The View from the Frontline
By Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | 10/22/2008
As the prestige media distorts the last fortnight of national election coverage, one significant group has lingered outside their focus: the American military.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Military Times, if the presidential election were decided by those who keep America safe, John McCain would beat Barack Obama by an FDR-style landslide. Military men and women prefer McCain to Obama by a whopping 68 percent to 23 percent.
The Arizona Republican’s support remains consistent among both enlisted men and officers; and whether the respondents were active duty, reservists, or retirees.
This could be dismissed as simply a home court advantage: McCain the veteran appeals to men in uniform. However, this would be misleading. Only one-third of those polled (34 percent) said McCain’s service in Vietnam was “very important” to their decision, the same percentage that said Obama’s lack of military service was “very important.” Interestingly, when broken down by branch of service, the Navy flyer and son of an Admiral earns his strongest support from the Marines.
It is the current service status of the soldiers interviewed, and not the histories of the two candidates, that makes all the difference. This poll shows McCain winning constituencies he loses among their civilian counterparts. For instance, John McCain wins Hispanic soldiers by 63-27; nationally, Obama carries Hispanics by the reverse ratio, 70 percent to 21 percent according to Zogby. McCain wins enlisted women 53-36; nationally Obama enjoys a 16 point advantage among female voters.
True, black servicemen and women go for Obama by a hefty margin: 79-12 percent. Yet even this is at least five percent less than the Illinois leftist polls from rank-and-file blacks. One news outlet has reported the “Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said that if undecided black voters break along the same lines as those who expressed a preference, Obama would receive the same record-high 94 percent share of the black vote that Lyndon Johnson won in 1964.”
Overall, the most critical issue for military people is the character of their future president. However, for black servicemen, the economy is by far the most important issue.
Military men and women overall give him a hefty margin on all the major issues facing the nation. A steady three-quarters of all soldiers believed McCain would “do a better job as president handling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”; would do a better job “handling military personnel issues, such as pay and benefits”; and would “do a better job handling Defense Department issues.” McCain also won their confidence on “domestic issues, such as education and the economy” by 20 points (53 percent to 33 percent).
Enlisted men do not – and cannot – express their political views as freely as those whose liberties they ensure, but one can think of numerous reasons why they may have come to their conclusions.
They may have heard Senator Obama accuse them of “air-raiding villages and bombing civilians” in Afghanistan. They know his Illinois Senate colleague, fellow Democrat Dick Durbin, compared their comrades in arms to Hitler and Pol Pot and that Sen. John Kerry – who introduced Obama to the national stage by making him the 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote speaker – declared American troops are “terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking…the historical customs, religious customs.” These men of action know the impact these poisonous words have. As one of them, Navy SEAL Marc Luttrell, wrote, the resulting doubt in the moment of decision is inconceivably high: “my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of the liberals back home, afraid to do what was necessary to save our own lives.“
Perhaps they heard the senator’s vaunted 2002 speech opposing the Iraq war, delivered while he was yet an Illinois state senator to a radical antiwar rally organized by far-leftist Marilyn Katz, a ‘60s protestor with Students for a Democratic Society and an unrepentant associate of William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. (Katz, now an Obama fundraiser, once advocated throwing nails in front of police cars.) In that speech, he called the Iraq War nothing more than “the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate,” etc. (See Party of Defeat, p. 92.) Few people like to be called the shock troops of capitalism, human sacrifices who have pledged their sacred honor to fulfilling a fool’s errand.
Their fear may also revolve around Obama’s amateurish military judgment. A firm opponent of the Surge, Obama offered a counter-proposal in January 2007 to establish March 31, 2008, as the date certain for withdrawal. Had he been successful, al-Qaeda would not have been driven from Anbar Province and on the verge of annihilation in Iraq but in the third month of its expanding caliphate. After promising not to vote against military funding, they saw him do so because a bill did not contain a timeline for surrender. So committed was Obama to his plan that he only belatedly agreed to take conditions on the ground into consideration in forming his timeline, ultimately admitting the Surge he opposed succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams.”
U.S. soldiers are little comforted by Joe Biden’s presence on the ticket, knowing he is the author of a plan to divide Iraq into three parts, then cut-and-run. According to Reuters, his proposed tripartite dismemberment galvanized the entire nation against Biden.
Military discomfort with Barack Obama may stem from his refusal to condemn the attacks on their leader, General David Petraeus, as “General Betray Us” for nine months. Although Obama voted on bills on the floor of the U.S. Senate before and after the Cornyn resolution condemning the “Betray Us” ad, he did not vote to condemn MoveOn.org while running for his party’s nomination – not even “present.”
They, too, may have been concerned with his freelance foreign policy, as Obama reportedly tried to interfere with their ability to finish the job in Iraq. The Washington Times reports Obama tried to negotiate with Iraqi authorities to disregard plans President Bush had made to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, fight al-Qaeda, beyond the end of the year. Men under authority know that trying to undermine the commander-in-chief is the ultimate act of hubris, and until elected, those decisions are above his pay grade.
Or it may be their reticence is based, not on any past event, but on the likely consequences of his election, as acknowledged by the Obama campaign. Just this week, his running mate, Joe Biden, admitted, “It will not be six months” into the Obama-Biden administration before the United States faces “a major international challenge,” as the world seeks to “test” the new president. America’s enlisted men and women know this flippant comment about shifting political dynasties is more than mere historical curiosity: it is a fault line that runs directly through them and their band of brothers, places them all in mortal jeopardy. Maybe they do not wish to risk their lives in “a major international challenge” provoked because a new, lightly experienced commander-in-chief with a peacenik rhetorical blotter has breezed into the White House on a cloud of hot air and sunny, vacuous promises.
The most important issue facing the military vote is not for whom they will vote but whether their votes will be counted. The Military Times survey found some 56 percent plan to vote by absentee ballot, and for all their protesting that “every vote be counted,” Democrats have made extraordinary efforts to have military ballots thrown out in the last two presidential cycles.
It’s easy to see why. The Left’s policy prescriptions undermine the best interests of the military, and undermining the military is in the Left’s best electoral interests.
To win the national election, antiwar leftists must be not only politically but procedurally anti-military.
Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and author of the book 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Charitable Giving.