How to Pander to Veterans: A Guide for Romney and Obama

President Obama and Mitt Romney don't just want veterans to love them -- they want the adoration that comes with being the candidate most loved by the troops.

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President Obama and Mitt Romney don't just want veterans to love them -- they want the adoration that comes with being the candidate most loved by the troops. Both men spent Memorial Day telling veterans how wonderful they are, with mixed results. As MSNBC's Chris Hayes discovered last weekend, talking about troops in anything beyond the blandest platitudes can quickly get you into trouble. But Obama's campaign is going to have to get specific, because they think the veteran vote is swingy enough to win them a few swing states -- Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. More than many other subgroups, veterans and the military fetishists who love them are always watching for any tiny little slips -- mixing up an officer for an noncommissioned officer, mispronouncing a Vietnam battle -- that can then be interpreted as not showing enough deference to the troops.

Don't Make Jokes About Fashion
Manly men's men aren't supposed to notice or care about fashion, because that is for urban sissies. This is where Romney failed Monday, as reported by The New York TimesMichael Barbaro:

Mr. Romney’s stab at humor fell a bit flat. His joke revolved around the cowboy hat of the man who introduced him. Mr. Romney teased that the hat was unlikely be adopted as a uniform by any of the military branches.

“But it’s keeping your head out of the sun,” Mr. Romney said.

This joke was triple failure. First, it was a joke about fashion. Second, it indicated Romney worries about sun exposure. Third, it was false: there are still cavalry uniforms that include a Stetson.
Don't Mispronounce Vietnam Battles
In November, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day and said, "Whether you fought in Salerno or Samara, Khe Sanh or the Korengal, you are part of an unbroken chain of men and women who have served this country with honor and distinction." All bland platitudes except he pronounced the Vietnam battle Khe Sanh as KEY-san instead of the standard KAY-san. The horrors! "I don’t think he understands war, I don’t think he’s studied it, and I don’t think he believes it is particularly important or perceives its ramifications, beyond that it causes death and destruction," conservative blogger Keith Koffler fumed.
Don't Ever Suggest You Are Tougher Than the Veterans
During his Senate campaign in 1994, Romney visited a homeless shelter for veterans. When he asked the guy running the shelter, Ken Smith, what he needed most, Smith responded milk, because the shelter had so little money for food. As BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski notes, Romney said something completely stupid next. "Well, Ken, maybe you can teach the vets to milk cows." The comment didn't go over well. Romney later anonymously donated money to buy milk for the shelter.
Don't Ever Suggest You Aren't Thinking About Veterans All Day Every Day
On Memorial Day, Obama kicked off what will be a 13-year commemoration of the Vietnam War. In a speech to veterans in front of the Vietnam Memorial, Obama said, "You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor... It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.... Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home. Thank you. We appreciate you. Welcome home." Is that enough thanks? Maybe not. In a Obama campaign video about Osama bin Laden's death, Bill Clinton appears saying that if the raid had gone poorly, "that would have been really bad for him" -- him being Obama. A conservative veterans group pounced. "Really bad for him?" the ad asked.
Romney was more on-message on Memorial Day, The Times reports. When asked if he thought he would do well in the Texas primary on Tuesday -- a victory that could potentially finally clinch the delegates necessary to officially win the Republican nomination -- Romney responded, "I am thinking about Memorial Day all day."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.