Bill Kristol’s Times column today raises a real problem for Democrats, a problem that has existed since Vietnam in some quarters of the party–he’s absolutely right that Barack Obama, when touting public service, should have mentioned the U.S. military. Indeed, Obama should go farther than that. He should do what John Kerry was going to do in 2004, but somehow never did: Kerry was going to give a speech at his alma mater, Yale, calling for elite universities–like Yale and Obama’s alma mater Columbia–to reinstate the ROTC program. John McCain has already made the entirely appropriate point that Columbia allowed Ahmadinejad to speak on campus but won’t allow the U.S. military–Obama shouldn’t waste another day before he agrees with McCain about that.
In the 2006 campaign, retired Admiral Joe Sestak often made the point, during his successful run for Congress, that the values of the Democratic Party were very close to the values of the military–service, a belief in the potential of every one of its members, which meant universal health care, fabulous educational benefits…and a real sense of community.
In 2008, with many members of the U.S. military–and their families–upset by Bush Administration policies, there is a real opportunity for Democrats to regain credibility with the military and possibly votes as well. But Obama is going to have to understand what the military wants to hear–not just victim-sympathy for returning warriors, not just social programs like the G.I. bill, but–as Senator Jim Webb points out in his new book–a real sense of pride and gratitude for what the military does downrange, in battle zones around the world. It’s not just conservatives like Bill Kristol who notice when Obama doesn’t put the military front and center when he’s talking about national service, the troops do too.