Dana Milbank, the vastly overrated columnist for the Washington Post, makes one of the dumbest political arguments I’ve ever encountered. He claims that we would not be in such a hyper-partisan situation in Congress if there were more veterans on Capitol Hill. And that’s why we should reinstate the draft.
As I make my rounds each day in the capital, chronicling our leaders’ plentiful foibles, failings, screw-ups, inanities, outrages and overall dysfunction, I’m often asked if there’s anything that could clean up the mess…
But one change, over time, could reverse the problems that have built up over the past few decades: We should mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. The idea is radical, unlikely and impractical — but it just might work.
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd…
ff the top of my head, it’s not even obvious that current Members of Congress who are veterans are more willing to “make compromises for the good of the country” than their non-veteran peers. Certainly, recently-departed Representative Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel allowed to retire after escaping conviction for war crimes, didn’t fit that bill. Nor did Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, who served in the Army Reserve.
Looking at a slightly dated list of veterans in the House and Senate, one sees plenty of firebrands. Spencer Bachus. John Conyers. John Dingell. Louie Gohmert. Duncan Hunter. Darrell Issa. Peter King. Charlie Rangel. Bobby Rush. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson. Jim Inhofe.
Not exactly a list of bipartisan moderates from either party, and some of them are among the most extreme in either party. As Joyner points out, there are many good reasons to want more veterans in the military, but this sure as hell isn’t one of them.