Democrats often get their hackles up whenever anyone questions their judgment on anything military.
Sensitive to the perception that they are reflexively dovish, even anti-military, Democrats have been cultivating a more moderate image. In fact, many of the candidates the Democrats recruited to run for office this year were veterans, who were not as likely to be seen as anti-military.
Unfortunately, it appears that all these attempts to reshape the image of the Democrats are nothing more than window dressing. The top brass of the Democratic Party are as anti-military as their reputation suggests, and are doing little to hide that fact.
John Kerry made quite a stink a couple of weeks before the election, implying that military recruits were the intellectual rejects of our society. As a potential candidate for President, he was forced to backpedal quickly, calling his gaffe a “failed joke” aimed at the President, not our troops.
Charlie Rangel, incoming Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is not under the same political constraints as Kerry, and has no intention of hiding his contempt for all things military.
Rangel, a supporter of bringing back the military draft, has taken direct aim at the quality of our recruits in the all-volunteer military of today. In a recent interview on Fox News, Rangel attacked the volunteer military for two reasons: having an all-volunteer force makes it too easy to go to war; and the all-volunteer military is composed of the poor and undereducated, and hence is imposing the cost of going to war on the lower classes.
In Rangels view, these are really two sides of the same coin; we can go to war more easily because the “haves” who want war don’t care about the “have-nots,” who have to fight it.
Here’s how Rangel described our military recruits: “No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.”
What’s wrong with this picture? First of all, Rangel’s wrong on the facts. According to a Heritage Foundation Study (Who Bears the Burden?, http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/cda05-08.cfm), the U.S. military is actually more educated and more middle-class than the national average, not less. If anything, fewer recruits come from poor backgrounds than expected. Ask anyone in the military if they like the idea of a draft, and they universally oppose the idea as a threat to our military. It would dilute the pool of high-quality recruits they get now.
Secondly, Rangel utterly dismisses one of the most obvious reasons why someone might decide to join the military: a patriotic desire to serve. And of course for the average recruit, patriotism is clearly one of the main motivating factors for actually choosing to join up and fight for one’s country.
It’s no secret why many Americans have a lingering suspicion that leading Democrats don’t “get it” when it comes to the military. It’s because many leading Democrats—especially those whose formative political experiences were in the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era in fact don’t understand or trust the military at all. Rangel, himself a military veteran, betrays his contempt for and ignorance of today’s military openly. But he is not alone by any means.
The simple fact is that many on the left cannot comprehend how anyone of intelligence, means, and unlimited opportunity would actually choose to join the military. It just doesn’t compute for them. Hence, military recruits are either compelled by circumstances (poverty, lack of opportunity), or just not smart enough to do well in the civilian world.
The widespread suspicion that many Democrats are not just anti-war but anti-military is not based upon some Republican smear campaign to “get” Democrats. It’s based upon the fact that many of the leaders of the Democratic Party are in fact anti-military.
That fact, I suspect, could be an Achilles heel for the Democratic Party in retaining power.