Barbara Boxer Compares Veterans, Congressmen

Barbara Boxer has offended some veterans again. This time, she's right and they're wrong.

Barbara Boxer has offended some veterans again.  This time, she’s right and they’re wrong.

At a campaign event over the weekend in Inglewood, California, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer seemingly equated being a politician to serving in the military — and an Iraq War veteran supporting Boxer’s November opponent is calling on her to apologize.

“We know that if you have veterans in one place where they can befriend each other and talk to each other. You know when you’ve gone through similar things you need to share it. I don’t care whether you are a policeman or a fireman or a veteran or by chance a member of Congress,” the California senator said. “[Democratic Rep.] Maxine [Waters] and I could look at each other and roll our eyes. We know what we are up against. And it is hard for people who are not there to understand the pressure and the great things that go along with it and the tough things that go along with it.”

“Barbara Boxer’s disrespectful comments underscore just how out of touch she has become after her 28 years in Washington,” Veterans for Carly Coalition Co-Chairman Lt. Commander Paul Chabot said in a press release, in response to Boxer’s comments. “Equating the experiences of members of Congress with those of brave soldiers who have fought to defend our country is just the latest example in a failed career marked by disrespect for our men and women in uniform.”

Chabot added, “Barbara Boxer owes an immediate apology to all members of America’s armed forces.”

No, she doesn’t.

Look, I’m no fan of Boxer.  She’s quite possibly my least favorite United States Senator.   Her arrogance and contempt for those she considers beneath her were in evidence thirteen months ago when she upbraided a general for calling her “Ma’am” rather than “Senator.”

In this particular exchange, though, she’s simply stating something obvious:  That those who are part of a tight knit group develop a camaraderie and sense of shared experience that outsiders will never truly understand.

Do Congressmen get shot at on a routine basis?  Thankfully, no.   But she’s not saying that being a Senator is exactly like being a veteran in every single way — merely in one particular way.   And she’s right!

We veterans have no reason to feel aggrieved.  People are constantly thanking us for our service and holding us out as heroes even when it’s not true.   Why so touchy?

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pete says:

    James, you are being your usual literal self. The examples she compared herself to are obviously engaged in much more dangerous work than she is, and I think that is the issue implied by Chabot. Comparing herself and her colleagues ( what is the approval rate of Congress?) to Americans engaged in police work, fighting fires and dodging bullets was an open invitation to ridicule.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    “She’s quite possibly my least favorite United States Senator. Her arrogance and contempt for those she considers beneath her were in evidence thirteen months”

    She has plenty of competition. It was a bit of a dumbass thing to say but I don’t remember her being particularly impolite. This seems to be exaggerating a very minor sin by comparison with those committed by others in that august body. Otherwise you’re right, but this is typical campaign bs. Someone say’s they don’t take sugar in their coffee and the other side claims they are anti US agriculture.

  3. just me says:

    I got was she was getting at, and I think she has a point, which is that people with a shared experience understand each other and what they are doing better than those without it.

    I think she sort flubbed up though in her comparisons, mostly because misunderstood it sounds like she is comparing the work congress members do to the work veterans, firefighters and police officers do. Perhaps if she had tossed in teachers, doctors or some other groups that didn’t have dangerous jobs it would have worked a little better.

    I think this is more just lack of care in the comparison than really trying to argue a congress member’s job is comparable to being a war veteran.

    But in this case i think more can be won from just offering an apology than trying to fight it. In the world of politics this probably isn’t a mountain to die on.

  4. While on one hand recognizing that those who serve the country at risk of their life deserve gratitude, it seems lately that is a certain expectation of subserviance starting to sneak into the relationship between groups like the military and police and the general public.

    I have lately found myself starting to wonder where exactly the line is where adoration of these groups starts to become unhealthy for a free society and if we may not be at that line.

  5. rodney dill says:

    It’s true (or at least common) for any social group that is seen as separate and with common experiences, for a sense of camaraderie or solidarity to form. Maybe she would’ve been better served to use Carnies or Mafioso as her example.

  6. rodney dill says:

    …maybe Telemarketers would be a better example.

  7. JKB says:

    I agree that this is much ado about nothing. The camaraderie forged in shared experience is not unique to veterans or emergency personnel. The intensity and strength of the bonds created under fire where you must trust your life to the other or the intense emotions of responding to life-threatening crises is far more intense than those created in the comfort of the congressional chamber.

    Senator (don’t want to leave that off she worked hard for it) Boxer’s description of the eye rolling and the tendency of members of congress to turn on each other in vicious attacks signifies the camaraderie she spoke of is more like BFF survivors of the middle school wars.

  8. Tano says:

    Well, I don’t particularly care for Boxer either, but to be fair, I don’t think it was arrogance and contempt that was in play when she demanded to be called “Senator”. Seems pretty clear to me that ir resulted from a mix of insecurity, a lifelong commitment to having women treated equally to men, and a fair dose of cluelessness as to the amount of respect, rather than condescension, was meant when she was called “Ma’am”.

    But I very much appreciate your post here. It just drives me nuts when I see people mount these phony arguments about how someone has dared to “compare” X to Y – when we can all see that X and Y are different. They seem not to know the difference between the words “compare’ and “equate” – and their complaint, if taken seriously, would prohibit any analogizing whatsoever. Its the cheapest kind of bs argumentation – and it seems rare that someone who might derive advantage from the argument actually calls people out for using it. Good show.

  9. steve says:

    I think your analysis is correct. Chabot might have responded better by saying something like..

    “If those of you in Congress got your act together, you wouldn’t feel like you were under fire so often. People might actually appreciate what you do for a change.”


  10. wr says:

    Umm, Boxer wasn’t attacked by a veteran. She was attacked by the co-chairman of a group working for her opponent, Carly Fiorina. The “offense” he took at her statement is merely a smear by a political hack.

  11. stevie says:

    “..where exactly is the line where adoration of these groups starts to become unhealthy for a free society”

    Soon the Pugs will start calling for military parades and we’ll be able to stand on the sidelines to watch the troops and tanks pass by for review; while we wave our little flags and show our pride for the Fatherland.

    Here’s one reason people don’t appreciate Congress:

  12. John425 says:

    For Joiner to dismiss the arrogance of a privileged Senator who claims “brotherhood” with front line troops and first responders shows how much Joiner has become a member of the “Inside the Beltway” group-think.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Soon the Pugs will start calling for military parades and we’ll be able to stand on the sidelines to watch the troops and tanks pass by for review; while we wave our little flags and show our pride for the Fatherland.***

    Pride for the fatherland?

    lol, you know Obama has only been in power for like a year and a half, Give the the guy a break already!!!

    forgo what you perceive as similarities to Nazi propaganda, hostile communist takeovers and the signs of end time prophecies being fulfilled!

    And remember all of the underrated predictions of Joe Biden that have come to pass, this man is a true oracle.

    I think it was he that said “at first it will seem that we are wrong”.

    No matter how bad it looks or seems, or what the damn dirty racist teabaggers of doom lie about, and I don’t care what stupid facts they have it”s all hate speech!!!!!!ARRRRRRRRRGGGGG!!!!!!!!!

    Remember change is tough, and it takes time, and of course it will look like some Halfa$$ Hitler Youth occupied Cuba at first, man it alway looks like that on the way to utopia, but unlike the ones who tried before and failed, WE HAVE OBAMA AND WE HAVE CONTROLED CONGREES AND THE SENETE SINCE BEFORE 2007 AND WE ARE ONE AWAY FROM THE DESIDING VOTE ON THE SUPREME COURT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Steve Plunk says:

    Her statement was not about camaraderie with office workers, truck drivers, or sales clerks. It was about dangerous professions in order to puff up the image of working in congress. Veterans have right to take umbrage. If she shares camaraderie with any group it’s the pompous asses of the world.

    wr, That political hack you speak of is also a veteran. You should admit that fact.

  15. sam says:

    I don’t feel aggrieved, either.

  16. wr says:

    Steve Plunk — Yes, he is a political hack who is a veteran. He is speaking in his role as political hack. The fact that he served in the military doesn’t change that. And it doesn’t make him worthy of worship. Oliver North wore the uniform as he committed perjury, and served while he was committing treason.

    By the way, John Kerry is a veteran, too. I’m sure you take every word he says as gospel. Because, you know, he served.

  17. Wayne says:

    I agree with what Just Me said above.

    I understand how someone can get a little offended by it but wouldn’t consider it a great slap in the face. Just because something doesn’t offends me doesn’t make it is silly if it offends someone else. Often people do go overboard on being offended. IMO in this case taking slight offense in what she said is OK but taking great offense is overdoing it.

    Yes some are going overboard on praising those in the military but that is better than the other way around. When I first join, the military was not that popular in many groups but was gaining ground. Those prior to me had it much rougher. Regardless, when someone sees my vehicles tags and thanks me for my service, I take it as a sign of appreciation not so much for myself but for all those who served and I appreciate it.

  18. Steve Plunk says:

    wr, I’m not advocating worship of the man or any veteran. I don’t take their words as truth automatically or not realize they are humans who can violate the law.

    You said ‘Umm, Boxer wasn’t attacked by a veteran”. How wrong can you be? As much as his anger is probably manufactured for political purposes so is yours. None the less he is a veteran.

  19. wr says:

    Steve Plunk — My apologies for the mis-phrasing. What I meant to say was not that this man did not serve, but that he was not attacking her in his role as a veteran, that he was attacking her as an official supporter of Fiorina, and pretending that it was something else. And that the headline was misleading in that regard. But I don’t take his service away from him.

  20. Yes some are going overboard on praising those in the military but that is better than the other way around. Yes some are going overboard on praising those in the military but that is better than the other way around.

    If it was just praise, there wouldn’t be an issue, as they largely deserve all the praise they get anymore. But lately they (and police as well) seem to have gone from ordinary people doing extraordinary things to an intrinsically superior form of humanity who should never be questioned or disagreed with by mere mortals. That’s the trend I’m starting to worry about.

  21. wr says:

    Stormy Dragon — You’ll notice that vets are only “an intrinsically superior form of humanity who should never be questioned or disagreed with by mere mortals” when they’re Republicans or supporting tax cuts for the rich. Democratic veterans are what draft-dodger Limbaugh calls “phony soldiers.”

    This Boxer story is just another part of the Republican party claiming ownership of the military. If a Republican had said exactly the same thing she did, they’d be falling all over him in praise.

  22. sookie says:

    James, she didn’t compare herself to table waiter, oil rig hand, hedge fund manager, coal miner, banker, dental hygienist, convenience store clerk, doctor, school teacher, farmer, small retail store owner, etc….

    If she had you might have a point. If she had mixed any of the 3 she chose with any other professions, you might have a point.

    She intentionally compared her job to the ‘hero’ professions (yes we know they aren’t all heroes). The jobs that people can be called on day in, day out, to risk their lives (yes we know they aren’t, but they can be called on to do dangerous things as part of the job, is the point).

    It was an intentional choice of professions. She’s implying it’s a hard (and dangerous) job that no one understands, but somebody’s gotta do it, so that make my job comparable to the ‘hero’ professions. That’s what she is saying, in addition to the point about understanding what a job entails.

    We all know, that we understand our jobs in ways that other people often don’t or can’t. Only someone else whose done the same thing can, so we’re part of a exclusive club.

    As an aside, we often forget that we don’t understand other’s jobs and apparently she’s no exception if she thinks her job compares to those 3…. or most of those others I listed.