The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Vote ‘veteran’ to get the job done

Soldiers head out to Arlington National Cemetery at the start of a flag-placing ceremony in May 2017. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

David McCormick is co-chief executive of the investment management firm Bridgewater Associates.

As this primary season unfolds, hundreds of military veterans from both parties are running for Congress. We need them there, and by voting vet in these primaries, we can do it without asking Americans to cross party lines.

Already we’ve seen a handful of veterans emerge victorious. In Tuesday night’s primary elections, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath won the Democratic contest in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. In Texas, Republicans chose former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw for the 2nd Congressional District.

Electing more Republican and Democratic veterans will increase bipartisanship, because “country first” is deep in their blood and because they will go to Congress with a commitment to getting the job done for the American people. That commitment can help liberate us from today’s bitter partisanship — whether in the form of short-term gridlock or long-term volatility, as each party seeks to overturn the other’s legislative achievements.

There is certainly a job to be done. Yes, America is great — the world’s greatest economic and military power, self-governed through history’s most successful political system. And yet we have an unsustainable national debt, health care many cannot afford and a Social Security fund expected to be empty in 2034 — all supported by an economy in which 47 percent of jobs may soon be automated. Technology will create new American jobs, but we aren’t retraining our workforce and educating our children for them. We bemoan our crumbling infrastructure — but really, it’s the American Dream that decades of congressional inaction have put on the road to ruin.

I know and admire many of those serving in Congress. They are hard-working, smart, ethical and service- ­oriented people. And in some cases, gridlock is just checks and balances at work.

Nevertheless, we clearly need a new birth of bipartisanship that puts country over party. Our most important domestic achievements were all bipartisan — from the Great Compromise that saved the Constitutional Convention to the Civil Rights Act to welfare reform. We need more great compromise — not the weak compromise of surrendered principles but the strong compromise that comes from finding common ground on the hardest issues we face.

Congress, of course, does not operate in a vacuum. Congress is partisan because the United States is so divided. But how can we expect unity in America when so many see equality of opportunity collapsing under growing income inequality and declining social mobility? How can we expect unity in Congress as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that we judge people by their character rather than their color gives way to the endlessly multiplying “factions” the Founders feared? Congress and country are caught in a chicken-and-egg problem that won’t be solved by the coop’s current residents alone.

Veterans are uniquely qualified to help. First, they are natural champions of equality of opportunity and opponents of factionalism. Your name, however proud, won’t make you a master sergeant, a colonel or an admiral. Neither will your race, ethnicity, religion or gender. When I was a lieutenant in Operation Desert Storm, my unit included a Southern Baptist (Alabama), a Puerto Rican (Miami), an African American (Newark), a farm boy (Kansas) and a rich Boston college dropout. Whatever divisions they inherited quickly resolved into a commitment to the mission and to ensuring the team could count on them. Isn’t that what we want in Congress?

Second, veterans share a bond more powerful than party; indeed, veteran participation in Congress and bipartisanship track closely. In the 1970s, in aggregate, more than 70 percent of Congress were veterans, and bipartisanship was far higher than it is today. As veteran participation fell across the decades, so did bipartisanship. Today, just 19 percent of Congress is composed of veterans, and bipartisanship is almost extinct.

Veteran lawmakers also score higher than non-veterans in terms of how often they cross the aisle to sponsor legislation, as the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index shows. And a statistical analysis from Vanderbilt University shows that bipartisan lawmakers are more effective at passing legislation.

Third, veterans graduate from America’s most trusted major institution. Gallup numbers show a multi-generational collapse of confidence in the media, big business and Congress, while confidence in the military rose. Today, it is six times the rating of Congress . Let’s strengthen the institution Americans trust least by electing veterans from the one they trust most.

We are a great country, but one with big problems. Tackling them requires intelligence, competence, patriotism — and the courage to put absolutely everything on the line. You will see the first three in many places, including Congress. But if you need that kind of courage, too, veterans are a very good bet.

Vote veteran. It will make America better.

Read more:

Kimberly C. Field: Veterans, be thankful for your service

James C. Roberts: More Iraq veterans deserve the Medal of Honor

John Spencer: How the military is making it hard to remember our wars

Dave Duffy: No room for sense of entitlement among veterans and military families