You know, politics has a particular penchant for hypocrisy. My dad, who was a bit of a kitchen table philosopher in his time, used to tell me that politicians ''are the biggest hypocrites in the world.'' Not long after I returned from Vietnam he also told me that ''The day will come when these people (his euphemism for politicians or anybody else who considered themselves in a position of responsibility) will dishonor everything you thought you were fighting for.'' Of course I just dismissed his mini-lecture like I did so many of those tossed as they were across the chasm of the generation gap.
But, you know, the old man was right on both counts. And nowhere is that more true than during that quadrennial tap dance known as the campaign for president of these United States. It's really interesting to hear all the marvelous ideas of those individuals who deem themselves worthy of seeking our support for the highest office in the land. And it's even more fascinating to watch them court the so-called ''veterans' vote.''
Now the high point of this patriotic parade comes when the various candidates for high office put those silly little hats on their heads and make the rounds of the national veterans' conventions. It's amazing to hear just how concerned these individuals are for the care and feeding of those of us who served in the armed services of this nation.
But I'm always reminded of my father's wisdom on the matter. The first question I always ask myself is, ''Just where in the hell was all this concern 25 to 30 years ago?'' I know that people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle in his day and a myriad of others are quick to tell us all that the spirit and morale of the military establishment of this country, both past and present, is uppermost in their minds. They always want to reassure us with the idea that the defense of our country's principles as well as its physical borders, along with the honor and support of those who actually have to do the defending, is closest to their hearts. But I can't help but wonder where a lot of these individuals -- Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh and the like -- were, some 30-plus years ago, when a lot of the rest of us were actually doing the killing and dying?
However, those inquires never seem to arise when these political stalwarts and/or their representatives are donning the patch-adorned hats and stepping up to the podium. Oh, they all have their various excuses for not having gotten around to serve in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Some were attending school and had student deferments; others were the victim of physical infirmities and still others ''served honorably'' in the National Guard or Reserves.
Now for those of you too young to recall the unpleasantness known as the Vietnam War, a lot of young men in my generation used to spend a lot of their time worrying about their draft status. This worry ranged all the way from openly burning your draft card in defiance of the situation to chucking all caution to the wind and going down to the nearest recruiting office to sign up. But if you were an American male child, between the ages of 18 and say 25 in the mid-1960s, it was very hard to avoid thinking about these matters.
Circumstances were that much of your existence was a little bit like the guy who deals with his fear of death by whistling past the graveyard. If you were less than thrilled with the prospects of a tour of duty in 'Nam, and rightfully so, your options were actually quite limited. You could take your chances with the local draft board, find a good school with a student deferment, a rare slot with the Guard or go to Canada. It was just that simple. And anyone from that period who tells you they never, ever considered the matter, is either suffering from a severe case of amnesia or a liar.
The worries about the draft board were greatly relieved with the institution of the birthday lottery, which ranked eligibility on the basis of a drawing held each year which prioritized men's status by their date of birth. Those lucky enough to have a high number by virtue of that annual lottery could breath a sigh of relief. The Guard and/or Reserve route was very popular. So popular in fact that there were in many cases few if any slots to be had. In fact, when Vice President Dan Quayle got his Indiana National Guard spot, it was the last opening available. Good thing the state commander of the Guard at the time was an employee of his family's newspaper chain. Meanwhile, college enrollments hit record-breaking numbers during the late '60s and early '70s, as a lot of young men took that route.
What strikes me most about all of this, is not so much that so many hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of American youth used these outs to avoid service but that those who now find themselves in positions of possible responsibility have almost rewritten history on this point.
Everybody knew in the 1960s when people like George W. and Dan Quayle and thousands and thousands of others were opting for weekend warrior status what the motives were. There was never any chance, despite what the spin doctors try and tell us, that these people would ever have to find themselves eating, sleeping and crapping in a hole in the boondocks of 'Nam. However, now the political climate is such that these same individuals who, through perfectly legal loopholes in the law, ducked harm's way back then, are suddenly such shining champions of those of us who did not.
In reality, that seems a lot like saying ''I want a strong and well-respected military defense for this nation -- as long as I don't have to serve in it.'' I have to confess that I think a lot more of the anti-war protesters than I do of these sunshine patriots. At least the kids who burned their draft cards believed in a cause enough to actually risk something for it.
You know, my old man might have had something back then after all.