On a New Dawn: Essay for December 10, 2011

I met some interesting people in Washington this week. Some were Democrats and some Republicans. Different in philosophy, to be sure, but each cut from the same cloth. They were all veterans, older and younger, who share one common goal: to continue in service to a nation they love. Their common goal was to put into office people of good character who view obstacles a little bit differently than the average politician. After all, these are not average people. They are warriors all. Many have served in combat and know the terrible price that lack of teamwork or focus can exact from the uncommitted. In short, they are leaders all who are itching to lead again.

Before they can get a chance to lead they must pass through the unforgiving crucible of the electoral process. That is where the Veterans National Security Foundation and Veterans Campaign come in. They are non-profit organizations who have just one goal: to increase the number of veterans in Congress. Period. They are non-partisan. I found a collection of veterans and seasoned political operatives who provide coaching and campaign training to aspiring candidates or campaign enablers without regard for party affiliation. Their allegiance was to a higher common denominator: The United States of America. It always has been.

Before there is breakthrough in Congress with these fine potential candidates, there is much blocking and tackling. There is the development of the message; the selection of key campaign positions such as treasurer, finance chairman, and campaign manager. Of course, there is “dialing for dollars.” These are the phone calls to donors who provide the essential element that begins the incessant drive to collect enough money to provide the grease to lubricate the gears of the early campaign. This is the stark reality of a modern campaign. It costs a lot to get the message out. A single postcard mailing in a Congressional District can cost a quarter of a million dollars or more. You do the math. A million dollar campaign for Congress is merely “jacks or better.”

But why promote the veteran as candidate at all? Surveys show that there is nobody who you trust more. Veterans rank at the top of all trustworthy professions with an approval rating of over 80%. Compare that with Congress today at less than 10%. Disturbingly, the percentage of Congressmen with veteran credentials has diminished from 75% in 1969 to merely 22% in 2010. Interestingly, Congressional approval had diminished along a similar slope. Could there be a connection?
There is at least one common link between a Congressman and a veteran. Each has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is how each approaches duty to country over the course of a career that makes all the difference.

That civil discourse is lacking in Washington is obvious to the most casual observer. The question is how we turn the page and begin to engage in the real dialogue that actually can move the ball in Washington. Many of the veterans I was with this week have been tested in combat. They engaged the enemy with the resources they had on hand. Often, it was short of what they really needed. Engagements are too often a “come as you are” affair.

Maybe that is the way it is on Capitol Hill today. Could it be that too many people are seeking the “perfect storm” of political alignment before engaging in the real business of getting down to the business of altering the course of this ship of state? We haven’t got time for that. Too many people are content to ride the mystery ship right into November and beyond.
What we need in Congress are more people of integrity. We need people who put service above self. What better recruiting ground for such legislative heroes than our nation’s military? They know how to get tough jobs done under extremely difficult circumstances. They know how to achieve unit cohesion amid the fog of war. They instinctively know how to take care of the least among them for each of them is part of their special band of brothers.

When November comes around again in 2012, I will be looking to cast a ballot for someone whom I trust with my life; someone of proven integrity; someone who, through word and deed, demonstrates that they are leaders in good times and in bad. Don’t forget, in 2012, hire a vet.

Press on.

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