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December 31, 2005

In Praise of Fighting Dems

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

People at Daily Kos and elsewhere are getting all excited about congressional candidates with military records. Dadahead isn’t. He says, “Why anyone would think that being a veteran is an advantage for a Democrat, after the the flame-out of Wesley Clark and the swift-boating of John Kerry, is beyond me.” I happen to think that running a bunch of congressional candidates with Iraq War records is an excellent idea, and I'll respond to Dadahead’s arguments.

There’s a world of difference between a presidential candidate who has the mannerisms of a Senator invoking his Vietnam service, and a congressional candidate who actually sounds like a soldier invoking his Iraq service. Kerry had a long public record, and there were more things that could interfere with his attempt to cultivate a military image. One of these things was his own speaking style, which sounded nothing like the stereotype of a military man. The war he fought over 30 years ago was against a different enemy. By contrast, congressional candidates who served in Iraq – especially if their bearing, like that of Paul Hackett, fits some military stereotype – will get instant credibility on a huge issue in contemporary American politics.

Which brings me to Hackett. He polled 48.3% in a district where Republicans held a 3-1 registration advantage and no Democrat in 12 years had surpassed Lee Hornberger’s 29.1% score from 1993. Jean Schmidt’s weakness and Hackett’s donations from werewolves are part of the explanation. But there’s no doubt that Hackett’s military background, around which he built his campaign, accounts for a big chunk of the improvement. If you’re looking for data to predict how Fighting Dems will do in congressional races, he’s the best comparison case.  

The vast majority of the Iraq veterans in the primary won’t face anything close to the Swift Boating that Kerry faced. Remember that Kerry had a Nixon-appointed stalker, John O’Neill, connected to a pool of 527 money and a network of veterans who hated him for his part in the Winter Soldier investigation. Most congressional candidates won’t have anything like that against them. And if they do, they can still respond as Kerry should have – by thrusting out their chests on TV and using the allegations as a platform to boast about what they actually did. Furthermore, as Jean Schmidt has recently learned, actual politicians slander ex-soldiers at their peril.

Dadahead is wrong to criticize Hackett supporters for past strategic incompetence, and use this to attack their reliability. The Kossacks who love Hackett so dearly aren’t the people who brought you John Kerry – they’re the ones who wanted to bring you Howard Dean. (Okay, that doesn’t support my point as well as I hoped. But it’s more a case of throwing strategy to the wind than strategic incompetence.) So I'll be self-aggrandizing here and ask Dadahead to take it from me. I’ve done reasonably well at this – thinking that Hackett would do very well but not win his House race, and arguing against Kerry’s electability (at least, relative to Edwards) since my first blog entry ever on Kos. Being an Iraq veteran should be worth a few extra points to House candidates, possibly more if they play it right. One shouldn’t automatically vote for veterans in primaries, but it is something worth getting pretty excited about. 

December 31, 2005 in Strategy | Permalink


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Good & correct post.

1) We...Democrats need to be concerned about where our future military candidates are going to come from, if you think military experience is an advantage or equalizer. Mark Kleiman has written about the overwhelming Republican identification of the current officer corps. It is extremely important that we think 10-20 years in advance here.

2) A Democratic Congress with more veterans I am fairly certain will be more in tune with my (in my more moderate moments) military and foreign policy preferences than your own. For the record, and any foreseeable future, only liberal hawks can bring the world peace.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 31, 2005 3:58:21 AM

I'm actually closer to the liberal hawks than you might think. The Bosnia/Kosovo interventions strike me as exactly the kinds of things we should be doing in the world. It's a tragedy that we didn't intervene in Rwanda, and that we don't have the spare troops to avert genocide in Sudan. I came down against the Iraq War mainly because I didn't trust Bush to reconstruct Iraq properly, and the opportunity cost was too high. (I wasn't really following anything closely then, and I arrived at this opinion just as the fighting began.) Time has shown me plenty of other reasons to oppose the war.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 31, 2005 4:17:33 AM

Sorry, Neil, I didn't look closely and thought this was by Ezra.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 31, 2005 4:24:25 AM

I beleive that Republicans will have a much harder time justifying "Swift Boating" veterans on a large scale.

Kerry was an easy target mainly because he sat back like a loser and took a face full of spit for weeks before he bothered to respond.

By then, Fox News had run the Swift Boat theme about a million times and the damage was done.

Posted by: Mark-NC | Dec 31, 2005 8:30:31 AM

I'll respond more fully in a bit - I have to think about what you've said a bit more - but I would just like to point out that Neil is certainly NOT one of the people I was referring to in my post who want to do certain, um, favors for P. Hackett. If I remember correctly, Neil is still on the fence re: Hackett-Brown, and even if he comes down for Hackett, he definitely isn't a knee-jerk "OMG Hackett was in IRaq! How cool is that!" type, unlike a handful of other bloggers who will remain unnamed (note: not E. Klein, either).

Posted by: Dadahead | Dec 31, 2005 3:19:16 PM

I'm inclined to agree with Mark, the "Swift Boating" of Kerry said more about him than it did about the "electability" of Democratic veterans.

David Mamet wrote an op-ed last September in which he suggested "A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: 'I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

But as we all know, Kerry never said that or anything like it. For good or for ill, it's not the uniform, it's the man or woman inside it.

Posted by: Ben-WA | Dec 31, 2005 3:27:03 PM

dadahead's argument for sincerity was great. voters can smell a put-on (a la john kerry's atrocious duck hunting stunt).

successful military service does indicate a certain strength and patriotism. if that's important to you, absolutely support a hackett, a kerry, a clark, a kos. on the other hand, a lot of us on the left are flat-out pacifists. we favor lovers-not-fighters like bill clinton.

the main thing for both sets to remember is the danger of circular firing squads and getting sidetracked by whatever wedge rush limbaugh puts in front of us. military service is rarely a bad thing. no military service is rarely a bad thing. let's focus on real issues.

Posted by: pluripotentate | Dec 31, 2005 4:00:06 PM

Thanks, Dadahead. While I used to lean Brown, Hackett's comments on health care, which I summarized in the linked piece, had a big impact on me. On the other hand, I saw some stuff that suggested that Hackett's electability advantage relative to Brown might not be as great as I previously thought. So now I'm right in the middle.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 31, 2005 4:25:51 PM

Bob, the officer corps probably is 9:1 GOP. OTOH, enlisted men run a bit more sane.

Posted by: Barry | Dec 31, 2005 8:02:21 PM

The polling seems to be fairly equal, as far as Brown v. DeWine and Hackett v. DeWine. So I tend to think this primary should be decided based on who is going to be more likely to effectively fight for a progressive agenda in the Senate.

I don't really have anything against Hackett; I just don't think he's preferable to Brown.

pluripotentate's point is well taken: I wonder if it's possible that military service costs candidates votes, sometimes? in numbers comparable to how many votes it gains them?

Posted by: Dadahead | Jan 1, 2006 1:17:54 PM

I can't imagine that military service costs you any substantial number of votes. There just aren't enough pacifist types out there. And even if it costs you one of their votes, that person usually won't turn around and vote Republican -- they'll just stay home. People who prize military strength will most likely vote Republican instead of Democratic if they see a Democrat who lacks it, and then you have to add two votes to make up the difference.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 1, 2006 1:41:53 PM

Ah, good point.

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Posted by: Gko | Dec 22, 2006 11:01:22 AM

If Kerry would have got aggressive against this onslaught from the start he wouldnt
have become such a conduit for the Fox News SwiftBoat campaign. Those veterans
and the Republicans will lose credibility of the masses though in the long run.

Posted by: Kay Thomas | Aug 9, 2007 8:20:51 AM

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