Dumping on military service may be bad politics, as Jennifer suggests. But it’s no surprise Sen. Harkin would consider military service overrated as a qualification to be Commander in Chief. After all, if having served your country were deemed desirable in a presidential candidate, we could eliminate three-quarters of the House and Senate from consideration.
It wasn’t always so. The current Congress has the lowest percentage of veterans in modern history, and the last election produced a freshman class in which only about 10 percent had served in the military. The peak for House members came in 1977-78, when about 80 percent had served; in the Senate, the peak was 1983-84, when 75 percent of senators were veterans.
I can’t help believing that this trend portends poorly for our future. Wouldn’t it be better if those seeking the highest office in the land had already shown they were willing to sacrifice at least a couple of years for their country?
Sure, being a soldier doesn’t guarantee that the person will be a good president. We’ve had some great presidents, like Ronald Reagan, whose military service was somewhat limited–and some bad ones, like Ulysses S. Grant, whose service was extraordinary. But overall, the sense of duty and patriotism that motivate a young man (or woman) to sign up show genuine character. I’m betting John McCain’s years as an officer–not to mention his time as a prisoner of war–are better preparation to be Commander in Chief than Barack Obama’s years at Harvard or his time spent as a foot soldier in the Saul Alinsky brigade.