The “War Hero” Fallacy

by Will on November 1, 2010

Matt Yglesias today says:

John McCain was a widely admired war hero with a reputation for moderation who had favorable ratings well over 50 percent on Election Day and he lost to a first-term senator with a black nationalist spiritual mentor.

Yglesias seems to believe that “war heroes” have an easier time winning the presidency. I would ask what evidence there is to bolster that belief. We have seen numerous candidates touted as “war heroes” who have gone down to unceremonious defeat, often against opponents with no military history: George McGovern, Bob Dole, John Kerry, and as Yglesias mentioned, John McCain.

Going back, as best I can recall the only two presidential candidates elected in the last century who were “war heroes” were Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. Eisenhower was a hugely successful general, which is rather different from being G.I. Kennedy barely squeaked by, having run a brilliant campaign against the inept Nixon, with Ike seemingly indifferent to the election’s results.

But no doubt the idea will die hard, and it won’t be long before one of the parties nominates a decorated veteran of battle, on the unproven theory that everybody always votes for the war hero.

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