Salena Zito

The 2008 national election clearly shows our next generation of leaders must possess something that many recent and current elected officials lack: intellectual courage.

Going Rogue by Sarah Palin FREE

President Nixon believed all leaders, regardless of their time, needed “brains, guts and heart.” Others have defined those character traits as “the right stuff.”

“Given what is likely needed to right our ship of state, I don't think that it will come as a great surprise to many that our current men and women in the military are likely going to be the ‘right’ individuals for the job when they come home,” said Lara Brown, a Villanova University political science professor.

What is equally self-evident is that women have an opportunity to step into leadership.

“As the country looks towards the future, this is the most fertile season for women as a new generation of leaders,” Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile predicts.

Brazile believes women as decision-makers tend to be more pragmatic and less ideological, adding: “The same can be said of the men and women returning from military service.”

“A man or woman with a military background has, usually, a better sense of self and of purpose,” said Mark Davidson, a former member of the Clinton administration and a Navy Reserve captain. “While certainly there are those who would do anything to win … this generation of service members tends to be less dogmatic and strident.”

Women and military veterans always have been critical to our nation’s success, yet their numbers are anemic in today’s U.S. House and Senate.

In the 111th Congress, 121 of 535 members have served in the military – 96 in the House, 25 in the Senate. This is a steep drop from the 91st Congress (1969-71) when 398 veterans walked the halls, 329 in the House and 69 in the Senate.

The number of women in Congress, despite having a female House Speaker, is equally lackluster: 76 in the House, 17 in the Senate.

Given the impasse in our government, future elected officials need to be less ideological and more practical – that is, philosophically open to employing strategies or policies that are likely to work and not just likely to earn points with one's political base.

U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., and Tom Rooney, R-Fla., are part of the new generation of veterans who have taken their service skills to Washington.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.