:46 PM
Comment #154977

I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, Because once I have Persuaded him he will Stick. if i scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is Gone.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at June 6, 2006 10:36 PM
Comment #155234

This is a good day for america.The dems. are that much closer to having no voice in this country.

Posted by: lookingout at June 7, 2006 3:37 PM
Comment #156213

I would never vote for a president that hasnt served in the military in one way or another.

Posted by: Tim Silver at June 10, 2006 12:25 AM
Comment #233658

Many of us VietNam vets respected Kerry for speaking out strongly against further military involvement in SouthEast Asia. Those who continued to support that vile and despicable action simply either were not playing close enough attention while over there, or lacked any semblance of a soul!

Same goes for those idiots who currently still support the soul-less beast currently hiding behind Patreaus’s chestfull of medals. The problem with Bush has always been that if you even look at him too long, he will drag you into the pits of hell with him, so be careful and whatever you do, DO NOT LISTEN TO ONE WORD HE SAYS, because he is nothing but a liar, and everyone in this country should hang their heads in shame. It won’t bother Bush a bit … he will continue to take us closer and closer to the brink of fascism and closer and closer to Armageddon all whilst smiling that sinister smirk of his.

Posted by: webegeeks at September 20, 2007 7:13 PM
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