May 272008

For the first time this weekend, I saw McCain criticize Obama for having never served in the military. It’s an old criticism of potential presidential candidates, and so that didn’t surprise me. But it got me thinking: Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate we’ve had who came of age post-Vietnam, which means he has never had to deal with the draft. Obama grew up in a much different world from previous presidents, something that McCain needs to figure out quickly.

First a little history. From Truman through Bush the Elder, every American president served in the military. But that shouldn’t be surprising. During both World Wars, the vast majority of physically eligible young men served in the military in some capacity or another. That doesn’t mean, of course, that all of them were on the front-lines. Their service ranges from Kennedy, who was wounded in combat, to Carter, who was in the Naval Academy when the war ended, to Reagan, who did Public Relations (read: acting) work and never left California. But because basically everyone of the appropriate age had served in the military, it wasn’t a huge deal.

Things changed with Clinton, who was the first president to come of age during the Vietnam era. When both Clinton and Bush the Younger came of age, there was a war going on–a war that neither of them really wanted any part of. Clinton avoided the war by staying in school; Bush avoided it by joining the National Guard (which was never called up for political reasons). McCain, on the other hand, was a career naval officer when Vietnam broke out; he was following in the family’s footsteps, what with both his father and grandfather having been admirals. So he served in Vietnam, probably gladly; his career wasn’t as distinguished as most, and war service looks really good on a military resume. Of course, things didn’t work out so well for him; he ended up in a POW camp and retired from the military after getting out to begin a life of politics.

So what about Obama? He was born in 1961, graduated high school in 1979, and graduated college in 1983. I mention his graduation dates because those would have been the likeliest times for Obama to sign up. Of course, the draft had ended in 1975; in fact, from 1976-1980, they even discontinued Selective Service registration. During the post-Vietnam era, the military went through a prolonged period of contraction, only to begin expansion again after Reagan took office in 1981. Since that time, however, the military has been basically the same as we know it today: a relatively small (at least compared to the 1940-1975 era) volunteer force.

What I find interesting is that for the last fifty years until now, most presidential aspirants (the vast majority of whom came of age during a major war) would have had to make a conscious choice if they wanted to avoid military service. Both Clinton and Bush the Younger made that choice–to not serve–whereas basically every president before them was swept into the military. But Obama came of age with a much different set of expectations. Since 1975, joining the military has been the exception and not the rule. Most ambitious, intelligent, and talented young men didn’t dodge the military; chances are, it was never presented to them as a realistic career option.

So for McCain to criticize Obama because he “did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform” doesn’t really make a lot of sense to anyone under the age of 50. There hasn’t been an expectation that young men would serve in the military since before Obama hit puberty–and Obama’s failure to serve makes him just like the overwhelming majority of men born in that time. I don’t think McCain really wants to start questioning the patriotism of all of those Americans–not in an election year.

  19 Responses to “How Obama Dodged The Draft”

  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptBut it got me thinking: Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate we’ve had who came of age post-Vietnam, which means he has never had to deal with the draft. Obama grew up in a much different world from previous presidents, … […]

  2. […] Obama Dodged The Draft Don Stott wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptSo he served in Vietnam, probably […]

  3. I think the most telling part of Senator Obama not serving came from his own mouth when he said he didn’t understand Senator McCain’s opposition to the current bill to give educational aid to those who currently serve. If Obama had served he probably would understand the criticism. While we have a much smaller, all-volunteer military today. There are still many who do serve — I served, I was born in 1942. My son currently serves and he was born in 1974. I don’t think military service is the only way to serve your country. There are many ways to do that. However, serving in the military does bring with it a closer sense of the potential of giving your last full measure for your country and a strong reluctance to engage in any practice that might result in others giving their last full measure. Senator Obama clearly lacks that perspective and understanding — as he has stated.

  4. […] Continue Reading […]

  5. “However, serving in the military does bring with it a closer sense of the potential of giving your last full measure for your country and a strong reluctance to engage in any practice that might result in others giving their last full measure.”

    I’m afraid I don’t follow your point. Why would this lead one to be against education aid for our soldiers? Are you suggesting that anything that might cause somebody to join the military and thus “result in others giving their last full measure” is a bad policy decision? I can’t help but think that’s an uncharitable interpretation of your post, but I can’t figure out any other interpretation… could you clarify?

  6. Johne, I also can’t understand what point you’re trying to make. McCain is opposed to giving greater benefits to servicemen. One would think that a soldier would want that. We all know that McCain is being pushed on one side to be pro-veteran, and from another side to be small-government. It’s a tough spot to be in, and it’s getting him in trouble, at least on this issue. It’s the difficulty of making a political party from a consortium of special interests.

    • Agree with some of your thesis, hwveoer, given Obama’s high-road campaign, the smallest glimpse of what someone might interpret as negative campaigning (and trust me the Clintonites are very eager to interpret anything in this vein) will spread like wildfire throughout then he could be reduced to a he’s just like everyone else candidate. It is a fine line he must walk to show his electability while not appearing to go negative.Regarding Edwards, he is getting alot of great press lately..Newsweek, etc. Thinking this just represents the media’s attention deficit disorder or theme de jure.Our guy needs to create another postiive new cycle directly after X-mas, since nobody (except us Wonks) will be paying real attention until the 26th On a more positive note, a new ABC / Washington Post poll shows the Barack has pulled even with Hillary on the electabilty question, whereas she had a 14 point lead recently.

  7. You are correct for the most part, but you neglect to mention that the requirment for Selecticve Service registration was reinstated in 1980, and it was made RETROACTIVE to men of Obama’s age. He was required by law to register, and so far, his campaign has refused to provide proof that he did. Interestingly enough, one of the penalties for non-compliance is being barred from federal employment, so expect to hear more anbout this issue. Could this be the secret ‘shocker’ that the Clinton’s hinted about, but never revealed because of their party loyalty?

    • I sure hope so. I’m so sick of all the damage he has done to our country. He should not be allowed to hide this from us! I still don’t believe that he was ever born in our country! I mean his own grandma said she was there when he was born. The women is not seen-now. He is hiding his college record’s..Hello why? Is what we all should be asking. I know why it is because he got government aid. I do not have any problem with a black president. What I have a problem with one who is hiding records from We The People. I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican them records should not be allowed to be hiding from We The People. And Donald Trump’s tax return has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. I say this because I know that someone will bring it up! Just saying.

  8. […] and so that didn??t surprise me. But it got me thinking: Barack Obama is the first presi War I Draft Registrations at RootsWeb … 1872 and 1900 provided information for draft […]

  9. Leftfielder…

    […] something about leftfielder[…]…

  10. then he’s really not qualified to be president what a big fat liberal pussy! he’s not even a goddamn citizen u fucking retards guns arent the problem u nutjobs are get out of our country u liberal nutjobs! this country is for patriots not nigs with a bad attitude toward white people! In fact go to syria and get shot freedom of speech!

  11. The president’s first duty is Commander in Chief

  12. He graduated highschool in 78, the war ended in 75, so he should have enlisted when he was 15???

    • Geez fuckstick, you take the cake on idiocy.
      Registering for the Selective Service is not “joining the war”. It doesn’t even mean you’ll be called to service. Approximately 100 million people in the United States have registered for the Selective Service. Fewer than 3% have served in the military.

  13. I don’t know how one can say McCain dodged the draft he chose to serve in the Reserves which is part of the military. I joined the army in 1964 during those times I had friends who joined the reserves. It was considered just as honorary as joining the regular military the only difference was you served 3 extra years as a reservist.

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