One of the most encouraging political developments for me as a centrist Democrat is the emergence of the Fighting Democrats. More than 50 veterans are running for Congress on the Democratic ticket. Among them is retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania district that represents Swarthmore College. He is running against an increasingly bizarre Republican. I am proud to say that the eldest Gruntled child has already been out on the hustings for Sestak.
The officer corps has been overwhelmingly Republican for at least a generation. About 2/3rds of officers were registered Republican in 2004 – a 6 to 1 advantage over Democratic officers. The war in Iraq seems to be changing that allegiance, though. In 2004 there was a remarkable reappearance for the first time since the Second World War of high-ranking retired officers as Democrats – some of them as new Democrats. Former NATO commander General Wesley Clark made a serious run for the presidency (he was my candidate in the primaries). John Kerry ran on his Purple Hearts. At the Democratic Convention itself we were treated to a spectacle not seen in a century – twelve retired generals and admirals appeared on stage to endorse Kerry for president, including the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili.
Political generals are scary, of course. So far, current officers have stayed out of public political pronouncements. I hope it stays that way. But a steady stream of high-ranking officers have been retiring recently in order to criticize the way the administration is running the war. Even Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, Adm. James Webb, has jumped ship to run as a Democrat for the Senate in Virginia.
I would like to see the generation-long divorce between the Democratic Party and the military healed. The military is essential to our country, and our military today is among the most effective and trusted institutions in America. The military itself would be better off if it were not tempted to partisanship by a gross imbalance of party loyalty among its leaders. The Democratic Party, likewise, needs the leadership of those experienced in war, peace, and nation building. And a congress led by actual veterans is less likely to start elective wars than one led by chickenhawks of any party.
I welcome the Fighting Democrats, and hope they are victorious in their November campaigns – for the good of both parties and the whole country.