Driven by the unique relevance their experience has to current events and inspired by Paul Hackett’s near victory in an against-all-odds race in Ohio, soldiers back from the Middle East are scrambling to get their names on congressional ballots for 2006. Hackett, though, was not the first to run, or to lose. Marine Steve Brozak completed active duty in Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq before mounting, and losing, a high profile 2004 election fight in New Jersey. Fellow Marine David Ashe was outspent 3-to-1 in Virginia and lost by 10 points that same cycle. A Republican veteran in Wisconsin also lost, and Jean Schmidt, the woman who beat Hackett in the August 2nd special election, beat a different Iraq veteran in her Republican primary. All of this losing means that no Iraq War veteran sits in Congress today.
I don't know for sure if this article is comprehensive, and David Ashe - well, outspent three to one, losing is expected. But as for the rest, that seems like a weird trend. In general, but especially against the backdrop of a war which at the time was popular, why wouldn't veterans have done better? I've got five guesses.
1. Statistical flukes. Anyone can lose here and there, and the above list of names is a small sample.
2. Americans are becoming less jingoistic. Military service is no longer considered proof of patriotism, leadership ability and an unshakable devotion to service above self.
3. Americans fail to take the war, and/or politics in general, seriously at all. Who cares if he's a vet because Congress corrupts everyone, and who knows he's a vet in the first place?
4. The war wasn't that popular after all, at least not by the time these people were running. (Makes you wonder what kind of question the pollsters should have been asking, then.)
5. Incumbency is just that big an advantage.
#1 is a given, really, so the others are all irrelevant unless this trend continues in 2006. I hope #2 is the case, but realistically, it seems pretty unlikely. #4 seems possible, but impossible to be sure of, short of starting up a new polling company from scratch and/or finding some way to reach the 95% of people who always ignore pollers. There's a certain amount of truth to both #3 and #5, but they're only relevant if they're true to a greater degree than was the case in the past. I don't know if they're the main raison, but I hope not. Democracy should not be just a spectator sport, and the outcome shouldn't be a given either.
So I guess this is just idle speculation, but if none of the veterans running in 2006 get elected either, then I'll try to come back to this. (Or rejoice if #2 starts to look possible, but...)