Last week a story made the social media rounds speculating that General “Maddog” Mattis might be thinking of running for President. I shared the story and found, to no surprise, that my military friends couldn’t contain their excitement.
But more than half of the people on my friends list have no connection to the military, and in the comments a few expressed their doubts that a General would understand the issues faced by the broader American public well enough to lead the whole country.
The military? Sure, he could handle that, they said, but not the rest of the country.
I won’t get into whether or not Mattis is the man for the job, but on the top issues facing this country? Yeah, a retired 4-star would actually be the only person running who could say been there, done that to nearly all of them. Better yet, you know what people in the military do every couple of years? We move. By the time someone makes General, he’s likely to have lived in every region of our country and in a whole lot of states. No other candidate would be able to represent every nook and cranny of our nation with the kind of understanding that only comes from living there.
(Sorry, I just had to.)
Why a General Should be PresidentThe Budget and the Economy. Does a retired General understand budgets, you ask? Bwa-ha-ha-ha. That’s pretty much what he’s spent most of his day on, every day. For decades.
Civil Rights. A recently retired General has firsthand, in-the-trenches knowledge of what it takes to look out for everyone because his years of service have included the Department of Defense allowing openly gay troops to serve, federal recognition of same sex marriages and drafting new policies to allow women to serve in combat roles.
Women in the military are paid the exact same as men of the same rank, and always have been. The civilian world still can’t say that.
Likewise, same-sex marriages today are fully recognized by the Department of Defense … even as they aren’t recognized by some of the states where those military couples reside.
So, civil rights? Yeah, a General has got that.
Crime. The military is a microcosm of society, meaning (sadly) the same crimes that exist in the rest of the population exist in the military population, too. Installations have their own police forces and the military has its own justice system. And since all responsibility flows upward in the military (meaning, the guy on the top is on the hook for everything) a retired General has been dealing with catching and punishing criminals for all of his career.
Drugs. See “Crime.”
Education. Ever heard of DoDEA? The Interstate Compact (on Educational Opportunity for Military Children)? Senior military leaders most certainly have. The Department of Defense has its own education system, one that shepherds more than 74,000 children all over the world. Somewhere overseeing all of that is a General. If that General has children, his children have likely attended a DoDEA school at some point. If not, they’ve likely relied on the Interstate Compact to make sure that they and other military children are afforded the same educational opportunities as other children and are not penalized by inflexible administrative and bureaucratic rules.
Families and Children. Oh, where to start? How about with this: there are about three million active duty, National Guard and Reserve dependents — aka, spouses and kids — attached to the Department of Defense today. And at every level of the chain of command there are military officers tasked with making sure families are doing okay.
So by the time an officer becomes a General, he’s spent more than three decades overseeing the health care, education, hell, even the grocery shopping of hundreds, thousands, potentially even millions of people. Furthermore, his job requires that he takes people away from their families for up to a year at a time, over and over again, and that he leave his family as well, so issues related to families and children are something he knows all about. And then some.
Foreign Policy. Oh, come on. This one’s a softball. A General has had a front row seat, nay, a starring role in foreign policy. Not only has he suggested it, he's lived it. He’s met with foreign leaders and he’s seen foreign policy successes — and failures — not just up close, but from within.
Government Reform. Remember that year when Congress didn't pass a budget in time to pay the troops? A General does. No one appreciates government reform like someone whose life and job is 100 percent at the mercy of government indecision.
Gun Control. How many people running for president have firsthand, intimidate knowledge of exactly what guns can do -- when fired, when brandished by bad guys and when used for protection? And how many have spent time running an entire community where firearms are not allowed in homes? Answer: One, but only if a General is in the race.
Health Care. Wanna know how socialized medicine looks on a large scale, decades after implementation? The good stuff and the bad stuff? Ask a General. (Hint: It’s called Tricare, and he’s dealt extensively with it -- as a patient and as someone the administrators have to answer to.)
Infrastructure and Technology. Remember that ‘microcosm’ thing? The infrastructure of DoD requires constant attention. Roads, buildings, power lines; these things must be built and maintained. And there’s technology infrastructure, too. A modern General has not just dealt with guns, tanks, office buildings and water lines, but with drones and hackers.
Jobs. There are about 1.2 million military spouses, and many of them want to work. Nearly all service members plan to work when move back into civilian life. And yet, employers don’t want to hire military spouses and many veterans find it difficult to find good jobs when they leave military service. These are issues a former top General is well aware of and has already spent a lot of time working on.
Principles and Values. Where do I even start? Try to name an institution that places greater emphasis on principles and values than the U.S. military. I’ll wait. Still waiting … and waiting.
War and Peace. No one understands war better than someone who has not only been there, but ordered other people to go, too. And although Hollywood might have you think that Generals are just 24/7 gunning for war, that’s hardly the case. A recently retired General has spent the past 15 years directly handling our nation’s longest war, and dealing with the fall-out from it. He’s written letters to the families of the fallen, hugged grieving spouses, parents and children and attended many military funerals and memorial ceremonies. So many funerals and ceremonies. The decision to go to war is one no retired General would make lightly, because he deeply and personally understands exactly what war means. But, if we had to go to war, there’d be no one better suited to lead us through it than a General.