Lindsey Graham's Veteran Status Makes Him Super Special

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pauses as he speaks about the Iran nuclear agreement at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Tuesday Sept. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Republican presidential candidate [mc_name name='Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)' chamber='senate' mcid='G000359' ], R-S.C., pauses as he speaks about the Iran nuclear agreement at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Tuesday Sept. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

One of the more bizarre things to happen in the past week, other than major news organizations deciding that their lives would not be complete unless they talked to everyone who has known Ben Carson since conception, it the immense collective sad they had over Lindsey Graham being excluded from the GOP debate last night.

Graham was excluded for the simple reason that everyone in the nation who would vote for Graham for president would fit in my car… with me driving. He is irrelevant on the national stage. So why did NBC’s Chuck Todd tweet this last evening?

Not to put too fine a point on it but how many veterans will be on stage at the next Democrat debate? Or why should being a veteran be relevant at all when running for a civilian political position?

At first, I assumed that Todd was running with some curious meme circulating from MMfA or MSNBC or ThinkProgress. Some kind of Oliver Willis inspired, three cushion bank shot smeared with Twinkie crumbs and chocolate frosting that was thought to be sure to stop the GOP dead in its tracks. But no, apparently, Todd simply recycled a charge that was made by Lindsey Graham’s super PAC (yes, I was surprised that one existed, too):

The super PAC supporting Lindsey Graham is running an ad protesting the fact that he is being excluded from Tuesday night’s Fox Business Republican debate by pointing to his status as a veteran.

“On the eve of Veterans’ Day, Republicans gather to debate the important issues facing our great nation. Yet the only veteran in the field has been silenced,” a narrator says over images from Graham’s years in the Air Force. The narrator says he is a retired air force colonel, expert in national security, and “the only candidate with a realistic plan to destroy [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria].”

The ad will air in Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and CNN.

Graham was bumped from the debate entirely because he did not receive an average of one percent in four polls from Fox News, Quinnipiac, Investor’s Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal/NBC News. Andrew King, the executive director for the Security Is Strength PAC supporting Graham, said that the WSJ/NBC poll didn’t even include Graham’s name.

“While national polling is flawed relative to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to begin with, the criterion used was unfair and skewed to the frontrunners. Senator Graham brings a critical voice to this race and for Fox Business Network to silence him is a disservice to all veterans,” King said.

As the New York Times reports, Graham has made a garden industry out of his status as a lawyer in the Air Force Reserve, peddling a resume that skirts perilously close to Stolen Valor country:

Since leaving active duty in 1989 and joining the Air Force Reserve, Mr. Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is running for president, appears to have performed very little substantive work for the Air Force. Yet, he rose in rank to colonel and remained in the service until his retirement in June, which entitles him to a monthly $2,773 pension.

An article by Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post shows that though Mr. Graham did very little in the reserve, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement: He was able to keep the honor of the uniform intertwined with his political life and the Air Force got to keep a lawmaker in its ranks who had stature and sway on Capitol Hill. Mr. Graham, a conservative hawk, sits on the Senate appropriations, armed services, budget and judiciary committees.

The senator has peddled an embellished, and at times inaccurate, narrative of his service in the reserve. A campaign video, which features several photos of Mr. Graham in uniform, says he “served as a reserve duty officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In fact, Mr. Graham’s war zone tours consisted of specially arranged stints that lasted a few days and coincided with trips he made as part of congressional delegations.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at his military retirement ceremony in June. Credit Matt McClain/The Washington Post, via Getty Images
Until early this year, Mr. Graham’s official biographies said he had served as senior instructor at the Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. In fact, Mr. Graham told The Post he never set foot at the base or taught there. “I never took time to change it,” he said of the biographies. “I probably should have.”

What is really a disservice to veterans is turning veteran status into some sort of affirmative action program for politicians. Lindsey Graham’s service as a reserve Air Force lawyer is nice but it doesn’t imply that that experience is relevant to anything other than Graham’s checkbook. The same goes for former Georgia Senator Max Cleland and anticipated Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Their service and wounds are not relevant in anyway to being a Senator… other than without those wounds they would never have been political candidates.

What is really a disservice to veterans is Graham using a personal career choice, one that, I might add, involved neither risk nor hardship nor career damage, as a way to delegitimatize the methodology for selecting debate participants in a way that only benefits him and no one else.