Why Are U.S. Vets MIA In U.S. Politics?

Why are military veterans so under-represented in Congress? Should we care?

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DoD photo / MCS 1st Class Mark O'Donald, U.S. Navy

The U.S. military plays more of a ceremonial role during inaugurations, like 2009's, than its veterans do in the nation's legislative or executive branches.

Why are military veterans so under-represented in Congress? Should we care?

In “An Army Apart,” TIME’s Mark Thompson notes “the share of veterans among lawmakers has fallen from 77% in the late 1970s to 22% now.”  This lack of military representation in Congress has painful consequences.  Richard Kohn, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says lawmakers “don’t have a sense of the (military’s) institutions and the culture, so they’re less likely to exercise insightful or determined oversight.”

Some blame Ivy League schools‘ banning ROTC — Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — on their campuses for more than four decades, many until last year. That meant that graduates from these “elite” institutions — men and woman who traditionally would be most likely to become future legislators and decision-makers — were for many years under-represented within the military itself.

With Ivy League schools now allowing ROTC on their campuses again (with the exception of Brown University), the hope is that in time, as more students cycle through the ROTC programs at these institutions, more veterans will begin to get elected to Congress.

Some national security experts have been outspoken advocates about this very issue. Since leaving active duty as a Marine captain in 2010, Matt Pottinger, the president of China Six and a former Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has stressed the need for graduates from our elite colleges to join the military:  “America would be better served if more government decision-makers had military experience.”  Donning the uniform is an important step in creating well-rounded, multi-talented men and woman who can be entrusted with our nation and its defense.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Pottinger explains that leaders with military experience are much less likely to send American troops into combat.  “Few Americans realize it, but our leaders who lack military experience tend to be more hawkish than leaders who have served in the military.  Leaders who are military veterans have been, on the whole, more reluctant to intervene in places like Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Iraq, and now Libya.”

That is an important point to consider as we go to the polls on Tuesday. Hopefully veterans, from both sides of the aisle, will win election and bring a measure of rational practicality to our legislature that will discourage needlessly intervening in unnecessary conflicts.

But what about the presidential race?

Should military service be a prerequisite for seeking the highest office? Obviously neither President Obama nor GOP challenger Mitt Romney served in uniform. Should we be concerned that our next commander in chief will have never been a military commander or chief?

Obama has a couple national-security feathers in his cap, namely the killing of Osama bin Laden, but when it comes to places like Benghazi and Helmand province, he seems to struggle with clearly defining our mission or a roadmap for success. Romney is every bit as wet behind the ears as Obama was four years ago when it comes to national security.

So our primary concern should be that whoever wins the White House, that he surrounds himself with qualified and credentialed experts that have the authority, and the confidence, to stand up to the President and provide him unfiltered national-security advice. The last thing we need as a country is a President that wants to prove his national-security mettle by leading us into (another) avoidable conflict.

Let’s hope that more and more veterans from the “New Greatest Generation,” both Democrats and Republicans, feel compelled to serve their country again as elected officials.  Our nation stands to benefit from the judgment, perspective, and resolve of new battle-tested veterans that seek higher office.

Honorable and courageous men like Hunter Hill, a former Army Ranger running for Georgia’s state senate, have already taken the initiative to run for public office. We can only hope that other selfless leaders of this new greatest generation can be convinced to once again serve their country in Her time of need, and help bring some poised resolve back to Washington.

Fla4Me 1 Like

"when it comes to places like Benghazi and Helmand province, he seems to struggle with clearly defining our mission"  I guess Jamison hasn't been paying attention.  When it comes to Benghazi an, as yet to be clearly understood, attack required a response from the administration who's hands were tied by the fact that the operation was a covert CIA mission.  Given the nature of the situation I wonder what Mr. Jamison would have done...  Re Helmand province and all of Afghanistan, the President inherited an unwinnable unconventional war.  The only clearly defined mission is to exit as gracefully as possible and be ready to selectively reenter to target training camps and the like.  The problem for the President is having to play politics with this issue and not offend all the families of fallen servicemen and women who have died there.  Again, what would Jamison do differently?  Talking heads in the press who take critical positions on policy should in the same breath propose their own solutions or just stick to reporting "facts".

The overall concept for the piece is a good one.  The larger issue is that we do not have a draft and so the military does not represent the population as a whole very well.  Additionally, wars are not the great national efforts they once were and so vets don't get the unquestioned respect from all sides.  Max Cleland, and John Kerry are perfect examples of men who served with honor and distinction and who had that very service mocked by political opponents.

mtngoatjoe 1 Like

I agree with term limits. I also think candidates for the House of Representatives should NOT have served in any elected position for the prior two years. Serve one term, and you're out of the House for at least two. We must have turnover in the House. Our representatives should not be spending so much time raising money and running for reelection.

As for Vets. I think the prevailing view is that serving with honor and running for office are mutually exclusive ideas.

JeanG 2 Like

As a veteran, I have no interest of diving in the cesspool of 'sell your soul to the highest bidder for money' world of politics. I know it's easier to enact change from the inside, but you have to play the game to get elected in the first place and it would likely involve throwing my ethical core out the window. Second, most veterans don't have the personal capital needed to get started in politics. Successfully running for office is getting more and more expensive and you see more and more the candidates need to be independently wealthy. Plus the new wave of vets are in their 30s and 40s and many have kids - and after years of not being a part of their kids' lives, they don't have interest in pursuing a job that will keep them away from home for extended periods of time.

Until we put term limits to boot the incumbents out (yeah, like they would ever vote to remove their almost certain job security) and enact serious campaign finance reform which brings down the astronomic amount of money spent on campaigning, I don't see that veterans have much of a chance.

distantsmoke 1 Like

The only Vets that can afford politics are retired Generals and Colonels.  The rest of us are too poor, trying to figure out how to live a decent life on less than $2000 a month.  And with Obama's looming cuts to Veteran's programs (Soros think tank recommendations), it will only get worse.  When you are struggling to put food on the table who has time or money to play politics?

DHMazur 1 Like

While I support the basic theme of the article, it is inaccurate to say that Ivy League schools (or any other schools) have banned ROTC during the last 40 years.  This is a persistent but false myth--an "urban legend."

There was no ban of ROTC.  It is more accurate to say that the departure of ROTC from many northeastern universities following Vietnam was the result of simultaneous lack of interest by both the Pentagon and the universities.  Neither wanted ROTC: the military, because it was downsizing officer training toward the end of the Vietnam War and moving its footprint south; the universities, because they had longstanding disagreements with ROTC over academic standards and instructor qualifications.

Universities simply do not have the legal power to ban ROTC.  If they ever attempted to do so, federal law requires that they lose all federal funding.  Rather than conveniently placing all the blame on universities, we would be better served by asking why the military lost interest in having a strong ROTC presence in the northeast.

See this NY Times editorial for more on the subject, "The Myth of the ROTC Ban":

A former U.S. Air Force officer, current law professor, and author of "A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger,"

Don_Bacon 3 Like

Why Are U.S. Vets MIA In U.S. Politics?

1. Most political incumbents have the financial connections to beat back any challengers, and so most incumbents maintain their incumbency. It's their career.

2. More importantly, veterans who have lived by Duty, Honor, Country are generally not about to change and to adopt politicians' principles of Lie, Cheat and Steal, with the low public approval ratings that that brings.


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