MANY people who leave military service struggle as they enter civilian life. They miss the camaraderie, the sense of place, and, above all, the devotion to something greater than themselves. I, however, was lucky when I retired after 30 years in the U.S. Navy. I settled in New Hampshire, serving first as dean and later as president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, and then as dean of the University of New Hampshire Law School for 11 years.
The average Granite Stater, I found, has the same humility and desire to serve as the women and men in uniform. New Hampshire quickly became a comfortable home for me. I found myself surrounded by the sorts of people who, my military experience taught me, made the most successful leaders.
We are gearing up, of course, to pick the most important leader in the nation and, indeed, the world: the U.S. commander in chief. As we do so, we should consider which potential president has the qualities we most admire here in New Hampshire, and the qualities I respected most when I was in uniform. We should consider who is humble, who has perspective, and who believes it is the CINC’s job to serve the nation, and not the other way around. Put that way, Joe Biden is clearly the more New Hampshire-style leader in the race.
Let’s begin with humility. When I served in the Navy, few characteristics were as important as knowing what you did not know and making the sincere attempt to learn. The only thing more dangerous for someone in uniform than ignorance is someone who does not know he is ignorant. After all, someone who thinks he can fix a helicopter but cannot is likely to get his fellow sailors killed. Biden is famous for seeking out experts for guidance and ideas. Experts were the driving force behind his health care and economic strategies — and, critically, informed his opinion when he laid out exactly the capabilities we needed to fight COVID-19 when it was still in its early days in the U.S.
It is impossible to imagine Biden saying he is “the only one that matters” or publicly undermine the chief COVID-19 expert on his team.
My time in the Navy and my time in New Hampshire underscored another critical point for me: the best decisions are made by people with perspective. Anger and impulse are seldom good factors in making the life-and-death decisions a president must consider. While he may say inopportune things at times, Biden rarely loses his cool. He is smart, kind, informed, diligent, and rational. He personifies the Navy motto of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment.”
For those of us who served, those qualities come from our sense of perspective — we have all lost comrades, so we understand what matters and what does not. I believe Biden’s calm demeanor is borne of his own sense of perspective — perspective that comes when you have had to bury two of your children and your wife. Biden’s calm comes from tragedy that would crush most people.
It is impossible to imagine Biden saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” mocking a reporter with a disability, or, frankly, any number of other angry, impulsive, counterproductive statements we have seen over the last three years.
Finally, Biden lives in service to a cause greater than himself: the idea of the United States. He has over 50 years of public service to his name, with a host of accomplishments that helped shape the country — from supporting public housing on the New Castle (Del.) County Council in 1970 to being the driving force behind the Violence Against Women Act. As he told Stephen Colbert, he views this race as the most important race of our lifetimes — but not because he is running. It is because, as he put it, the soul of the nation is at stake. As if seeking to prove his run for office is not about him — but rather about the nation — he told the world he sees himself as nothing more than a bridge to a future generation of leaders.
It is impossible to imagine Biden telling the country “I alone can fix it.”
We live in a relentlessly perilous time, in New Hampshire and across the country. COVID-19 has proven that problems half-a-world away, when coupled with indecision — or bad decisions — can create mass American casualties. Our national security requires a steady hand on the tiller and a president with the characteristics Granite Staters most prize. In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden is the one candidate with those traits.