Now that we know the identity of Mitt Romney's running mate, it's official: For the first time in 80 years, not one of the four presidential or vice presidential candidates will have served their country in uniform.
Neither Barack Obama or Joe Biden served, nor did Mitt Romney, nor did Paul Ryan -- nor did any of Romney's other likely choices, in fact. As America enters a second decade of war, this is a troubling trend.
Since the 1932 election, there has always been at least one veteran between the two major party tickets. A First World War veteran was on every ticket from 1936 until Eisenhower began a string of Second World War vets in 1952. That streak lasted until former naval officer Jimmy Carter, and then continued again with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Bill Clinton famously failed to serve, but he picked Vietnam vet Al Gore. In 2008, although conservatives were frustrated with John McCain's maverick act, they still revered his legendary service.
Military service is not a requirement under the Constitution, nor is it necessarily an indicator of success as a wartime president. Franklin Roosevelt never served, but he led this country through World War Two to total victory. On the other hand, Annapolis graduate Jimmy Carter was inept, with his fecklessness directly leading to one of the greatest disasters in American military history at Desert One. Pacific vets John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson embroiled America in Vietnam, leaving it to a third Pacific vet, Richard Nixon, to end the nightmare.
Although the tactical skills of a soldier do not necessarily translate to the strategic savvy required of a president, honorable military service demonstrates character and courage -- essential attributes in a world leader. The experience itself provides an invaluable perspective. It is almost a certainty that Harry Truman's searing experiences in the trenches as a World War One artillery captain pushed him to drop the atomic bombs on Japan rather than toss millions of young Americans into the hellish meat grinder that would have been the coming invasion of the home islands.
Time as a soldier could also have helped President Obama avoid several mistakes that have seriously hurt his reputation among veterans. It might have helped him understand the furious reaction to his Justice Department's recent lawsuit against the military extended voting period in Ohio. And he might have foreseen how his spiking of the football over the Osama bin Laden operation would run directly against the military cultural ethos of teamwork and humility. Veterans have a deep suspicion of anyone perceived as bragging about his personal heroics - just ask President Kerry.
While this year's ticket will almost certainly not contain a veteran, thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of veterans in Congress has risen from 18 percent in the House and 28 percent in the Senate in the 111th Congress to 21 percent in the House and 29 percent in the Senate in the 112th. But at the peak of the World War Two generation in Congress in 1971- 1972, 72 percent of House and 78 percent of senators had served.
Meanwhile, more young veterans are rising up through the political ranks of both parties, such as Republicans Josh Mandel in Ohio and Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and Democrat Tammy Duckworth in Illinois. Perhaps this year American voters will not have the option of choosing a veteran for national office, but in the future they will. And the country will be better for it.
Kurt Schlichter is a veteran of Desert Storm and Kosovo and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.