Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are about to choose running mates. I don’t know whom they’ll pick, but I hope that one or both picks a military veteran. The next president will inherit war zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan, yet neither major party’s front-runner can boast military chops. In the last century, military service was considered an important part of a portfolio for a would-be commander in chief. After all, how can a president send others into battle when he has not seen combat himself? Military service hasn’t been mandatory in a president, nor should it be, but certainly it is preferable.
In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House despite his legal evasion of the draft. Smartly, Clinton balanced his ticket by choosing as his running mate Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn. While Gore’s Harvard classmates found ways to avoid serving in Vietnam, this senator’s son had enlisted in the Army and served five months in Vietnam.
In 2000, Democrats dismissed George W. Bush’s service as a pilot in the Air National Guard as akin to draft evasion. It wasn’t. But Bush didn’t help himself on that score when he chose as his running mate Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary who enjoyed five draft deferments during the Vietnam War. In 2004, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., branded Cheney a “chicken hawk” because the veep was a hawk on the Iraq War.
You don’t hear “chicken hawk” often these days, even though President Obama never served in the military. Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed five student draft deferments during Vietnam and the no-military-experience Obama administration has continued to engage the U.S. military from Libya to Afghanistan. In 2009, I took a gander at Obama’s first Cabinet and found that members were three times more likely to be law-school grads than veterans.
Law school is the new boot camp. Party elites prefer academia to the military. In the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, only one candidate, former Sen. James Webb of Virginia, served in the military. Hillary Clinton claims she once looked into joining the Marines, but she never did. Like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, she graduated law school. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee never enlisted.
In a GOP field rich with foreign-policy hawks, only Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry served in the military. Front-runner Donald Trump once told a biographer “(I) always felt I was in the military” because he attended a military boarding school for five years. Really.
The Los Angeles Times published a list of likely running mates Monday. Among the GOP possibles, only two — Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Tom Cotton of Arkansas —served in the military. Both are lawyers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin did not. Team Trump leaked that The Donald might pick retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn. Flynn’s a registered Democrat, but at least law school was not his boot camp.
Not one Democrat on the Times’ short list is a vet. All of the short-list Dems — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Sens.Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts — went to law or graduate school. Whether they’ll be called chicken hawks is unclear. But if the experts are right about likely picks, most will have begun their careers barking orders and never had to learn how to salute.