The voice of ex­pe­ri­ence

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist Dana Mil­bank is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

John Warner, vet­eran of World War II and Korea, speech­writer in the Eisen­hower White House, sec­re­tary of the Navy in the Nixon Pen­tagon, Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Vir­ginia and long­time chair­man and rank­ing mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee be­fore his re­tire­ment in 2009, per­formed one more act of pub­lic ser­vice Wed­nes­day. He urged those who love the mil­i­tary and care about Amer­i­can lead­er­ship to de­feat Don­ald Trump.

Warner — en­dors­ing the Demo­cratic ticket while stand­ing in Alexan­dria, Va., with fel­low Vir­ginian Tim Kaine, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s run­ning mate — spoke bit­terly of Trump’s de­scrip­tion of the mil­i­tary as a “dis­as­ter” and a “sham­bles” with gen­er­als re­duced to “rub­ble.”

“We have to­day the strong­est mil­i­tary in the world; no one can com­pare with us,” Warner said. Though the mil­i­tary needs to be mod­ern­ized, he added, “no one should have the au­dac­ity to stand up and degrade the Pur­ple Heart, degrade mil­i­tary fam­i­lies or talk about the mil­i­tary be­ing in a state of dis­as­ter. That’s wrong!”

These were strong words com­ing from the courtly 89-year-old, one of El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor’s hus­bands and a revered fig­ure in the mil­i­tary. Warner is a throw­back to a dif­fer­ent time, one of un­flinch­ing pa­tri­o­tism, ci­vil­ity, a recog­ni­tion that your po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent is not your en­emy, and a ded­i­ca­tion to con­sen­sus for the good of coun­try.

These were the hall­marks of Warner’s gen­er­a­tion, the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, “tem­pered by war, dis­ci­plined by a hard and bit­ter peace,” as John F. Kennedy put it in 1961.

“I look back with deep re­spect for those who taught me the fun­da­men­tals of duty and honor and coun­try at the age of 17,” when he en­listed, Warner said. “I’m here solely be­cause of what I learned then.”

Those at­tributes faded as the baby boomers took the reins of gov­ern­ment in the mid-1990s, and it has been wors­en­ing ever since, reach­ing rock bot­tom — one hopes — with the cur­rent Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, a hu­man in­sult ma­chine, ill-pre­pared and unconcerned about it. Now party comes be­fore coun­try, both in the re­fusal to com­pro­mise in the leg­is­la­ture and in the mass ral­ly­ing of Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives around Trump.

But a few have, like Warner, risen above party, and they de­serve praise for their brav­ery. An­other is Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who has in­di­cated pri­vately that he will vote for Clin­ton. The con­ser­va­tive Ari­zona Repub­lic on Tues­day en­dorsed Clin­ton — the first Demo­crat en­dorsed for pres­i­dent by the pa­per in its 126year his­tory. The con­ser­va­tive Dal­las Morn­ing News and Cincin­nati En­quirer made sim­i­lar de­ci­sions. And a host of Repub­li­can lu­mi­nar­ies has come out for Clin­ton, among them John Ne­gro­ponte, Brent Scowcroft, Richard Ar­mitage and Hank Paul­son. Warner, in his de­cency, is ev­ery­thing Trump is not.

He gov­erned by con­sen­sus. “I had part­ners in Barry Gold­wa­ter and Sam Nunn and John Sten­nis and John Tower … old Scoop Jack­son, and I learned from those men,” Warner said Wed­nes­day. “That’s why I feel dis­tressed about some of the com­ments made by the op­po­nent to this ticket.”

He was un­fail­ingly civil. “Can­di­date Clin­ton main­tained [her] com­po­sure through­out the de­bate; the other can­di­date, in my judg­ment, did not,” Warner said. “She was firm but fair and, un­der­line, re­spect­ful. That’s one word that’s to­tally lack­ing on the other side of this ticket.”

And Warner was dili­gent. “We are, like it or not, the leader of the free world,” he said, and the pres­i­dent must “have a very firm and fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing” about Amer­ica’s role and re­spon­si­bil­ity. “You don’t pull up a quick text like ‘Na­tional Se­cu­rity for Dum­mies,’” he said. Pres­i­dents “have got to un­der­stand there are times they don’t know ev­ery­thing, but they can learn, and par­tic­u­larly they can learn if they’ve got a foun­da­tion of their own ex­pe­ri­ence to build upon — not go out and try to cre­ate it out of whole cloth af­ter you read two or three brief sheets. Ridicu­lous.”

Warner’s lan­guage was for­mal, al­most ar­chaic. He spoke of the “op­po­nent,” not men­tion­ing Trump by name — un­til he re­turned to the mi­cro­phone to say one more thing af­ter his 16-minute speech.

“When I re­call what the op­po­nent has said about the mil­i­tary, I shake my head,” Warner said, re­call­ing the plac­ard on the wall in Ma­rine boot camp in 1945: “Loose lips sink ships. Got that Trump? Loose lips sink ships.”

Com­ing from this gen­teel and proud old Repub­li­can, the words were more pow­er­ful than the coars­est in­sult Trump could tweet.

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