The 2018 midterm election is a year away, and fundraising letters pour into my inbox like a firehose blasting into a bucket.
Most get ignored. A few I glance at, just to register their breathless urgency: THE LIBERALS ARE TRAITORS! GIVE ME MONEY NOWWWW!!!!
But one plea, from our neighbor to the north, stood out. Let me, without biasing you as to why, present an email received Wednesday from Fmr. Captain Kevin Nicholson, USMC.
The letterhead reads: “Marine. Outsider. Conservative.”
The email begins:
Neil, I’m a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a proud conservative from Wisconsin running for the United States Senate to neutralize the threat of Senator Tammy Baldwin’s liberal extremism. I joined the Marines because I saw a threat to America and wanted to do everything I could to protect the country I love. I was deployed to the deadliest place in Iraq just weeks after my first son was born. My team worked to combat the growing threat to democracy around the world.
I can’t print the entire message. It ends:
It’s time to Send In The Marine. Semper Fi, Kevin Nicholson, Conservative Republican for US Senate P.S. As a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I answered the call to serve my country when the threat was abroad. I’m now ready to answer the call to protect my country from the threat in our own backyard.
Anything stand out? Maybe the same thought occurred to you as occurred to me: “This guy’s a Marine.”
He’s proud of it, as well he should be. The Marines are a great organization filled with dedicated people, a fact I saw, first hand when the Marine Corps invited me to Camp Pendleton to participate in “Exercise Summer Storm,” practicing attacks from the sea. Impressive organization, rigorous training.
But pride has limits. There are threats to this country beyond the Taliban, and one of them is the Republican attempt to fetishize military service.
The president uses the military as a human shield. When Donald Trump was looking to light a fire under his base, he tried to recast the NFL protest against police brutality as an affront to the military. When his ignoring four soldiers killed in Niger became an issue, he pushed his chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, out to applaud his lies. Then his press secretary suggested that generals shouldn’t be questioned.
That’s nonsense. We don’t live in a military dictatorship — not yet anyway. The military has always deferred to civilian authority, and the day it doesn’t the American spirit will truly have died. Questioning generals is what Americans do.
One duty of a hero is to not say, “I’m a hero” over and over. That observation is best left to others. Nicholson’s letter reminded me of the moment I knew John Kerry was toast: When he stood on the stage of the 2004 Democratic National Convention and said, “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty,” raising a limp salute to his forehead. I winced at the tone-deafness of it, and soon thereafter his service was Swift-boated up his backside by Republicans all too happy to dump on the military when it’s a Democrat who served.
The military is supposed to be nonpartisan, to protect everybody in the country. Soldiers don’t fight for the right of only soldiers to speak their minds back home, but for everybody to speak freely. In theory.
I’m not going to criticize Nicholson personally. The only terrible thing I know about him is that former White House alt-right troll Stephen Bannon endorsed him and the 39-year-old seems to think that’s a good thing.
His one fundraising letter mentions “Marine” seven times, plus three photos of himself in uniform and two photos of a generic Marine. Being proud of service is one thing. It’s another to try to militarize our government and present the Armed Forces, aka yourself, as sacrosanct and unquestionable icons of patriotism, honor and duty. Because those who use military service to puff themselves up have a habit of, in the process, pulling the service down. They’re not honoring the military; they’re using the military to honor themselves. It’s a bad look.