Military service is no key to governing

February 01, 2004|by Donald Currier

I wonder if John Kerry and Wesley Clark wear their medals on their pajamas when they go to bed? They sure have them on all their waking hours when campaigning. Now, I do not in any way diminish their heroism on the field of battle. As a combat veteran myself, I know full well the meaning and merits of Silver Stars and Purple Hearts that both men wear. The military does not lightly hand out Silver Stars. You have to have displayed great courage in saving the lives of your comrades in battle. In the case of the Purple Heart you must have shed your blood in combat to earn one.

If all things were equal I would favor these men over those who did not or would not serve when their country needed them. There is something about the oath military men take "to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, etc," and then following through on it that does commend them. But all things are not equal and it makes me cringe to see them staking their case for the presidency on their former military careers.


The reason they do this is that they believe that they have found a wedge issue to win the presidency the Iraq war. They think that people will buy their argument that somehow they are more qualified in the current circumstances to lead the country. But it is important to remember two points. The first is that Iraq is only a minor blip in the total picture of our role in the world. The second is that foreign affairs, however news grabbing, are only a part of our national goals and objectives.

The fact is that presidents don't need medals to make them good presidents. What presidents do need is a keen sense of the real role of the president under that Constitution. They need a vision of the future in guiding this nation to its destiny. And, they also must be seen as a steady and comforting choice in an uncertain world.

Unlike candidates who promise the moon and stars to their audiences in hope of garnering votes, a president has to accept the reality that presidents propose but Congress disposes and the Supreme Court makes sure that laws meet the Constitutional test. Presidents don't raise or lower taxes, redistribute wealth, create jobs, provide health care, improve education or even take the country to war. Congress by its action in passing laws does these things and many more.

Presidents must have a vision of the future that extends long past their own term in office. They have to be able to portray that vision to the peoplenot in terms of party politics but in terms of American goals. The "vision thing." as former president George Bush called it, is the very essence of a president's role. All those who seek the office should spell out their own vision both foreign and domestic, if they are to have credibility. A vision so narrow as merely to regain party power in the White House is pitifully inadequate for any presidential hopeful.

The war on terror will be an enduring concern for us. It is a war different from any we have previously experienced. It is a war without national borders and without organized forces arrayed against us. It is a war waged against military and civilians alike. But, it is not the overriding issue facing an American president. If it were, one might argue that military experience is relevant even if outdated by the passage of time. But, as all recent polls show, foreign affairs and even war are not the primary issues facing our society. A person who only understands conventional war and is not well versed in domestic issues in an era of rising expectations and limited resources is woefully unprepared for the job.

So, Wes and John, put your medals back in their boxes and build your case on what you would do to make us safer, more secure and more comfortable and confident in our lives. We care a whole lot less about party affiliations and what you did in your days as warriors than we do about how you would make us feel about the future if you are in charge.

Donald Currier is a Washington County resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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