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Never Served in the Military

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

John McCain mentioned this weekend that most of the people on talk shows have never served in the military.  He said this in the context of condemning them for being out of touch with the needs of the military vis a vis Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It made me curious.  What talk show hosts, if any, have served in the military?  I wandered through a truly stupendous number of reference articles and was completely unsurprised to find that the only current talk show host veteran is Regis Philbin, who was in the Navy.  Montel Williams, although not currently on television, had the most interesting military career – he was an enlisted Marine and went to Annapolis to become a Navy officer, eventually learning Russian at DLI and serving on submarines.  The only other surprise (because I was not at all surprised that Rush Limbaugh got a draft deferrment from Vietnam) was that Anderson Cooper spent a couple summers as an intern at the CIA.  Not military service, but did you know that Anderson Cooper worked for the intelligence community, even part-time?  Weird.

Senator McCain is correct that the talk shows are populated by people who have never served in the military.  But, they don’t make decisions about the military – Congress does.  I find it much more illustrative that 75% of the members of both houses are non-veterans.  Chickenhawks and bleeding hearts alike – odds are that they didn’t serve a day before spouting about what is best for the military.  As someone who generally finds the current GOP reprehensible, it annoys me further that only one of the freshman class of Democratic Senators is a vet, and none of the freshman Representatives.  Have liberal veterans simply given up on elected office?  One more data point added to my tally of “Reasons the Democratic Party is Spineless.”


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
Well, let's be careful here. As someone incapable of serving in the military even if I wanted to, I certainly don't want a de facto requirement for politics to be military service. Look what's happened with the de facto religious test for office we have right now. For one thing, it becomes empty, and does nothing but prevent good people from serving their country in government.

Having said that, though, I did a little search and discovered there are 24.5 million American veterans, as of 2005. That's only 8% of the US population. If anything like 25% of the Congress are veterans, they are already overrepresented by 3 times their representation in the general population. That is more than enough.

Further, I would argue that an objective, outsider viewpoint is essential for running the military properly. Look what happens to organizations that try to "police themselves", like street cops, or Congress themselves. They inevitably flub it up. They are too close to the problem, they are too willing to let things continue as they are and cover-up for friends to maintain their own power.

Prior to this election, the vast majority of veterans in either house of Congress were Democrats. The fact that most new vets were Republicans this time should not be surprising, since most new members are Republicans, and because Dems hammered the party on this fact in the last two elections.

So, since 92% of the population haven't served in the military, it surprises me not at all that most fill in the blank aren't veterans. That's as it should be and means absolutely nothing for good or ill.
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
Ha, you beat me to it.
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
You people and your facts and numbers. It's like I'm living in some reality-based universe or something.
Dec. 20th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
I do my best to keep the world grounded in reality. Some days it feels like a losing battle, but fight the good fight, you know?
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
True enough. I am a firm supporter of the concept of civilian leadership of the military - see my previous post about it not mattering one whit what the military WANTS policy to be because they're not in charge of creating policy.

Unfortunately, the military is a big piece of the federal budget, and an important part of our foreign policy infrastructure. Few would care what the USA wanted them to do if we didn't have a stick to threaten them with; carrots only go so far. Thus, we're stuck with a government that employs the military for a lot of things, good and ill. In that, it would seem like a good thing to understand the military a bit. I would never suggest or support a service-required citizenship such as Heinlein proposed in Starship Troopers. But, if you're going to wield the military like a blunt instrument, a little understanding of what it looks like from the inside of that instrument is a Good Thing.

Also, there is a certain subset of people who are inclined to public service. They are found in high proportion in the military, along with those who view the military as a means out of some situation or a means into a different situation. Those same people who want to make a difference, after they get out of the military, can be expected to still want to make a difference outside of it. This is the theory behind the Troops to Teachers program, and it would seem only natural for people who want to change society would be drawn to elected office. These offices also draw a good number of people who like power and enjoy authoritarian regimes, but let's hope sociopaths remain a tiny portion of humanity.

So, it's not surprising to see veterans represented in Congress in high proportion. I'm surprised it's getting lower every year, though. It may be more illustrative of the ridiculously adversarial and tormented-logic-filled body that 40% of them list "lawyer" or "attorney" as their profession.
Dec. 20th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
Crap, LJ/Time Warner just ate my rebuttal... let's just summarize by saying I'd like to see more teachers and scientists in Congress. And maybe the over-representation of the military is why we spend an INSANE amount of money on the military, more than the whole rest of the world (or thereabouts).

Attorneys are grossly overrepresented, but the ability to right laws is kinda handy (though, it can be relegated to staff). It's also a natural job extension for them. But if we can get other types of educated/experienced (and frankly intelligent!) people then we can wean Congress of some of those.
Dec. 20th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
So, it's not surprising to see veterans represented in Congress in high proportion. I'm surprised it's getting lower every year, though.

Here is a pretty simple explanation for that phenomenon, I think. The military's been getting smaller fairly continuously since the end of WW2, with blips for Korea and Vietnam, and a comparitively tiny blip for the current wars. The WW2 and Korea generations are dying off, and the Vietnam generation is retiring -- there are still plenty of active, healthy Vietnam vets in the working world, of course, but if they haven't started a political career by now, they're probably not going to. And of course the total US population has been growing all that time. I'm too lazy to do an analysis comparing the eligible veteran pool as a proportion of population vs. the proportion of veterans in Congress over time, but I'm guessing they track pretty closely.
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
I am totally unsurprised that Cooper worked for the CIA -- he's exactly the sort of upper-class, family-connected prettyboy who has traditionally occupied a desk there.

As for the numbers in Congress, look at it this way: there are about 22 million veterans in the US out of a population of about 311 million people, or about 7% of the population. OTOH, the proportion of veterans in the 111th Congress was 120/535 or about 22%, while in the 112th it's 113/535 or about 21%. Among Democrats, in the 112th we have 37 / 246 (counting both I's as D's) or about 15%; for Republicans, 76/289 or about 26%. So in Congress as a whole, and among both major parties, veterans are significantly overrepresented as a proportion of the People. You know, We who did ordain and establish this whole thing in the first place?

And as a veteran, I'd personally much rather have the traditional civilian control of the military being exercised by a lifelong civilian like, say, Mark Udall (just to pick a random example) than a cranky, senile veteran like John McCain. There are plenty of sensible vets and jackass non-vets too, of course, but in terms of quality of legislation, concern for military and veterans' issues, or overall competence, I really don't think it makes much difference one way or the other. Agreed that more Democratic vets should go into politics, but that's more because it's a useful refutation to rants like McCain's than because I think it has any real effect on the quality of the results.
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
CIA used to be the near-exclusive domain of Yale graduates, as I recall. Just thought that era was over long ago. Cooper hardly exudes "spook" to my mind. Of course, my thoughts of "spook" lead inexorably to my NSA brethren - geeks are heavily over-represented there. :-)

Sane is definitely better than senile, I agree. I just kind of wandered off point, I guess. McCain claiming that talk show hosts shouldn't spout about military issues because they're not veterans is silly when those making the actual policy aren't veterans either. Does that disqualify them?

Maybe fewer people whose entire lives have been about politics would be good too. I find it hard to believe that the son and grandson of Admiralty has much understanding of normal life (just as one example that leaps to mind).

Edited at 2010-12-20 06:45 pm (UTC)
Dec. 20th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
No, I think at the top levels, the alphabet-soup agencies are still pretty Ivy-heavy. And definitely rich-and-connected-heavy, which definitely includes Cooper. I'm sure he wasn't James Bonding it.

Being the son and grandson of admirals shouldn't necessarily disqualify McCain, of course; military and political talent, like all other types of talent, can run in families. In his case, though, it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. I suspect a lot of his bitterness is due to being aware, on some level, of what a poor keeper of the family flame he is.

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )