Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Does Giannoulias want military veneer?

It strikes me as a bit odd that Democratic Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias is so eager these days to campaign with people of military backgrounds.

Last week, he made an appearance in Chicago with retired General Wesley Clark, while on Tuesday he is scheduled to make appearances in Chicago and Champaign with Tammy Duckworth – an assistant secretary with the Veterans Affairs administration who also was once director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

MY GUESS IS that he wants to smack down those people who want to criticize him for the fact that in his short life, he never served in any branch of the military.

In fact, the people with too much free time on their hands have in recent weeks been peddling a story that claims Giannoulias – who after finishing college in the United States went to Greece to play professional basketball – somehow dodged a legal obligation to serve time in the army in that nation.

Not that I think the people who want to believe this trite talk really care whether or not he ever served in the Greek army. They just want to enhance the image that Democrats don’t serve in the military, and therefore are opposed to it.

It’s trash talk that deserves to be dumped in the waste basket of life.

BUT THE SUDDEN interest in appearing with people who have devoted their lives to the U.S. military makes me wonder if Giannoulias is taking this kind of rhetoric seriously. I’d hope not, because it is a battle he can’t win.

In fact, about the only way a political candidate of the Democratic Party can deal with this “issue” is to turn it into a non-issue. Ignore it. Let it go away. Because in the end, it really doesn’t matter.

Now I will be the first to admit that neither I nor my brother served in the military. Although we have cousins who did. I also remember the last time I saw an old childhood friend, much of our “catching-up” conversation centered around his oldest son, who was then in the army.

So I appreciate that some people take this seriously. I also realize that for some people (such as one of my cousins who served five years in the Army, including a few months in Kuwait during the Gulf War of the early 1990s), military service is probably their best option for getting ahead in life.

I’M NOT ANTI-military. But I am anti- the idea that it should somehow be a requirement for any sort of advancement in public life. If anything, we probably need a healthy mixture of people in electoral politics who have both served and NOT served in a military uniform of sorts.

The reality of this issue is that perception is everything. Republican candidates get the perception that they are pro-military, and that the Democrats are the opposition to that view. There is little that can be done to change that.

What Giannoulias risks doing by appearing to cuddle up to too many people in uniform is trying to create the illusion that he somehow has some sort of military viewpoint. The truth is that he does not.

If people start thinking that he’s trying to pretend to have more of a military view than he really does, then people who in theory should be his supporters will turn on him. It can hurt him.

BECAUSE PRETENDING TO have some sort of soldiering viewpoint won’t help him gain any kind of traction among would-be Republican voters. The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections ought to be the ultimate evidence of that fact.

George W. Bush ran twice for president against candidates who actually served in the army during the Vietnam conflict. They had legitimate records. Yet the Republican partisans who were determined to put Bush into office went out of their way to denigrate the true military people in favor of the guy who used his connections to avoid having to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam.

Not that I blame him. I wonder if I were alive and of military age back then (I was 2 back in the summer of 1967) if I would have engaged in similar actions.

But as much as the Republican base claims they respect the military, what it really amounts to is that they respect only a certain type of person who serves. Giannoulias isn’t that type of person. He never will be.

TRYING TO PRETEND in any way can only hurt him.

So when Giannoulias makes his appearances with Duckworth, I hope he doesn’t overdo it. In fact, the biggest surprise to me is that Duckworth (who served in Iraq and was wounded in 2004, losing both of her legs and partial use of an arm) is willing to be so visually present.

With the way many people are convinced this is going to be the “gloom and doom” year for Democratic candidates across Illinois (I expect some losses, but not the total annihilation that some GOP partisans have wet dreams about), I’d almost expect her to loom as far into the political background as she could.

So either Duckworth is expecting some political goodwill in return should she decide in the future to run for elective office. Or perhaps she knows something about the public mood that the rest of us are overlooking?


No comments: