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William Kristol's Hypocrisy, Progressives' Blindness, Obama and the Military

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It's painful to admit, but my least favorite columnist--the New York Times' resident smarmy warmonger and neocon Bush/McCain shill, William Kristol--seems to have echoed a section of my latest blog on the Huffington Post and reprinted it today in the Times.

In one way I'm sorry I brought up the matter of Obama and the military. I also wish that the Obama people would listen to military-friendly/Obama-friendly people, such as Senator Webb and bystanders rooting for Obama, including me, before our enemies riff endlessly on the progressive camp's blind spot related to our military.

There is still time to change perceptions. Getting this right is more important than trying to keep this discussion out of the public's (or Kristol's) mind. The subject is there anyway.

In, "What Obama Left Out" Kristol had this to say about Senator Obama's Memorial Day weekend commencement speech that he gave at Wesleyan University:

...[S]triking is Obama's sin of omission... [H]e goes on to detail -- at some length -- the "so many ways to serve" that are available "at this defining moment in our history." There's the Peace Corps, there's renewable energy, there's education, there's poverty -- there are all kinds of causes you can take up "should you take the path of service."

But there's one obvious path of service Obama doesn't recommend -- or even mention: military service. He does mention war twice: "At a time of war, we need you to work for peace." And, we face "big challenges like war and recession." But there's nothing about serving your country in uniform.

It can't be that the possibility of military service as an admirable form of public service didn't occur to Obama. Only the day before, Obama had been squabbling with John McCain about veterans' benefits. He said then, "Obviously I revere our soldiers and want to make sure they are being treated with honor and respect."...

As a military parent and Obama supporter, as well as someone who has written books on the recruitment, class and the military issue, Kristol's shot is frustrating to me. Why couldn't the Obama people open their eyes and ears months ago, and get this right?

Why can't progressives keep one thing straight: military service is NOT service to the Republicans or W. Bush but to our country. Obama handed a neocon warmonger an easy target for no good reason. The military is as much to do with Obama as with McCain or anyone else. It belongs to Democrats as much as to Republicans.

(NOTE: Senator Clinton does no better re: the military. This isn't about Obama but about progressives in general going up against cynical Republicans. Do we want to win or not?)

The irony is supreme: Kristol masquerades as a patriot extolling service in the military, and yet the Republicans who sent my son to a mistaken war-of-choice, from Bush on down (or is it Bush on up?) had--unlike me--no skin in the game. Where were Bush's military-age daughters? Where were Cheney's kids? Where are Kristol's rich Republican friend's children?

As both a military parent of a Marine, a former lifelong Republican, who re-registered as an independent (in disgust with Bush and the Republicans, a phony war based on lies, Rovian crap et al), and as an avid Obama supporter, I've been trying to point out to the Obama folks that like many progressive people the Obama campaign seems to have a tin ear/blind spot when relating to the military. This will cost us all if McCain wins because of this. It will cost America. It will cost our military men and women most of all.

If the Democrats can't shake the idea that they are not to be trusted on national security issues, Obama might well lose to McCain. We'll face the ruin of war-without-end and economic and environmental meltdown. We'll face the liars staying in charge of Washington. We'll empower the homophobic religious right--again. We'll face the continued loss of respect around the world and the danger that poses to all of us, including our troops.

Do progressives get it? Not if you judge by many of the 100 plus responses to my latest blog on this subject.

Here are several reader's response (out of many more like them) to my latest Huff post asking Obama to speak out on military service and include it with his other worthy lists, the Peace Corps etc. of ways we can step up to help our country. (By the way I read all responses to my blogs, learn from them, and am grateful for all of them, even the occasional insults. No problem, fair enough!):

In a time of hyper blind nationalism, with imperialist wars being started against countries that neither threatened nor attacked the U.S., when our military schools include leaders who call themselves Christians and teach the young people that God wants them to kill Muslims, when our top leaders in D.C. lie to start wars, lie about the costs, use the military as muscle for corporations that want to steal assets from third world countries... I'd say no one should join the military.

Another writes:

I don't blame Obama for not mentioning the military. In my opinion the military is absolutely stupid.

Another writes:

Maybe the military can be considered "service to your country" when poor people aren't coerced into it thru poverty, the need to be made "a man" and the lies fed them to them by the military about seeing the world, great training and benefits, and how they are heroes just for signing up.

What is interesting is how these responses--and they each contain a nugget of truth if wrong in other ways--nevertheless reinforce the idea that, A) if these are Obama's voters, maybe they shouldn't ever be allowed near our military, and, B) give the impression of a permanent opposition that never actually expects to be in power.

What if Obama is President? Will it always be someone else's military? Will the military, like the flag remain the sole "property" of Republicans by default?

Unless you are a pacifist--and that is a respectable thing to be--think about the implications of the statements above. Last time I checked our military was yours and mine too. If it's broken fix it. That is how democracy works. You just don't walk away and pretend that this is all someone else's problem.

Back on March 6 I wrote another Huff blog. "I'm Pro-Military So I Support Senator Obama (and I Have Some Advice for Him On Winning the Votes of the Military Family)" I wrote:

Obama was right on Iraq from the start. Moreover because of his serendipitous ethnic, social and political background, Obama is uniquely positioned to reach out to the world and help restore America's image and thus make all our men and women in uniform somewhat safer. Thus a vote for Obama is the true pro-military vote. And it is also a vote for honor because honor rests on truth.

Nevertheless if Obama is to win the military family vote and more importantly to be an effective commander-in-chief, he needs to convince the military family (and countless moderate Republicans and independents) that their perception that Democrats are reflexively antimilitary is wrong... So here are some ideas for Senator Obama to consider.

First: Avoid the usual condescending liberal language when speaking about the military...

Second: You need to talk positively about military service...

Third: When you talk about your program for helping college students financially and say that they should owe their country something in return, you list organizations such as the Peace Corps as the sort of group they should join to "give something back." Add military service to your list...

I sent that blog to every person with any "degrees of separation" to the Obama people that I could think of. Then last week on May 29 I posted another blog, the one Kristol seems to have read:

"The Obama/Progressive Blind Spot That Just Might Hand McCain The White House"

I wrote:

It pained me to see Senator Obama miss a big opportunity at Wesleyan College. A few days before Memorial Day he delivered the commencement speech filling in for Senator Kennedy. Senator Obama mentioned serving our country and used the word service many times. He spoke of joining the Peace Corps. He talked about the good it does one's soul to be part of "something bigger than one's self." However, Senator Obama never said -- even once -- that one good option for service -- and for being part of something bigger than ourselves -- includes volunteering to serve in our military. Why?

By definition a blind spot is something overlooked because it isn't on the gut-level radar screen of an individual or group -- even if they think they have it covered. In other words, they just don't get it, no ill will, just non-connection...

I repeated some of the points I'd made earlier in March, about how and why Obama (and Democrats in general) need to speak to and about our military. The Kristol column signals that the Republicans didn't need anyone to remind them to state the obvious: Obama (like Hillary Clinton) is needlessly open to the Republican smear machine on everything to do with the military because the military still seems to be the "other" only to be mentioned on special occasions, like Memorial Day, but not spoken of as part of the everyday ways to serve our country.

It is one thing to be attacked for core principles, another to have opponents take advantage of needless mistakes or worse, thoughtless omissions. Senator Obama has proved himself to be sensitive to what's important to other people, to evangelical's concerns for instance. Now he needs to take a moment and think about the signals he's sending--or not sending--to the military family.

Obama has proved that he actually cares about our troops because--unlike Bush and McCain--Obama backs Webb's new GI bill. Obama also cares about keeping America strong because--unlike Bush and McCain--Obama spoke out and said a war-of-choice in Iraq was a mistake when it was costly to do so. Now he needs to include asking people to volunteer for service in the military along with his other points made in most speeches.

If he wins in November Obama will--like it or not--be commander-in-chief of the military, not the Peace Corps. He will be the top of the recruiting chain of command that all-too-often leads to local malls and high schools in working class neighborhoods, rather than to top colleges. Fairness starts from the top.

Sometimes perception becomes reality. Obama cares about our troops more than Bush ever did and more than endless-war-McCain does. Obama just needs to say what he thinks and has said, but more often and in places people don't expect so it gets noticed.

Note to the Obama folks: There is time to get the military service equation right. Please do. Spike the Republican smear machine guns now.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back