Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chickenhawks Coming Home to Roost

During the 2004 campaign, I was stunned at the ways in which Republican operatives attacked John Kerry's military record.

It was a bold move to smear a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, given the fact that their own ticket consisted of one man who spent those same years keeping the skies of Texas safe from Oklahoma kamikaze pilots and another who smugly insisted he had "other priorities" during the '60s. (Apparently, the Intelligent Designer made the "shame gene" an optional feature, like rack-and-pinion steering or a moon roof.)

While I was impressed by the party-├╝ber-alles attitude of the modern GOP, I couldn't help but think that their nonstop mockery of our military veterans might somehow chip away at the loyalty of military voters. The shabby treatment they've received at the hands of the Bush administration -- ranging from poor planning for the war, to the extended tours of duty, to the massive cuts in pay and benefits -- couldn't have helped either. And then a longtime supporter of the military like Jack Murtha speaks up on their behalf and what happens? More swift-boating of a military vet.

With all the disrespect shown to our military men and women by the Republicans -- notwithstanding the noble sacrifice made by putting a "Support the Troops" magnet on their SUVs -- you'd think that the troops might start reconsidering which party they support. And it seems they have.

In an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, former Reagan-era Secretary of the Navy James Webb notes that we're seeing a sea change in the party identification of rank-and-file soldiers:
The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly. It may be one reason that a preponderance of the Iraq war veterans who thus far have decided to run for office are doing so as Democrats.

A young American now serving in Iraq might rightly wonder whether his or her service will be deliberately misconstrued 20 years from now, in the next rendition of politically motivated spinmeisters who never had the courage to step forward and put their own lives on the line.
Well said. And, given the massive numbers of Iraq veterans who are running for office this year as Democrats -- and the nearly complete lack of ones running as Republicans -- you've got to think he's onto something.

While the ascendance of a new generation of Democratic veterans is a great thing for the party in terms of its attitudes towards foreign policy and national security, the three dozen "Fighting Dems" who are being promoted by Kos and Air America aren't just strong voices on foreign policy. They also seem to be strong voices for a liberal vision of America at home, too.

Check out what Iraq veteran and candidate for the U.S. Senate Paul Hackett has to say:
Hackett said he opposes capital punishment – too much risk of executing an innocent person – for everybody except the fool who violates his family and home. "Break into my house, we won’t have to worry about the application of the death penalty. It’s going to be a simple 911 call: Come pick up the body."

With succinct coherence, Hackett said: “I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-gayrights, I’m pro-gun-rights. Call me nuts, but I think they’re all based on the same principle and that is we don’t need government dictating to us how we live our private lives.”

Asked to define being pro-gay rights, Hackett said anybody who tries to deny homosexuals the same rights, including marriage, as every other citizen is un-American. Are you saying, he was asked, that the 62 percent of Ohioans who voted in November 2004 to constitutionally deny same-sex marriages are un-American?

“If what they believe is that we’re going to have a scale on judging which Americans have equal rights, yeah, that’s un-American. They’ve got to accept that. It’s absolutely un-American.”
Heh. Fighting Dems, indeed.

Of all the miracles that Karl Rove and his associated assclowns have pulled off in the last few elections, we might just be seeing the greatest this year -- a new wave of Democrats who embrace liberal politics without hesitation or qualification. The Swift Boat guys sunk the hemming-and-hawing approach of John Kerry, and it looks like they might have just bought themselves a couple decades of Paul Hackett and his fellow veterans as a result.

11 comments:

Thrillhous said...

Well said! It seems like the GOP strategy is not so much to appeal to military personell themselves but to appeal to those who like to think they support the troops (but actually only support an abbreviated, fictional version of what a "soldier" is).

Otto Man said...

I think that's the right idea, Thrillhous.

The 2004 attacks on Democratic veterans strike me as the inverse of the 2000 campaign, when the GOP did all they could at the convention to highlight the existence of black Republicans. That wasn't a serious effort to convince large numbers of blacks to join the GOP, but rather an attempt to convince suburban whites that the GOP wasn't really the home of racists.

Same thing here -- tearing down Kerry, Cleland, and Murtha were efforts to convince those middle-of-the-road folks that the GOP was serious about the military and the Dems were fakes. But just as the stagecraft of 2000 led blacks to edge away from the GOP, the political assaults of 2004-5 have done the same with the military.

This backlash, of course, is much more serious. Blacks haven't been a major part of the GOP coalition since the 19th c., while the military has been a reliable core for the GOP for decades. Until now, perhaps.

Smitty said...

Great post. Great points all the way around.

Speaking form my own experience as a veteran and a Democrat, I am continually appalled at how this administration loves to call us all heroes, only to to villify our brothers who fought before us...in wars and circumstances similar in every way to what we see now. I think that the "Enlisted" mentality is a very "union" mentality, and I think now we might start to see that articulated.

Mom, the flag and apple pie worked for the GOP among the military's ranks. But neither of those three things include belittling my service, invoking my name when it suits you, cutting my pay, denying my injured bretheren's benefits, etc.

Tokyo Joe said...

Awesome Post!! And everyone else has brought up some really great points, but I'm not sure that recent rash of democratic vets running for office is any real indication of a change of hearts for the active duty folks. Even though the military is overwelmingly republican, there are always a few who go the other way. The fact that Hacket is pro-choice and pro-gay rights makes me think that he was one of the few in the military who felt that way for quite some time and isn't really a reflection of a changing atitude. (and the rest of his comments made me think he's more Libertarian than Democratic, but that's another topic all together).

For a laugh, try reading Stars & Stripes (you can do it online these days) and check out the letters to the editors page. The vast majority of the letters come from the right and those from the left are usually bashed pretty harshly.

But as for the Reps bashing Kerry and the other vets, I think they get away with it because they are working the "betrayal" angle. It's one thing for those who didn't serve to hose us over, but to hear bashing from "one of us", might be a bit more bitter tasting. That's the only rationale I can figure.

Oh, one last thing, many in the miltary don't hanker much to Kerry not because they think his PHs are bogus, but for what he did after the war. Just like Jane Fonda (THE most hated woman by the armed forces), his anti-war activites were seen as a stab in the back and he didn't help by not releasing his full record (which many believe would show he was dishonorably discharged).

Otto Man said...

For a laugh, try reading Stars & Stripes (you can do it online these days) and check out the letters to the editors page. The vast majority of the letters come from the right and those from the left are usually bashed pretty harshly.

Actually, I have read S&S a bit, and my experiences have been that the letters tend to be balanced out. (Steve Gilliard had a post recently that showed strong rebuttals by liberals to a conservative complaint, for instance.)

Even though the military is overwelmingly republican, there are always a few who go the other way. The fact that Hacket is pro-choice and pro-gay rights makes me think that he was one of the few in the military who felt that way for quite some time and isn't really a reflection of a changing atitude.

I think that's probably a fair reading. But I also think that the rise of Hackett and a couple dozen of his colleagues in this term will do a lot to erase the GOP=military connection in the minds of all voters -- those with military ties themselves, and those without.

But as for the Reps bashing Kerry and the other vets, I think they get away with it because they are working the "betrayal" angle.

I think you're right about that, Joe. But it doesn't explain away the attacks on Cleland and certainly not a longtime military backer like Murtha.

I think that the "Enlisted" mentality is a very "union" mentality, and I think now we might start to see that articulated.

Yeah, that's more what I'm getting at.

And I had no idea you were a vet, Smitty. Thanks for your service.

Smitty said...

Thanks right back! Marines, 8 years. I was 0311 (grunt).

Xanthippas said...

Of course this tactic isn't really aimed at recruiting soldiers, many of whom are comfortably conservative and only now find themselves beginning to question this tactic (yet another result of the right's tendency to overplay it's hand.) The tactic is aimed at the general public, which in general respects (or among the right-wing nuttery is forced to respect) the credibility of men and women who've served in war. Because we have such respect for veterans, it's all the more important to tear down the ones who challenge the Bush administration. And yes attacking them on their greatest source of strength is audacious, but the fact that there are suckers on there on the right who fall for it is evidence that at least for now the tactic still works. But I think Webb's right; it's only a matter of time before even conservative Americans start to see through this tactic. You can't possibly defame all the Democratic war vets, and I think the right is in for a nasty surprise if they try it come the mid-term elections.

Scott said...

I think it would be exciting to see the men and women of our armed forces coming back to the liberal tent. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

I did point out a few months ago that the face of our military is changing. It's becoming more Black and more female, and both of those things tend to point more liberal, or at least more Democrat (which are not really he same thing at all).

As far as Smitty's letters to the editor of S&S, well, I can tell you from living in a state that is equally as red as our military that opposing views tend to get squashed. But they're out there. 65-35 is an overwhelming majority, but 35% is not 0%. And it doesn't have very far to grow before the momentum "tipping point" occurs and the liberal minority starts getting more vocal. As anyone who watches basketball woudl understand, the underdog doesn't have to be winning for its fans to start going crazy. All it has to do is start narrowing the gap to its opponent.

S.W. Anderson said...

The Chicago 7 and other radical loonies; the dim-witted lowlifes who dissed returning Vietnam vets, most of whom were hapless draftees, were never the heart of the Democratic Party. They were the loudmouth fringe who raised enough hell to grab the headlines and become the subject of enough sensational news to tar the party's image.

I hope you're right. I hope this new crop of veteran candidates will win big and put the big lie to rest, once and for all. It's way, way past time.

But as to a sea change among military people, I see it taking time. These candidates will have to win big and make an impression over a decade or more to work that change, I suspect. Military types can be slow change their thinking on such things.

In any case, don't underestimate the determination of Rovian Republicans to persist with what has paid off handsomely so far. Their allegiance isn't to the military people they find so useful as photo-op props. Just look at what they did to John McCain, not only a decorated veteran but a fellow Republican, in 2000.

As always, they're watching out for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, the big-shot executives and wealthy investors behind those operations. That's what their ideology leads them to and it's where their campaign money comes from. Their M.O. is anything to win, and they'll trash anyone who gets in their way.

InanimateCarbonRod said...

As much as I'd like to believe that this is the beginning of the end of all that stupidness, I can't forget that the Rs are very, very canny politicians. If the Ds have success with their crop of veterans, look for a very heavy recruitment of R vets in 2008. The Ds will be tarred as traitors, giving comfort to Osama for not following the correct talking points.

sideshow bob said...

Dude, I hope you're right. The Dems need to start calling "Bullshit!" whenever they hear it.