Update: This got tweeted out today for some reason, which is where I saw the story this morning, but the story itself goes back to August of last year. I apologize for overlooking the date.
Original post follows …
A quarter-century after the first Baby Boomer presidential election cycle, can we dare to hope that this will be our last? ABC News reports this morning that Bernie Sanders, who is vying to become the Democratic nominee for Commander in Chief, filed for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. The Sanders campaign confirmed the report:
“As a college student in the 1960s he was a pacifist,” Michael Briggs, campaign spokesman added in an email. “[He] isn’t now.”
ABC also notes that this isn’t exactly breaking news. A Hillary Clinton supporter in Iowa dug up the information and argued that it disqualified Sanders:
“My question as a Vietnam veteran is: How on earth could a person claiming to be a conscientious objector become the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world?” questioned the column author Steve Wikert. According to a profile from the Vermont Senator’s hometown newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, his conscientious objector status application was eventually rejected, but by then Sanders was too old to be drafted.
Does this really matter? Most voters now are too young to remember the Vietnam War; I barely remember it, at 53 years of age. My only real memories from that period relate to my two uncles who fought there, and television coverage of the return of the POWs. Gen-X and millennial voters only know the Vietnam War as something that has no relevance to themselves, but as one topic among many over which aging Boomers obsess. In fact, it’s perhaps one giant signal that the Democratic Party has nothing to offer but the same old, tired The Sixties Show.
If anything, though, Team Sanders’ response may make the question more relevant. Sanders was a pacifist, but isn’t any more? What happened to make him embrace combat after getting old enough to avoid it? After all, not everyone who objected to Vietnam did so out of pacifism; some did so because they thought the US should not have intervened there, even while supporting a strong American military policy abroad otherwise. Of course, to get conscientious-objector status, one had to prove that their objection was to all military combat, so Sanders is now stuck with this explanation of his “evolution.”
Does this attempt to avoid combat disqualify Sanders? It depends on which Democrats one asks … and when. In 2004, volunteering for the National Guard was enough to disqualify a presidential candidate according to Democrats at the time. The same Democrats argued in 1992 that using student deferments to keep out of the draft was no big deal, although they changed their mind in 2000 when Dick Cheney was on the ticket. The only consistent standard applied by Democrats seems to be whatever gets a Clinton elected.