AUSTIN, Tx. — "I was independent all my life until I got back from Iraq," says Andrew Horne, who lost a Democratic primary for Senate in Kentucky. "Americans have to stand up and right now, veterans have a unique voice." Along with John Boccieri, Texas’ own Rick Noriega and Ashwin Madia, Horne is talking about being a veteran running for federal office. VoteVets, though officially nonpartisan, is out to make sure that the Fighting Dem phenomenon of 2006 is no flash in the pan.
"We have to redefine patriotism," Madia says. "Real patriots sometimes sacrifice a little bit for their country. If we can send 17, 18 year olds" to war "then maybe we can ask millionaires to sacrifice a little." Everyone up there suggests that that the poor equipping of troops in-theater and the poor treatment of veterans after they return was a galvanizing experience. Boccieri appears particularly passionate. Shared sacrifice is yielding a politics of solidarity. Having a veteran’s perspective, reminding voters about what this country asks of troops at war "it puts it in perspective when you ask how we use energy in this country," or tax policy, or health care, among other issues, Madia says.
Update: Brandon Friedman from VoteVets makes a really good point: having veterans in Congress means you’ll get people who know the right questions to ask about military strategy during hearings. The Jim Webb Experience backs Brandon up.
Update II: Bernard Finel of the American Security Project worries that an implicit thread running through all four candidates’ narratives is the "fetishization" of military service. Noriega basically agrees, says he’s most proud of being a schoolteacher, and says he thinks "compulsory national service" is an appealing idea.
Madia says he understands, but "I don’t think it’s a strong as a concern." In 2006, only nine vets ran and two won. This cycle there’s only a handful of vets as as well. "I think people get there are many different kinds to serve. Plus, it’s a double-edged sword, running as ‘the’ veteran or ‘the Iraq guy,’" since most people are most concerned about the economy. Boccieri adds "we have to understand… that war is politics by another means, and we need elected leaders in congress who understand that war is a derivative of failed politics."