Being A Vet Could Help Djou Win

It never pays to bet against an incumbent of either political party anywhere, and it certainly never pays to bet against an incumbent congressional candidate in Hawaii. Since statehood in 1959, only one has ever failed re-election: Republican Charles Djou. Djou was a nine-month incumbent. He had won a late-May special election to fill the months remaining in Neil Abercrombie’s term. Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case split the Democratic vote and Mr. Djou went to Washington. But in the November General Election, Djou fell to Democrat Hanabusa, losing by 6 percentage points.

“Wearing the uniform in American wars has never, ever hurt a candidate for national, state or local office.”

So why should anyone bet on Djou against incumbent Hanabusa in 2012? Given the perfect reelection success rate of incumbent Democrats in Hawaii and the presence of Hawaii-born Barack

Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, I’m not sure anyone should. But if anyone is looking for a long shot that could pay off big, they should look at Djou.

Consider what happened in Congressional District 2. To be sure, the seat was open, but a young City Councilwoman came from far back in the polls to defeat Mufi Hannemann and four other Democratic candidates. Tulsi Gabbard could put the word “veteran” after her name.

“Veteran” is a powerful word, and Djou can claim it as well. In

February, U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Djou returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Wearing the uniform in American wars has never, ever hurt a candidate for national, state or local office. George Washington wore one, crossed the Delaware River, and entered the White House. Ulysses S. Grant wore a disheveled one from Appomattox Court House to the presidency.

In the 20th century, Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower both wore the uniform, TR in the Spanish-American War, Ike in World War II. And Democrat John F. Kennedy’s water-logged Navy uniform helped vault him to the presidency.

In Hawaii, veterans returning from World War II created a revolution. They finished their edu

cation, entered politics and in 1954, buttressed by growing union support, helped the Democratic Party wrest political power from the Republicans. Three score later, the hegemony of Hawaii’s Democrats remains unshaken.

The uniform has mattered big time in Hawaii. It may matter even more in the era of the all-volunteer military. Since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the United States has fought two wars – small wars, to be sure, but as expensive, mean and nasty as wars can get. One of them, the one in which Maj. Djou served, still drags on.

But my kids didn’t have to go. My friends’ and neighbors’ kids didn’t have to go. Indeed, no Americans’ kids had to go. There was no draft to put them in uniform, no lottery to suck them up

to the top of the list.

No, the vast majority of us could go along our merry way, without worry of a casualty notification team appearing at our door.

But every week for the past decade, PBS NewsHour has shown, in silence, the pictures of the young men and women who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan: volunteers all. I’ve seldom gotten through that series of pictures without choking up. I’ve felt a mix of sorrow and anger at their loss, gratitude for their service, and not a little guilt that they’ve risked so much and the rest of us so little.

Will our guilt and gratitude be enough to put Djou back in Congress? Probably not. But maybe, just maybe.