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Jewish World Review
May 19, 2009
/ 25 Iyar 5769
Political war vets
Debra J. Saunders
Members of President Obama's Cabinet are three times more likely
to have attended law school than boot camp. How things have changed since
2004, when Democrats were outraged that, in time of war, the GOP White House
could be run by men with no combat experience. Saying that he was "reporting
for duty," while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Boston,
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., made much of his combat experience, as others
criticized President George W. Bush for only serving in the Air National
Guard during Vietnam. From the Senate floor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.,
called Vice President Dick Cheney a "chicken hawk" in light of Cheney's five
draft deferments during the Vietnam War.
In 2009, America is still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet
somehow the military-background imperative is gone. President Obama never
served in the military. Vice President Joe Biden, the Associated Press
reported last year, received five student draft deferments during the
Vietnam War. Just like Cheney.
As for the Obama Cabinet, according to administration
biographies, only two of its 16 members Defense Secretary Robert Gates
(originally a Bush appointee) and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric
Shinseki have military experience. Add the six officials that the Obama
administration considers to be Cabinet rank, and the total remains. Two.
By contrast, the first Cabinet of George W. Bush included six
military veterans seven when you add his first Homeland Security
Secretary, Tom Ridge.
A White House spokesperson noted that it has many vets within
the administration such as National Security Adviser James Jones,
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, Matthew Flavin at the
Department of Defense, Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth
and senior foreign policy adviser Mark Lippert.
I should note: I chose to compare Cabinets because the list is
not subjective. And the Cabinet choices reflect the presidents' views as to
who should govern this country and the type of people with whom they choose
to surround themselves.
Why the difference in the makeup of veterans in the two
administrations' Cabinets? Figure generational differences are at play, as
some Obama appointees were too young for Vietnam-era service. I thought
gender might account for the lower number of vets, but both Bush and Obama
chose four women to serve in their first Cabinets.
Me? I've never served in the military. I also have never had a
military-service litmus test for political candidates, although I do see
military experience as a strong plus.
Yet the political conversation goes from partisans fiercely
advocating for the need for military service, and then, poof, it's gone.
In 2004, Democrats were saluting Kerry and trashing Bush and
Cheney for their lack of combat experience. Democratic National Committee
Chairman Terry McAuliffe called Bush "AWOL" during Vietnam unbothered by
the fact that his former boss, President Bill Clinton, evaded National Guard
In 2008, only two Democrats running for president former Sen.
Mike Gravel and Sen. Chris Dodd had any military experience. None of the
top three contenders Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John
Edwards was a veteran.
In 2009, America is still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America has a president with no military experience and a vice president
with five draft deferrals. But I don't think you'll be hearing the term
"chicken hawk." And that's OK with me. It always was a phony issue.
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