by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis
(Providence, Rhode Island) – As the United States moves closer to a possible military strike on Syria, I decided to write about something that has puzzled me for at least the past 20 years. I will say it right up front – I am not making a judgment by party, or by President – but rather raise the question about military experience. Why do we so often gravitate to the candidate with the least military experience – rather than the most - when we elect a President? In some cases, the experience is a close call, but in other cases the differences were glaringly stark. Read on:
"Knock, Knock! Is Anyone Home?" – I will start with the most recent Presidential campaign and work backwards, because the 2012 election was the first time, in a long, long time, that we chose between two presidential nominees with zero military experience. Yes, Barack Obama had been Commander-in-Chief for four years by then, but you know what I mean. I'm talking about "boots on the ground" experience. He and Mitt Romney had none. The guy who tied for last in experience; beat the guy who tied for last in experience.
"2008" – There was no comparison. Senator John McCain was a decorated Vietnam War fighter pilot and a Prisoner of War for over five years, but the nation chose Barack Obama who had never worn a uniform. The guy with the least experience won.
"2004" – George W. Bush, by now the incumbent Commander-in-Chief, had served in the Texas Air National Guard. John Kerry, by comparison, was a decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Again, the guy with the least experience won.
"2000" – It was Bush the Air National Guard pilot, versus Al Gore who served as a military photographer and journalist in Vietnam War. Okay, it was comparatively cushy military service versus comparatively cushy military service, but both men did serve. Gore gets the advantage here for serving in theatre, while Bush was stateside.
"1996" – Clinton, zero; Bob Dole wounded World War II combat vet, with a severe war disability. The choice was stark. Again, we went with the least experienced guy by far.
"1992" – Clinton, zero, and in fact gave up his initial desire to serve in the National Guard duty to maintain his "political viability" (his words not mine). His opponent, World War II Navy fighter pilot George H.W. Bush, who was shot down in combat. Again, we picked the least experienced guy.
"1980s" – In 1980, we chose Army veteran (non-combat) Ronald Reagan over Navy officer (non-combat) Jimmy Carter. Call it a tie. In 1984, Reagan was selected over Walter Mondale, who served in the Korean War. In 1988, World War II hero George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis who served in Korea with the U.S. Army.
"1970s" – In 1972 we chose Navy Lt. Richard Nixon over decorated World War II Air Force pilot George McGovern. In 1976 we chose Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter over World War II Navy veteran Gerald Ford, who saw combat in the Pacific theatre.
"The 60's" – Okay, in this decade we picked the guys with the most experience. In 1960 John F. Kennedy was a wounded PT-109 Navy hero, versus Richard Nixon, who had served in the Navy, too. In 1964, we picked Lyndon Baines Johnson a guy who served in World War II in Europe, even though was a Member of Congress at the same time. He "walked the walk" as the trite saying goes. In 1968, former Navy officer Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey, who never formally served in the military.
"1950s" – "I Like Ike" – It was hard not to twice elect the guy who had won World War II. When was the last time the choice was so easy? General Dwight Eisenhower defeated Sen. Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. Stevenson had been a Seaman Apprentice in the U.S. Navy.
"The Judgment" – This is an interesting dilemma. Do we choose the person who has the best handle on military affairs, especially from hands-on personal experience; or do we pick the person we believe has the best leadership skills? It's not an easy question. Barack Obama – a guy with zero military experience – made the correct call on taking out Osama bin Laden; but a seasoned veteran like Lyndon Johnson (with help from his veteran predecessor Kennedy, and his veteran successor Nixon) led the nation horribly off course in Vietnam. Should a wise and experienced George H.W. Bush simply have wiped out Saddam Hussein in 1991, rather than leave the mop up job to a comparatively inexperienced son George W. Bush in 2004? Again, fascinating questions. In sum, from the early 50s through the late 60s we went with experience. From 1992 through now, we picked the person with the least military experience. The years in between were a mixed bag. It is an interesting history!
As always, I value your thoughts. Please click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com. And let me know: why do we seem to pick the candidate with the least experience, rather than the most?
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