Two weeks ago, at the height of the presidential campaign, I attended a political event for my friend Zach Iscol, who is running in New York City’s mayoral election next year. Zach and I go way back. In our early 20s, we both fought in Falluja as Marines, our two platoons having advanced down opposite sides of a heavily defended street.
Politically, there are certain issues Zach and I agree on, but there are many others on which we don’t. He is, however, a great leader, and so I was proud to attend a small outdoor gathering hosted by his supporters. While my wife and I sipped drinks beneath our masks and did our best version of mingling while maintaining social distance, I met Mike, another Falluja veteran.
Mike had been shot in the shoulder and wounded by a grenade on Thanksgiving Day 2004. After recovering, he left the Marine Corps and went on to a successful business career. As we talked, the inevitable topic of the presidential election came up. My wife asked him who he thought would win.
Most people I’d come across had answered Joe Biden, but then quickly equivocated, fearing a repeat of 2016. Mike expressed no such reservations. Mr. Biden would definitely win, no question, he told me. I asked whether his confidence came from poll numbers. He shook his head, no, and answered, “JJ did tie buckle.”
I laughed. My wife asked what he was talking about.
JJ DID TIE BUCKLE is a mnemonic all Marine recruits learn to help them memorize the corps’s 14 essential leadership traits: justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, enthusiasm. Between the two of us, Mike and I managed to recall and recite each trait.
When we finished, he said Mr. Trump didn’t possess a single one of them. Maybe Mr. Biden didn’t have them all, but he sure had a few, and that would be enough.
As we stood at a bar wearing surgical masks in the middle of a pandemic, Mike’s reference to these leadership traits we’d learned as teenagers seemed not only sentimental, but also impractical. My hard and positional inner voice said: It’s policies, not sentiment, that matters. Sentiment won’t stop people dying of the virus. It won’t get our children back into school. And it won’t help restart our economy.
Wednesday is Veterans Day, and we are eight months into what is arguably our greatest national crisis since the Second World War. Unlike then, we are a nation divided. Battle lines have been drawn all over this country, on every conceivable issue, from the pandemic to immigration to health care.
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