Here is a direct quotation from a column written by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times on July 23: "Asked by a Democratic lawmaker a while back why there weren't more democrats in the military, General Petraeus smiled slyly and said 'there are more than you think.'"
Now go to Colonel Steven Boylan of the General's public affairs office in Baghdad who said of the quotation that it is "in error, as he never made nor never would make such a statement."
Well, I certainly believe that Petraeus did not want to make such a statement given that it is inappropriate that a military officer make any partisan comment at all. But it does bring up an interesting question : Is the military more liberal than the clichés would have you believe?
The answer is "yes" and the reason that Obama will win the active duty vote this November.
Most people with whom I talk, often quite educated, think the military is made up of knife-between-the-teeth grunts, uneducated robots without any kind of free will whatsoever -- people who goose step to Republican philosophy and particularly the Bush cowboy mentality.
It is true that in the recent past most members of the military have voted Republican. This is because the GOP is far more likely to flood the military with cash and thus make the lives of the service member bit easier. However, I believe any sort of polling will show, on an issue-by-issue basis, that the military is mostly made up of people with a liberal mindset. And that is what Petraeus was talking about.
Let's take a look at the most ardent post-military political leaders in our nation today. Who are they?
John McCain -- Vietnam vet, former prisoner of war -- is a Republican. Robert Dole is a World War II hero. George Bush, the elder, is a World War II hero.
But now look at the rest of congress. The former military that serve in the House and Senate are mostly Democrats
Here are the political leaders with military experience who have taken prominent positions on defense issues. They are:
Wesley Clark - Democrat.
Jimmy Carter - Democrat.
John Kerry - Democrat.
Bob Kerrey - Democrat (winner of medal of Honor)
Max Cleland - Democrat.
John Murtha - Democrat.
Jack Reed - Democrat.
Daniel Inouye - Democrat. (winner of Medal of Honor)
Jim Webb - Democrat.
Charles Rangel - Democrat.
Al Gore- Democrat
Why do so many members of the military who decide on continuing in public service join the Democratic Party? There are several answers to this, here are a few:
1) Forty percent of the military is made up of ethnic minorities. Most of those, as is also the case with most of the Caucasian members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, come from the lower economic classes. These demographic groups have largely voted Democrat in the past and will continue to do so. When officers (the more likely to go into politics) live with their soldiers day in and day out, a certain empathy builds. It is unavoidable. Those officers begin to understand and respect the problems their soldiers and their families face or have faced on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the primary reason that young men and women join the service is not their fetish for combat or killing but to satisfy the dire economic needs of their family.
2) The United States military is probably the most socialistic institution in the United States. Think about it. There is universal health care in the military (though we have seen how unconscionably horrific our medical attention has been to our soldiers in places like Walter Reed). Housing is available to all members of the military. Educationally, the children of the officers, even the Generals, go to a school with the children of the lowliest Private in the army.
The major institutions that produce our most elite officers come from a position of absolute meritoriousness as opposed to wealth or contacts. Right now Annapolis and West Point are two of the nation's most difficult colleges to get into. Those two schools, as well as the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy, are blatantly transparent in who and how they admit because they are federally funded. The students who are accepted have to come from the highest academic stock. Were a qualified high school student to be be rejected in favor of somebody because of that person's family's wealth or political connections, it would create a gigantic scandal, given that it is Congressmen who nominate (though do not appoint) cadets and midshipmen.
Just for myself to be transparent myself, I graduated from West Point in 1984.
3) Former soldiers will almost always gravitate to the anti-war party. This happens for obvious reasons. The men who have been in battle tend not to romanticize it and tend not to take it flippantly. The reasons for going to war need to be extraordinarily convincing before anybody who has taken a bullet, seen their friends take a bullet, or who has lodged a bullet in the enemy's brain will put their support behind a war. Recent history has shown that the Republicans are more likely to use the military as a tool of policy rather than as a tool of defense. That is unacceptable to anybody who has served.
4) Finally, and maybe most importantly, is the Iraq war itself. The Bush administration sent our soldiers in on a mission that was initiated either by a lie or by the greatest act of incompetence in the history of this nation's intelligence gathering. In battle, our soldiers were ill equipped and not properly supported. (The "surge" was needed because Bush didn't send in enough troops to begin with). Our wounded soldiers have returned him to find inadequate medical care. The "love" that the soldiers felt from Republicans in peacetime turned into neglect and apathy during war.
The latest poll from Military Times shows that less than half of the military identify themselves as Republicans. The poll goes on to show that much of this anti-Republicanism comes from the bungling of the Iraq war.
As of the start of the year, only 35% of military personnel approve of the president's handling of the war, and 75% said the military is "stretched too thin to be effective."
A few weeks ago I was in Las Vegas playing blackjack. Two soldiers who were a couple of days away from being re-deployed to Iraq sat at the table with me. After a few minutes of conversation I asked them whom they were voting for. They both said they were voting for Obama (these two guys were white). When I asked them why, they very simply and honestly told me they want to vote for the guy that will get them out of Iraq.
I think this year we will see, for the first time, the active duty military voting for the Democratic candidate.