THE MILITARY is probably the closest thing we have in this nation to a meritocracy, a place where you succeed or fail based more certainly on what you know than who you know. It’s not a perfect meritocracy — building the right relationships is essential — but the incentive to base promotions on ability is profound, because if leaders are incompetent, people die.
Bob Livingston has excelled in the meritocracy that is the S.C. National Guard. He rose through the ranks to brigadier general in 2005 and major general in 2009, and in 2007 he led the state’s largest combat force since World War II on a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. Since 2011, he has commanded the 9,000 members of South Carolina’s Army and Air National Guard. He was, by all accounts, a very good commander. He has, by all accounts, done a good job as adjutant general.
Will Breazeale has not excelled in the military meritocracy. Part of the problem is laudable: He says he left the National Guard for the U.S. Army Reserves because he didn’t like being expected to contribute to the adjutant general’s campaign. It is an entirely valid complaint, and one of the reasons South Carolina should abandon its Antebellum tradition of electing its military leader, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Whether because of moving from one branch of the military to another or other factors, the result is that Mr. Breazeale has not been promoted to general. He has not been promoted to colonel. He is a lieutenant colonel.
Which means, very simply, that he is not qualified by military standards to lead the National Guard.
Which means, very simply, that voters in the June 10 Republican primary for adjutant general have a very easy decision to make: Vote for Gen. Livingston.
But voters need to do more than that. They need to insist that South Carolina abandon this antiquated system. They need to insist that we stop making our adjutant general divert his attention from keeping our National Guard trained and ready and instead raise money and court votes in order to keep his job.
Let’s face it: A qualified candidate — an active-duty general or at least colonel in the National Guard — isn’t going to run against the adjutant general. That’s pretty much the definition of insubordination everywhere in the world except here.
So the challengers we get are military officers in a different branch of the military — think of an Air Force officer being put in charge of the Marines — or retired National Guard officers. Actually, no military experience is required to be elected adjutant general.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The S.C. House has passed legislation to ask voters this fall to let the governor appoint the head of South Carolina’s military agency — as governors do in 49 other states. The House passed H.3541 because, unlike all of his predecessors, Gen. Livingston asked legislators to pass it. Because he understands the corrupting influence of money, and the danger of having someone who is not qualified in charge of the National Guard.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved the measure. But it still requires a final vote before it goes on the ballot, and there’s no guarantee we’ll get that vote until we get it, and the House will have to approve Senate changes to the language.
It was ridiculous enough to give the job of adjutant general to the top vote getter when the main job of the guard was to clean up after hurricanes. But our nation relies increasingly on the National Guard to fight our wars. If voters elect someone who is not qualified to lead it, we endanger the lives of our soldiers and the soldiers throughout our nation, and we endanger our nation’s ability to defend itself.
It’s time for that to change, and that change is within reach. Contact your legislators, and tell them you want them to put this question on the November ballot. And on June 12, vote for the one candidate who is qualified to be our adjutant general: Bob Livingston.
In their own words
We asked the candidates for adjutant general to complete a questionnaire as part of our endorsement process. Read their answers and answers from candidates for other offices here.