Last night some TV political pundits were musing that it seems the Democratic Party has decided to run veterans for office to give the impression that they are better qualified to handle the war in Iraq than the Republicans. As we're all aware, the Democrats accuse President Bush and the Republicans of lying and getting us into a war they believe we cannot win.
It's always fascinating to see how the Democrats ALMOST get it right, but not quite. If that is their thinking -- that running ex-military men for office will produce better legislation and better government -- they're falling just short of the mark. Just because a person served in the military doesn't mean he or she is more qualified than anyone else to serve in Congress.
There's one exception to that statement: the graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
What we need in political offices now are men (and women) with a strong sense of honor; people we can trust. Most Americans are quite cynical about expecting more in terms of morality and ethics from office holders, possibly because they are not honest and trustworthy themselves and can't imagine that others might be.
You don't graduate from West Point unless duty and honor have become part of your very being. West Point graduates are pledged never to "lie, steal or cheat or associate with those who do." (Of course that last phrase makes it difficult for one to work with more than half of the present members of Congress!)
Most Americans hear those words and think they are just that -- words. But they are more than that to a member of the Long Gray Line. They are a lifetime committment; stronger even than marriage vows.
In his autobiography, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," Gen.(Ret.) Norman Schwarzkopf writes, "To this day it's hard to explain the impact West Point had on me. Somehow, during the four years I spent in that idealized military world, a new system of values came alive in my mind. When I began as a plebe, "Duty, Honor, Country" was just a motto I'd heard from Pop. I loved my country, of course, and I knew how to tell right from wrong, but my conscience was still largely unformed. By the time I left, those values had become my fixed stars."
For the past 23 years I've been on the periphery of a West Point family. My son-in-law, his father, two brothers and sister are all graduates of USMA and as of this past May 27, my grandson is, as well. I have seen first hand what it means to be dedicated to honor -- the difference it makes in the lives of those who live it and in the lives of those affected by it. It's what our country needs now.
In his speech at graduation, President Bush said, "This is the first class to arrive at West Point after the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. Each of you came here in a time of war, knowing all the risks and dangers that come with wearing our nation's uniform. And I want to thank you for your patriotism, your devotion to duty, your courageous decision to serve. America is grateful and proud of the men and women of West Point. . .My call to you is this: Trust in the power of freedom, and be bold in freedom's defense. Show leadership and courage -- and not just on the battlefield. Take risk, try new things, and challenge the established way of doing things. Trust in your convictions, stay true to yourselves -- and one day the world will celebrate your achievements."
Because the Long Gray Line has proved, individually and collectively, each individual's dedication to truth and honor, America can rest assured that the defense of the nation is in good hands.
It would be grand to know that the leadership of the nation was in the hands of West Point graduates. Honor and courage are more than just words to them; those values are a way of life. We need men and women whose lives are dedicated to those principles to serve in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of our government.
You'll find the text of the President's speech at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/05/20060527-1.html and there's a video of the USMA graduation ceremony at http://www.usma.edu/publicaffairs/graduation2006/grad2006c.htm