Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Get ROTCs off campus!"*

Reading around the liberal internets for reaction to Shinseki's appointment.

A few bullet points, as it were:

  • Another good pick by Obama. Shinseki is a competent guy whose pick sends a message to the military: "Your concerns are important to me, and I know it was Bush, not you, who fucked everything up."
  • People who speak their minds with integrity and passion will be rewarded in the Obama administration.
  • Picking Shinseki might also be something of a sop to the left, which made a martyr of him as soon as he spoke up on Iraq and was punished for it. Which brings me to,
  • The attitude of the left towards the military is a helluva lot better than it was just 4.5 years ago when Clark ran. Back then there were a whole lot of left wing yahoos who clearly hated the military and everything it stood for, and saw nothing wrong with saying so -- loudly. I don't think it stretches things at all to give Clark's courageous candidacy, and subsequent efforts on the behalf of Democrats, some of the credit for the change of that attitude.

This last point is the most important to me. Hilzoy made an excellent post about Shinseki today, but something she said, or didn't say, actually, bugged me:

I think this is very important -- as I've said before, with all Obama wants to accomplish, he needs strained relations with the military like he needs a hole in the head. But Obama's choices to date also raise the serious possibility that he could end (or at least mitigate) the Republican tilt of the senior officer corps. They have already experienced life under George W. Bush, and by all accounts, they did not care for it. But their distrust of Democrats might easily have prevented them from seriously considering drawing the obvious conclusion from Bush and Rumsfeld's trashing of the armed forces. If Obama can get past that hurdle, he could, just possibly, cause a very significant change.

I don't expect that the senior officer corps would go Democratic the way they are now Republican, nor, frankly, would I really want them to. I think that it's bad for the senior officer corps to be overwhelmingly aligned with either party. I would just like the two parties to be on a level playing field, as far as the officer corps goes. Obama might actually achieve that. And that would be a very big deal.

Notice what's missing? There is no attempt here to examine why the generals went Republican.

A few more bullet points:

  • Obama isn't going to establish a level playing field with the generals. Many of them come from the South, most of them come from backgrounds -- white, male, and Christian -- that are naturally conservative Republican, and they come from background that establish a rigid, orderly thought process which doesn't really lend itself to the liberal world view.
  • That being said, the combination of Republican incompetence and extremism, and shifting Democratic attitudes towards the military, can soften the military's hostility to the Democratic Party and the broader left in general. The left doesn't need to win, or even tie, the military battle -- they just need the image that the left and the military are inherently hostile to each other, and the cost that has on the left with the patriotism factor, to go away.
  • The ability of Hilzoy and some other liberal bloggers to make posts like these and not have to clean up after a vomit of anti-military rage from their posters is an encouraging sign that we can get to some kind of accomodation with the military.

I am increasingly optimistic about Obama, and the kind of president he's going to be. I like his cabinet picks, like his response to the financial crisis, like the sense I get from him that he isn't shrinking at all from a giant set of challenges. He just might be the right person at the right time -- a Lincoln, a FDR. At the same time, I think anyone who would put their trust in him and hope for the best -- not constantly push him from the left so he'll stay near the center -- is insane. Politics is a pressure game, and our side needs to learn how to play.

*The title of the post is from a particularly vivid memory I have of being a kid hanging around on a certain college campus, watching a bunch of students hurl rage at a ROTC formation. "Get Rotsies off campus!" was one of their chants. And they were chanting -- they were clapping and stomping in time to the chant, almost like a dance. Or a twisted kind of march of their own, a way of mocking the ROTCs.

Anyway, it shocked me, that this bunch of white people at an elite public -- that is, taxpayer-funded -- institution could harbor such blind anger towards a bunch of people they didn't know, and who were doing something that in the end was public service, no matter what you thought of it. This was in the years after Vietnam, so the war wasn't directly responsible. It was just a bunch of people needing a target for their dumb anger, and the ROTC was there. Ever since seeing that I mistrusted the left on all matters military, and if that stuff had that sort of effect on me, I can only imagine what it did to other people who saw it. That's got to change.