The 2008 national election shows our next generation of leaders must possess something many recent and current elected officials lack: intellectual courage.
President Nixon believed all leaders, regardless of their time, needed "brains, guts and heart." Others have defined those traits as "the right stuff."
"Given what is likely needed to right our ship of state, I don’t think that it will come as a great surprise to many that our current men and women in the military are likely going to be the ‘right’ individuals for the job when they come home," says Lara Brown, a Villanova University political science professor.
Equally self-evident is that women have an opportunity to lead.
"As the country looks towards the future, this is the most fertile season for women as a new generation of leaders," Democrat strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile predicts.
She believes women tend to be more pragmatic and less ideological decision-makers, adding: "The same can be said of the men and women returning from military service."
"A man or woman with a military background has, usually, a better sense of self and of purpose," says Mark Davidson, a Navy Reserve captain and former member of the Clinton administration. "While certainly there are those who would do anything to win … this generation of service members tends to be less dogmatic and strident."
Women and military veterans always have been critical to our nation’s success, yet there are few in the 111th Congress.
Of 535 members, 121 have served in the military — 96 in the House, 25 in the Senate. This is a steep drop from the 91st Congress (1969-71) that had 398 veterans — 329 in the House, 69 in the Senate. And despite having a female House speaker, there are just 76 women in the House, 17 in the Senate.
Given our government’s impasse, future elected officials need to be less ideological and more practical — philosophically open to strategies or policies likely to work, not just likely to earn points with one’s political base.
U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., and Tom Rooney, R-Fla., are part of the new generation of veterans serving in Washington.
Rooney, who was in Murphy’s wedding, says both men can put party affiliation aside in legislative decisions because they were trained to put country first.
"I joke that when I am getting beat up from both the left and the right, I am making the right decisions," Murphy says.
Both say their military training guides them. "Politics always stops at the water’s edge," Murphy says. "Actions speak."
And both want to see more veterans in Congress.
"As far as women in leadership go, well, without my wife’s skills in juggling everything, I would have never been elected," Rooney says.
Veterans have served in the country’s highest office, from George Washington to Andrew Jackson to William McKinley (who once said "major" was the only title he ever earned, despite being a congressman, governor and president), Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and others.
Women have made their mark for years. Between Hillary Clinton’s serious presidential run and Sarah Palin’s entrance onto the national stage, it is difficult to say they have not already kicked open the door to the White House.
While neither was elected in 2008, few Americans still believe women are unqualified to be president. Americans may not like Hillary or Sarah, but would find it tough to rule out women as a group.
Yet as long as mainstream media such as Newsweek fail to see sexism in their choices of Palin photos, women will find more common ground over which to unite.
One need look no further than political-battleground Pennsylvania to see another potential "year of the woman" brewing.
After this month’s statewide election, most commentators noted Republicans did better than Democrats in a state Obama won by double digits — but failed to note Republican women far outdid their male counterparts.
Tribune-Review Political Reporter
44th Estate Blog