Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Democrats and The Military

Apologies for AGAIN linking to a Dionne editorial, but it raises an issue I'd like to write about, and that is Democrats and the military. Dionne actually does a pretty fair job in laying out the history of the recent attraction that the Republican Party has held for members of the military officer corps. Wholesale political abandonment of the war effort by the Democratic Party in Vietnam, Bill Clinton's ill-advised desire to push gays in the military in his first months in office...these kinds of things had an impact. The officer corps I served with was overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. But by the time I got out in the Spring of 2008, it had begun to change.

I left the Pentagon in January of 2004 to go back to sea. At that time, the insurgency in Iraq was really just beginning to start. Rumsfeld was at the height of his power. The services were cowed by a Secretary who wielded incredible authority. There seemed to be no end to Rumsfeld's ability to challenge long-held assumptions (a quality I loved about him), many of which gored other powerful interests' ox's. I then went off to command my ship--returning to the Pentagon in the fall of 2006. What had happened in those two years was REMARKABLE. The Pentagon to which I returned was rife with hostility to the Secretary and the President. Officers were very open about their disdain for both, and you began to hear whispers of support for Democrats and Democratic ideals. Officers believed that Rumsfeld was guilty of incredible ineptitude in his handling of the war, and they believed that he was doing so with the full backing of the Republican President. I said at the time that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld had done something that Democratic policies and politicians had heretofore been unable to do...they made the Democratic Party into a real option for many officers. I used to stand up at a meeting in the morning with a three star Admiral who would openly chastise the "neocons" running the show.

The Democrats have indeed made inroads with the military, and that might not be a bad thing--for the military or for the Democratic Party. That said, we must all be on guard for the Democratic Party's most despicable tactic, and that is, supporting a panoply of benefits and rights for Veterans as a cheap way of appearing to be strong on defense. Job training, health care, education...all those things are nice, and ladling them out by the truckload to veterans help create a critical reaction of future entitlement-craving Democratic voters...but it is NOT defense policy. Supporting the military means using them to defend American interests and giving them the tools they need to win.


Anonymous said...

CW - I know you have seen it - but great strides forward in the world of Naval Blogging over at USNI. Thinking that you should chime in every now and again.


Navy Anon

Brian said...

Appreciated the piece
today... ~ Brian

Ace said...

Good insights CW. I have to admit something in the spirit of the old "I have a friend who" form of projection for purposes I shall not explain but may be easily deduced. So, here it goes.

I have a friend who is a career military officer and lifelong democrat. He grew up with a father who transited from a post-Vietnam "Great Santini" motif in the 1970s to a tweed jacket-with-leather-elbow-patches university professor in the 1980s. This environment provided him with a foundation of JFK-era Democratic political philosophy that manifested into an anti-Reagan, pro-Mondale/Dukakis mindset (and that is no joke).

That ultimate manifestation gave way to military service by way of a military academy, discipline, and punishment "tours" that provided countless quiet hours of contemplation. These hours of solitude brought into focus the distinctions between the JKF foundations of political philosophy and the liberal lobotomy that was Mondale/Dukakis. These logical threads seemed to extend backward to Truman (he dropped TWO big ones) and also forward through Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and the death of Blue Dogs in the post-Reagan era. But why? How? And for what reason?

My friend came to the conclusion that larger political forces were at play dating back to mid-century. The Progressive movement suffered devastating losses in the post-prohibition period and during the communist Red scare. These social forces generally discredited Progressive agendas (controlling behaviors like alcoholism) and the Red scare served (both legitimately and illegitimately) to drive far left advocates underground, particularly in hard-to-reach corners of society like tenured faculty and the arts. The collective effects drove progressive elements to ground where they waited for social constraints to blow over.

Ostensibly, a far-leftist killed Jack Kennedy, another killed Bobby Kennedy, and the progressive elements began to thrive in the anti-war movement in the 1960s. The Democratic party began to feel pressure from the far left, and with the advent of Watergate, the leftist pressure became a flood. The Carter administration was a Blue Dog vestige whose collapse opened the door to more extreme left influence in the party.

Enter the Reagan administration, where this friend learned the leftist complaints and a decade later discovered how flawed those complaints were. This friend had a choice: jump to the Republican party as most of his friends did (the neocons), or serve as a JFK remnant.

As time went on, the ever more powerful progressive elements gained funding and influence and began to expunge remaining centrists (Joe Lieberman). By that time in 2005-2006, the Republicans had shifted so far as to become what the Democrats once were, and the Democrats shifted so far as to become the Pre-prohibition Progressives. And here we are today.

While the Democratic moniker will always seem sophisticated and satisfying in certain media-driven contexts, it is not anything close to the Truman/JFK party. The Progressive movement will become guilty of that which it alleged of the political right: imperial over-reach, except that it will be in domestic policy. Universal Health "Care", tax policy, or environmental policy... which will it be? Any one of them could be the forum, but in one form or another the Progressives will get exposed by a policy like prohibition and the political pendulum will begin to shift the landscape back again. Foreign actors may help this along by renewing old rivalries and cold war rhetoric.

What does this have to do with the military? One important aspect of what CW observes could be key to this landscape. Veterans of this generation will certainly begin to join the ranks of political leadership as we go forward. The current climate will promote Democratic Veteran entries initially, but these will conflict with the elitist Progressives over time, at least for influence if not existence. In the long term, that interaction could help bring the Democrats back from the far-left brink, and could help the Republicans return to their conservative roots.

In any case, long story short, my friend would agree with CW, and he would posit that this is a good thing for the country.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Ace--your friend's journey is an interesting one; I imagine there have been analog journeys of folks who thought they were suitably conservative/repub for a long time, then have recently come to question that. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

The officer's you came back to understand the difference between fighting for what is right and fighting for ideology that flies in the face of facts on the ground. The one thing Bush did right was insist on the surge. If he had followed Shinseki's advice in the first place the surge would not have been needed.

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