Many decades ago, on my first day as the designated conservative on the editorial page staff of the Los Angeles Times, I attended the morning editorial meeting presided over by our courtly editor, Anthony Day.
The big front-page story in the Times on that day was a long profile of a priest who was an administrator at a local Roman Catholic college. A convivial type and avid golfer, the priest was adept at cultivating wealthy businessmen on the links, and elsewhere -- and reeling in substantial contributions to the school. There was no evidence that the priest had done anything wrong, or even unseemly, since the money was used to underwrite research and scholarships. But there was an unmistakable tone to the story -- abetted by anonymous observers of events -- that there was, in fact, something unseemly, possibly illegal, certainly troubling, in the habit of a Catholic priest hobnobbing with the rich and powerful in pursuit of money.
At some point, in the subsequent discussion, Tony Day turned to ask me what I thought about the story. I was tempted to demur since, on my first day, I hadn't wanted to strike a contrarian note, but I had to say something. "It looks to me," I remember saying, "like a Washington Post story that has inexplicably found its way into the Los Angeles Times." That is to say, a portentous description of blameless activity intended to convey the impression of wrongdoing.
Consider this week's story, on the Post front page, featuring the following headline: "Graham moved up in ranks as reservist: While on Hill, he was promoted twice despite little military activity." It turns out that Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina and current candidate for president, rose to the rank of colonel in a 33-year career in the Air Force's Judge Advocate General's Corps, "including two decades as a reservist while serving in Congress."
This, the Post suggests, is an occasion for suspicion, not praise.
The Post seems to concentrate on two points. First, that while fond of citing his military background and experience in his political career, Lindsey Graham was never a combatant, and that while he did undertake reservist duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were shortened to accommodate his congressional responsibilities. And second, that Graham's history of promotion was not for merit but because he was a congressman and, later, senator -- or in the words of the inevitable "Air Force lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity" for fear of retaliation, "Clearly, the rules didn't apply to him."
Of course, Senator Graham is fully capable of defending his Air Force record, and the Post story does permit him to justify his promotions. But let's not kid ourselves: Lindsey Graham was neither an ace pilot nor a battle-hardened warrior. Yet he never represented himself as such, either! He was an Air Force lawyer -- by all accounts a very good one, as investigator, prosecutor, advocate, and judge -- and unlike the vast majority of members of Congress (or men his age, for that matter) Graham appears to have chosen to continue his service beyond active duty out of a sense of patriotism and professional enrichment. No doubt, the fact that his tenure in the Air Force JAG Corps was rewarded with promotion did him no political harm; but is the Post always so cynical about military service?
Needless to say, the U.S. Air Force was delighted to have a dedicated reservist in its ranks who was also a member of Congress. Since the dawn of the republic, there has always been room in the armed forces for some well-connected officers -- Winfield Scott, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt -- whose fame and public standing added luster to the forces, and enhanced the prestige of the military in Washington. Sen. Strom Thurmond ended his career as a major general in the Army Reserve, and Sen. Barry Goldwater held the same rank in the Air Force Reserve.
To be sure, this symbiotic relationship may be subject to abuse: In 1980, 44-year-old Sen. Gary Hart, with little or nothing in the way of qualifications, managed to acquire a naval commission as a lieutenant commander; and earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden's 44-year-old son Hunter was obliged to resign his unlikely naval commission when he failed a drug test. None of this applies, however, to Col. Lindsey Graham (Ret.). His military service may not have been glamorous, or romantic, or even particularly arduous; but it was conscientious, honorable, useful, and admirable -- everything, indeed, the Post's hit piece was not.