Veterans’ Day, unlike Memorial Day, is not essentially a celebration of those who have died or been injured in war, or even of war itself: it’s a commemoration of everyone who has “worn the uniform” and served his or her country. And in effect, it’s a memorial service for those days when most male Americans, at least, did indeed “wear the uniform,” even if they never fired a shot in anger or risked their lives.Like most baby boomers who went to college, I never wore the uniform, though I did come very close. At the end of law school, I decided to go into the Air Force JAG Corps. I survived the document review, the background check, the physical. I even got through the final interview, when I was asked: “How do you feel about nuclear war?” My impulsive response was: “Do you mean as a victim, or as a perpetrator?” Fortunately, the officer interviewing me had a sense of humor, and I was offered a commission as a USAF captain.As it happened, I deferred my commission for a year, because my girlfriend at the time, who was a year behind me in law school, wanted to go into the JAG Corps with me. In the interim, I stumbled into my first political job, and never looked back.But I regret never having “worn the uniform,” and I regret the fact that it’s become a rarer experience for the generations that followed the baby boomers.I’ve spent a considerable part of my professional life promoting the idea of universal access to national service: in the military, and in civilian occupations. I don’t support a return to the draft, but do believe that every American, male or female, should be encouraged to give a year or two to their community and their country, in exchange for the blessings we enjoy as Americans.My father, most of my uncles, and just about every man I know above the age of 60 did wear the uniform, often in supporting roles in wartime: as motor pool mechanics, as military police, as clerk-typists, as administrative staff. Virtually all of them say they benefitted from the experience of being intermingled with people from every part of the country, from every race and ethnic group, all their prejudices being burned off in the crucible of a common cause, and a common exposure to the ultimate sacrifice, even if they never went into combat.We should all honor that service, and better yet, spend days like Veterans’ Day pondering the value of univeral service and universal sacrifice, and considering ways to make national service once again a general experience for future generations.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
When Fritz Mondale passed away this week, I eulogized this Democratic leader at New York:
Some career politicians who achieve national fame are known as policy innovators or political insurgents, while others flame out and return to obscurity thanks to bad luck or bad behavior. Walter F. “Fritz” Mondale was another type altogether: a reliable public servant in all of the many jobs he held and a steady steward of the Minnesota liberal political traditions he inherited. He was also, by all accounts, a decent man, and it was characteristic of him that just before his death this week at the age of 93, he sent a grateful email to former staffers, saying “Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side! Together we have accomplished so much, and I know you will keep up the good fight.”
Mondale was fated to spend much of his career in the shadow of other leaders. A protégé of Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legends Hubert Humphrey and Orville Freeman, he was appointed state attorney general by Freeman in 1960 and then four years later occupied Humphrey’s Senate seat when his mentor became Lyndon Johnson’s vice-president. Like Humphrey, Mondale was a rigorous New Deal liberal who was quick to support the labor and civil-rights movements and slow to abandon the Vietnam War. He began and quickly dropped a presidential candidacy in 1974 after Humphrey’s ill health kept him from running; Mondale famously said he didn’t want to spend the next two years living in Holiday Inns. But when eventual Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter needed a northern running mate with close ties to labor, Mondale signed up after securing a pledge from Carter that they would form a true partnership in office.It speaks well for both men that Carter kept his promise and Mondale redefined the vice-presidency, “with full access to intelligence briefings, a weekly lunch with Mr. Carter, his own office near the president’s and his own staff integrated with Mr. Carter’s,” noted the New York Times in its obituary. His elevated role made it possible for Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden to become similarly significant veeps. And he served as something of an internal lobbyist for the progressive tendencies of a sometimes conservative Carter administration, while remaining loyal, which had particular value when Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries.
The wheels soon came off for the coalition Carter and Mondale had put together in 1976, and when Mondale finally ran for the top spot in 1984, the Republican ascendancy that had been delayed by Watergate and Carter’s southern identity fully arrived. The Minnesotan narrowly won the presidential nomination against forward-leaning candidacies by Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart, but eventually won just his own state plus the District of Columbia against the “Morning in America” reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan. The Mondale presidential campaign’s only positive legacy was his pioneering choice of a woman, New York’s Gerald Ferraro, as running mate. Again, All Things Veep was Mondale’s signature.
He returned to public office when Bill Clinton reclaimed the White House, spending over three years as U.S. ambassador to Japan, where he is still remembered for his efforts to scale back the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.
But after he returned to Minnesota to practice law and semi-retire, this paragon of party loyalty had one more bitter cup to drink. He was drafted in 2002 to run for his old Senate seat after Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane accident just 11 days before the general election. A close race turned into a Democratic defeat, after a boisterous Wellstone memorial service that offended some voters. Mondale finally retired from politics.
His and Carter’s longevity (the former president is 96) made them the longest-surviving ex-president and vice-president ever. And the strong personal qualities of both men have allowed their political mistakes to fade over time.
Upon news of Mondale’s death, President Biden released a statement crediting his vice-presidential predecessor with offering him sound counsel when Barack Obama chose him as his 2008 running mate. And in some respects, the old-school liberal tradition Mondale typified is shared by Biden, who served with him in the Senate for eight years (four when Mondale was president of the Senate) more than four decades ago. Ideology aside, both men unfashionably viewed public service as an honorable profession. One lives in the White House, and the other lives on in many fond memories.