Today’s Dumb Headline

It’s this, courtesy of MSNBC:

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if people pay attention to who is actually elected president around these here parts. Let’s review the military service of the folks in the last few presidential elections:


Loser: Vietnam veteran, awarded Silver Star and two Purple Hearts
Winner: Defended Texas during Vietnam War


Loser: Served in Vietnam for two years
Winner: Kept the Viet Cong out of Houston


Loser: Critically wounded in combat during WWII: Awarded Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor and two Purple Hearts
Winner: No military service; organized Vietnam protest at Oxford


Loser: Flew 58 combat missions in WWII; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Winner: No military service; freaked out a bit at the thought of going to war

You have to go back to 1988 before the candidate with the more impressive military record actually wins one (that was Bush over Dukakis), and the guy before him, whose military record consists of being assigned to cushy jobs like the 1st Motion Picture Unit, beat out a guy who was regular army, and an Annapolis graduate who served on nuclear submarines.

So let’s not pretend that military service gives a candidate any great advantage or is an “automatic campaign asset.” Over the last seven elections, the superior military service is 1-6 in presidential elections. If McCain is hoping his service record is going to matter much in this election, he might want to look at the historical record.

67 Comments on “Today’s Dumb Headline”

  1. I would think it would be more of a disadvantage. I can see more people being afraid to give a person with a militaristic mindset the power of the commander and chief then to a person who is more of a career politician.

  2. Ah, I see. Frittering away your time with topical political analysis instead of posting a DUCKS winner. Priorities, priorities!

  3. Well, MSNBC could be stuck in 1992, when I believe that meme was killed.

    For the bonus ’92 flashback, the last time a Vietnam POW was attacked as being suspect after long years in a camp, YouTube Adm. James Stockdale. He was Ross Perot’s running mate. You might remember the debate debacles.
    (I personally liked the man because was literally a Stoic. He wrote some fantastic articles about using the sayings of Epictetus to get him through his imprisonment.)

    Also, it is my firm opinion that Wes Clark has the worst political sense ever.

  4. I don’t think it’s either an advantage or a disadvantage, actually. I think other, more immediate factors come into play when people are choosing who they will vote for.

  5. Just like the media to make a headline out of something that doesn’t really mean anything…………………………….
    I guess that’s why you have Today’s Dumb Headline column.

  6. Willy, it’s Commander in Chief. As in he is the chief and everybody has to salute him. There is one exception. Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and even the President has to salute them. Things being equal I would vote for someone who put their ass between me and my countries enemies every time. Having said that things are never equal. There are plenty of issues which supercede previous employment as a criteria for who I vote for. By the way being a career politician is not a plus in my book.

  7. I think it has more to do with the commercials McCain is running, that his advertising agency felt they had to put a written disclaimer on saying that all these military images and referring to his service does not imply having a military endorsement. Then Gen. Clark, while trying to make a nuanced argument about command decision making, decided to go for pithy-statement-land turning the words of the question around. And now the story is becoming Clark’s foot in mouth incident instead of the value of military service (and the differences in service).

  8. So that went back 16 years. What happens if you extrapolate it further back in time?

  9. Christian, I actually went back to 1980, so that’s 28 years. I didn’t look before that.

  10. Rembrant,

    The President is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, not Commander-in-Chief of the country. Last time I checked, those of us who weren’t in the military weren’t required to show an iota of respect to the President.

    And not to nerdgas, but 1) The name of the award is the Medal of Honor and not the Congressional Medal of Honor, and 2) strictly speaking officers don’t salute the Medal-wearer, but –at least according to tradition– salute the Medal itself.

  11. I think it was an advantage when a lot more WWII veterens were alive and voting. Not so much since then.

  12. Christian @10:

    The idea doesn’t travel well farther than ’80. From ’52-’76, basically everyone served in WWII. (Though Reagan, as John noted, did his making propaganda films for the War Dept.) Also, pre-Vietnam, there weren’t really distinctions made (politically). Pretty much all service was honorable.

  13. catallarch, sniff sniff I smell gas and it ain’t nerdgas. Somebody got a match? This isn’t a sci-fi story or movie so you couldn’t be nerdgassing.
    Your first point is iffy, naturally I meant everybody in the military has to salute the President.
    Second is a toss up, Congress has to approve it and it is commonly refered to as the Congesional Medal of Honor. Technically I will grant it. Same with your third point technically you salute the medal but I would have to wonder about anyone who wouldn’t also salute the recipient.
    Finally we have strayed from the point of this thread, is a military background an asset or a hinderance to gaining the White House. My opinion is stated above. What’s your opinion catallarch or are you just here to pass gas?

  14. The last bona fide war hero president was Kennedy. Or at least the last one for whom his service was a significant factor in his popularity and election (which happened a couple years before I was born, but as a Catholic schoolboy I remember being well-tutored in the saga of PT-109).

    Before that, there weren’t all that many out of the 42 — Eisenhower, TR, Grant, Taylor, WH Harrison, Jackson and Washington. About 20 percent, and of those, half are known for service before the Civil War.

  15. I just don’t get why they are going after McCain over the war record. Aren’t there other things that matter more and are more immediate? And isn’t it a tough sell that could likely back-fire? It befuddles me. Maybe they think this kind of junk worked against Kerry and will work for them but I think they are mistaken on both points.

  16. Misleading headline to start with. McCain uses POW like Gulianni used 911 (and darn near as often). Rather than attacking his service record, as claimed, the question was simply what extraordinary bonus being shot down and being a POW was supposed to add towards a presidential CV in the place of, say, being a constitutional scholar and a community level organizer.

    If I had to choose (and I do), I would prefer to examine what he did after he came back. McCain was an enabler of the the torture bill and the killing of habeus corpus. He also automaticly votes and works against bills that are designed to aid service members up to and including the latest G.I. bill. The only use he has for the “troops” is as photo ops and resume enhancers. If he thinks so little of his service time, why should I give it any greater weight?

  17. Lucky you had that bloke in Texas during the Vietnam war. Appears to have been a successful defence of Texas. He is still president isn’t he because he seems to be laying low at the moment? Possibly preparing fireworks for his retirement?

  18. Keep your eyes open on thursday. Komander Kodpiece always tries to slide the most egregius stuff through right before the holiday weekends.

  19. So far, you’ve only taken us to 1984 (Mondale losing to Reagan).

    The trend goes even further: In 1984, Reagan beat Carter, who was a former naval submarine officer and Naval Academy grad.

  20. Nonsense. Military service is supremely important to presidential candidates, since it is an honored sign of sacrifice and service, and to criticize it is to go past the bounds of patriotism and common decency. One who has put in the time and sacrifice is surely better qualified to hold high office than one who was not.

    Wait…that was in 2004, when the Dem had the military experience. It has been hugely entertaining to watch the Democratic leadership writhe their gelatinous intellects over to the position that military experience suddenly doesn’t matter to the presidency, and to watch the Republican leadership (possibly an oxymoron) suddenly become shocked, shocked, that anyone would dare attack a war veteran’s record.

    But, practically speaking, the last time military service gave a serious electoral edge was in the days of Reconstruction and the bloody shirt. Now, not so much.

  21. Some Democrats, being one Democrat – Wes Clark, was told that “getting shot down” was, in fact one of McCain’s qualifications.

    Someone made that claim. It was practically a “gotcha” moment, because he could have just agreed that getting shot down (and no other specific part of his experience was mentioned) was a qualification.

    here’s a transcript:

    BOB SCHIEFFER: How can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

    CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable.

    John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world.

    But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle this publicly? He hasn’t made that calls, Bob.

    SCHIEFFER: Well, General, maybe — could I just interrupt you?

    CLARK: Sure.

    SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean…

    CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

    What did he say in his opening remarks in the show?

    CLARK: I certainly honor (McCain’s) service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces as a prisoner of war


  22. On the very slight possibility that it’s of interest to the assembled, I note this bit of history geekery that I whipped up a couple of months back, charting the pre-Presidential experience of every President. (No data on general-election losers, sorry.)

    Here ’tis:


  23. “I find it fairly interesting that in the period from WWI through WWII, not a single President had served in the military.”

    In between WWI and WWII the US didn’t have much of an Army. Didn’t need it.

  24. Any aspect of character is an issue if you make it one. Clinton didn’t make any claims that he was a soldier or warrior, and so (like so many things) it became a non-issue. Some people minded, some didn’t, but everyone felt comfortable. I was only ten during Reagan’s first run, but I don’t think he ever really talked about his military service. He was an actor and orator, and never portrayed himself as anything but.

    Kerry’s gamble was making it an issue (“Reporting for duty”) when many of his military contemporaries did not respect his activities at the relevant times. (This is not to say he wouldn’t have been swift-boated if he didn’t raise the issue, but it certainly upped the stakes). Not that they liked Bush’s activities, but my impression is that if a soldier does his assignment OK (or even half-assed) and there aren’t lives on the line right then, that’s fine. Sure, we all like heroes, but let’s just admit that “Getting it done and then having fun” is acceptable to most people (including most military people). So, while Shrubs fighter training isn’t really service, that’s what he got and he (arguably) did it. Whereas Kerry’s activities could (and were) cast in a vaguely sinister light. Bush didn’t go to negotiate independantly with a country we were fighting.

    Part of Bush’s ‘charm’ (vs Kerry) is that he didn’t seem like he was trying to be President (Senator, etc) from the time he was 18. So if he says he was young, drunk and stupid (which we believe) to dismiss any charges against himself before his late 30s, what can you do? If you keep bringing up the issue, you eventually look like a snob. (“I said I did dumb things back then.”) Kerry, meanwhile, portrayed himself as an earnest idealist at a young age so invited scrutiny of his actions.

    Presumably Kerry would have not played the “military” card if he were running against Dole or McCain or Bush Sr., who could all just make him look tiny (in that area) with a well-timed belly-laugh.

  25. Nate, the period also covers the entire period of WWI, 99% of WWII, as well as a variety of undeclared military actions in Central and South America, when America went from being a minor world power to, at the end of this period, the first superpower.

  26. “Nate, the period also covers the entire period of WWI, 99% of WWII, as well as a variety of undeclared military actions in Central and South America,”

    Yes, but of course that’s not the period in which inter-war presidents would have been in the military. Basically, the US had only a small standing military from the end of the Civil War through WWI. McKinley was the last President with CW service, and Truman was the first with WWI service.

    So it’s really no surprise that in the years FOLLOWING the period in which the US military was the smallest we also find the fewest Presidents with military service.

  27. Clark doesn’t like McCain’s war record beacuse Clark was a grunt who slept in the dirt and McCain a flyboy. That’s all this is. We should thank Goldwater Nichols for trying to put that to rest, but Clark and McCain served before the more recent efforts at joint service. (Although I think Gates still feels the AF isn’t pulling its load now, so perhaps things haven’t changed that much.

  28. John,

    James Earl “dhimmy” Carter never qualified as a submariner. While he did complete the Nuclear Power School and Prototype Training, he never worked as a NUC on an operational (as in deployed on a sea going vessel) reactor plant as he was dosed out (exceeded his NAVSEA08 radiation exposure limits) as part of the Chalk River (from which CRUD [Chalk River Unknown Deposits], the highly radioactive wear and corrosion products of the primary loop take their name) incident clean up. It is also worth noting that Carter did not, per his resume, earn a degree in “Nuclear Engineering” from our mutual Alma Matter as no such degree was offered for the year in which he graduated.

    Carter requested and was granted a humanitarian discharge on the death of his father to return to and run the family farm.

  29. I find I need to correct myself,

    Carter did indeed qualify in Submarines in diesel boats, and did indeed serve in diesel boats (and surface ships) prior to NUC training.

  30. The “military edge” for presidential candidates was virtually non-existent in the last century with the exception of Eisenhower. It came in to play for him because we were embroiled in Korea at the time. His edge wasn’t just military experience, but being near the top of the military structure. If you go back to the 19th Century, you see similar situations. It was never just service that gave an edge but positions at the top of the military food chain. Americans looked at high level commands as being useful to someone that would be the commander-in-chief. Pretty similar to the fact you see more governors than senators becoming President. I’m shocked (yeah, not really) that a newspaper writer couldn’t draw that conclusion. Senatorial and Representative contests? Sure, it could and will get some play there. But I’d be hard pressed to point to a Presidential race where being a lieutenant in the Navy got someone the nod… Nixon actually held a higher rank then Kennedy if I recall.

  31. Jonathan, that’d be a fine explanation if Clark had actually said anything remotely derogatory about McCain’s service record, but he hasn’t. All he’s said is that being a POW isn’t a qualification for president. I don’t see anything insulting there. In fact, I think he’s right.

  32. Suzanne,

    It’s not the POW part, it’s the characterization of what McCain did in the service. I’d heard that before about Clark. I understand that pilots in combat don’t appreciate their service being referred to as “riding in a fighter plane” (those are Clark’s words).

  33. Those aren’t his words, though. They’re Bob Schieffer’s. He was just echoing Schieffer’s phrasing.

  34. I for one have no issues with John McCain’s character. He seems a fine person in that regard. However, when you talk about the types of the decisions that a President makes, being Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Wesley Clark) is probably a better prep school then turning around a training squadron.

    Since both Clark and McCain are decorated combat vets, I’ll let them fight it out.

  35. SACEUR is definitely good training ground for the right person. Ike did pretty well after that. On the other hand, two recent former SACEURs didn’t do as well, at least in elected politics. Clark probably got more votes for President than Al Haig, but not by much :)

  36. Heh,

    I find it interesting that the candidate that at one point thought it wise to engage in direct face to face diplomacy with Ahmadinejad sends his proxies forth (Clark, Reed, and Webb) to engage McCain.

  37. Last time I checked, those of us who weren’t in the military weren’t required to show an iota of respect to the President.

    Which is a good thing, as our National Scapegoat serves a purpose antithetical to mandated respect.

  38. Rodney – I never claimed Clark was a good SACEUR. I said that *based on the level of military experience* Clark’s was more relevant to the Presidency.

    There are other factors involved, such as non-military experience, stated goals, etc. Assuming that I would vote for McClellan over Lincoln rather ignores all of that.

    Regarding “proxy campaigns” – I rather think all candidates are doing that.

  39. Thanks Rodney, I enjoyed your McClellan analogy. I did not meant to suggest that Clark was in the same league as Ike. The role of SACEUR in the 1990s was obviously far different and far less challenging than it was during the 1940s or even during the 1970s.

  40. Chris @ 49,

    You didn’t raise those other issues. Based on the issues you did discuss, the comparison to the Lincoln vs McClellan campaign, while unkind, is valid.

    I just gave three instances of the Obama campaign attacking via proxy. The instances which support your contention that “all candidates are doing that.” are what, precisely?

  41. Oh,

    And for the record, my two part “endorsement” of McCain, can be found here and here.

    It’s a sad day when a fellow alumnus is the candidate yet is palatable only in comparison to his opponent.

  42. Mr. Graves, I take it that you don’t find VA issues to be palatable?

    I went to to check on their ratings of the candidates from before the campaigns started (to avoid campaign mode, nontypical voting patterns).

    Here is what I found:

    2006 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 20 percent in 2006.

    2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator McCain a grade of D.

    2006 Senator McCain sponsored or co-sponsored 18 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

    2005 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 25 percent in 2005.

    To be contrasted with Obama,

    2006 Senator Obama supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 80 percent in 2006.

    2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator Obama a grade of B+.

    2006 Senator Obama sponsored or co-sponsored 12 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

    2005 Senator Obama supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 92 percent in 2005.

    Note: Clinton in that time frame got rated an A.

  43. Nargel,

    I find the VA to be a great example of why “I’m from the Government, I’m here to help you.” are the nine most dangerous words ever uttered by man.

    I find the organizations you name to be longer on partisan politics than on actual benefit to veterans, with your trailing note constituting the coup de grace.

    Good Day.

  44. Au contraire.
    As Wesley Clark pointed out so well.
    It’s not the military service that should matter, but the TYPE of service.

  45. Mr. Graves

    Despite your interesting take on the VA, I suppose I should point out that that the voting records shown in my excerpt involved the Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afganistan Veterans and the Retired Enlisted Association not the VA (simply groups that are concerned about what happens to their fellows once they are no longer ,hmm, active service [even if involuntarily]).


    If we are looking at the *type* of service then the type of service that put the USS Forrestal into drydock for 2 years and killed well over 100 fellow seamen is not the kind of service I want running my government.

  46. Nargel @ 58

    While McCain was on Forrestal during the incident you mentioned, he was a victim there. His A4 was the one hit by a Zuni rocket fired accidentally from across the deck.

    There is film of McCain climbing out his cockpit, walking along the refueling probe and jumping down into the burning deck.

  47. He caused the incident by performing a “wet start” (bullshit hotdog stunt) which cooked off the rocket on the plane behind him. He also knew that the 1,000 lb. bombs on his plane were on weak 500 lb. rated pylons and would (and did) arm, fall and cook-off. The investigation report was not released until forced out under FOIA request.

    In essence, McCain deliberately flamethrowered the plane behind him which cooked off the Zuni rocket which hit his fuel tank and ultimately dropped his known to be overloaded bombs.

    McCain was quickly transferred (the only Forrestal crewman to be immediatly transferred) to the USS Oriskany.

  48. Nargel @ 60

    The Zuni that struck McCain’s A-4 came from an F-4 on the OPPOSITE side of the flight deck from McCain. The tailpipe of McCain’s A-4 was pointed out over the ocean.

    The Zuni was fired when the F-4’s pilot switched power from the gen cart to internal batteries. The switch over caused a short on the firing circuit because 1)they the F-4’s crew chief had plugged in the Zuni pod upon loading instead of just after hooking up to the catapault – as an approved unofficial time saving measure and 2) the safety pin was missing because the wind blowing over the deck had pulled the long red tag attached to the pin enough to pull it out.

    See for a diagram of the positions of McCain’s A-4 and the firing F-4.

  49. I have seen film of the incident and McCain’s plane was not aligned as you state. I would assume that the navy investigation (at the time) and conclusions that were forced out into the public view only under FOIA would be a tad bit more reliable than a wikipedia entry.

    The Navy’s, at the time, conclusion was that McCain’s wet start stunt cooked off the Zuni. I will also point out that the pilot of the plane the Zuni came from died in the incident which would have been a bit less likely if, rather than being right behind McCain, he was all the way over on the other side of the flight deck.

    Also, if McCain was a “victim” here why was he immediately (and the only one) kicked off the ship? I can see the captain saying “I can’t keelhaul him but I want that Admiral’s….son off my ship before he kills anybody else.”

  50. Upon review of your wiki entry it seems fairly convincing but it still does not match up with the film that I saw.

  51. Wow. I didn’t realize it had been so long since someone who served in the military was president. That’s just sad. :(

  52. I realize I’m late to the dance, but it seems to me the issue should be the quality of your military service, not the length, position, or rank achieved. Just like it should be the quality of your work at any profession. IMHO, there is no military service that adequately prepares you to be President of the United States. As Commander-in-Chief, the President exercises executive authority over all instruments of US national power…and that goes far beyond “the military.”

    A military record, to me (a veteran), shows an inclination in the direction of service to the country, as do many other forms of service (peace corps, cyber corps, even positions with NGOs). It doesn’t automatically make someone a great commander, let alone President, but it is different than “holding a job.” McCain should rightfully be respected for his service and obvious sacrifice while in uniform, but that doesn’t automatically make him a superior candidate to Obama, who should be respected in his own right for his service in state and federal offices.

    I think the election OUGHT to be about (and probably won’t) different ideas, and the candidates’ vision for our country, who we should be for the next 4 years, and the policies he’ll enact.

  53. SpeedyEd:

    “he did five months.”

    Five months more than Bush, however. Which is to my point.