Over the past few months and years, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has tried to make a few useful suggestions for improving the quality of punditry during this campaign season. For example:
- Don’t use Donald Trump as a vehicle for your particular hobbyhorse — you’ll just get tarnished.
- Don’t call for a military leader on horseback to rescue the country — the ones interested in the job are probably the last ones who should be president.
- Don’t use Silicon Valley buzzwords to describe anything with respect to politics or policy — it means those words have been played out.
- Don’t assume Americans care too much about foreign policy or national security. They don’t.
- Don’t call for a third-party candidate to enter the race because: (a) that candidate won’t win, and (b) even if the candidate wins, the new president still needs to cope with a Congress that will remain a product of the two-party system.
To be fair, I never actually wrote that last point up, mostly because I thought it was so obvious that it did not need to be said out loud.
I bring this up because Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei’s Wall Street Journal op-ed manages to ignore all of these warnings. Praising the plain language of Donald Trump? Check. References to disruption? Check. Calls for an “Innovation Party?” Check. VandeHei also leans hard on the “Normal America vs. D.C. bubble” trope, which will be a topic for another column.
Today, however, Spoiler Alerts would like to focus on VandeHei’s yearning for a military leader to set things right:
Exploit the fear factor. The candidate should be from the military or immediately announce someone with modern-warfare expertise or experience as running mate. People are scared. Terrorism is today’s World War and Americans want a theory for dealing with it. President Obama has established an intriguing precedent of using drone technology and intelligence to assassinate terrorists before they strike. A third-party candidate could build on death-by-drones by outlying the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power. Do it with very muscular language — there is no market for nuance in the terror debate.
There are many, many things wrong with that paragraph. But ignore the “scare Americans and use force at will” rhetoric for a few paragraphs. Do you know who would fit VandeHei’s bill perfectly? Retired four-star admiral William McRaven. Former Navy SEAL. Former JSOC commander. Current chancellor of the University of Texas system. Architect of the Osama bin Laden raid.
Even better, it seems as though McRaven is ready to enter the political fray. Except that, as my Washington Post colleague Craig Whitlock notes, McRaven’s latest political intervention is … somewhat problematic:
[McRaven] made clear that he was angry at the Senate for its treatment of Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, the commander in charge of the Navy’s elite SEAL teams and other commando units. Losey, who formerly served under McRaven, was denied promotion last month and is being forced to retire after several senators from both parties pressured the Navy to hold him accountable for retaliating against multiple whistleblowers. …
McRaven’s description of Losey as an innocent victim is at odds with the findings of the Defense Department’s inspector general, which concluded that he had repeatedly violated whistleblower-protection laws. …
Had he stopped there, McRaven’s comments probably would not have attracted much public attention. Instead, he went on to slam lawmakers and question whether a fundamental underpinning of the American system of government — civilian control of the military — was frayed or at risk.
“The greater concern for America is the continued attack on leadership in the military,” he wrote. “During my past several years in uniform, I watched in disbelief how lawmakers treated the chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders and other senior officers during Congressional testimony. These officers were men of incredible integrity, and yet some lawmakers showed no respect for their decades of service.”
So the poster boy for VandeHei’s new leadership is … a recently retired admiral who challenges civilian control of the military. I would be uncomfortable with this person in charge of determining the proper allocation of war powers between the different branches of government. By exploiting the fear factor.
Enough with the op-eds that search for magical solutions to existing problems. Can we see some op-eds that address how to restore trust in Congress? Because that is the underlying problem that enables McRaven or VandeHei to go on these rants.