Wednesday, November 01, 2006

For the record. I think Senator Kerry was attempting to tell a joke about the president. That he, of all people, should try to resuscitate the "Bush is a dummy" meme is ridiculous. But there it is: I think Kerry was telling a poorly worded and not funny joke about the president.

Here's the interesting part: it doesn't matter, that line has already become an infamous slur on the military. Three reasons for that--two you already know, one will be my little contribution to the story. The first is that the Republicans are selling the hell out of it as an insult to the troops. The second is that Kerry, despite his service, just doesn't have any credibility when it comes to supporting the troops. As you all well know, he burned up the good will earned with his service when he went before Congress and called American soldiers rapists and murderers. Then he followed that up with his comments about our troops terrorizing women and children in Iraq. He's got a long antimilitary record, so it is awfully hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The third point is most interesting and most important. Kerry's silly joke as a slur on the military was, to use the silly phrase, fake but accurate. He may not have been making a crack about the intelligence and education of our servicemen, but it is pretty clear that he and his ilk believe that the enlisted men and women in the U.S. military joined because they are poor, uneducated, underprivileged, and out of options.

It's been the same story throughout American history--the military as a profession has been looked down upon by large sections of American society, even as Americans have respected and rewarded military valor. Congress cut funding for the professional military every chance it has gotten. In the 1840s, Ulysses S. Grant had a street urchin make fun of him in his uniform after he graduated from West Point. By the late nineteenth century, new immigrants were overrepresented in the military because native Americans eschewed soldier work. World War I was supposedly a rich man's war but poor man's fight, and World War II was simply a job to do until the war ended and everyone could get out of the service. Vietnam became in popular imagination yet another poor (and black) man's fight, even though it wasn't.

For a short time, the post-Vietnam, post-draft military had all kinds of problems with recruiting and testing and criminals and all that. The idea had become embedded in some circles that people only joined the military because they are victims with no other choice, and no amount of evidence to the contrary seems to change minds (see below).

Kerry's gaffe will have legs not because of the Republicans or his own shady record with dealing with the military, but because some vocal Democrats are already saying that even if the senator didn't say what we think he said, if he had said it, he would be right. Got that?

For the record II. (In regard to the educational attainment of American soldiers.) I put these links, comments, and numbers in the discussion at Big Tent, but I'm afraid they might be buried, so they are reproduced here for easy reference.

According to a report by the Heritage Foundation:

"The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005."

"By assigning each recruit the median 1999 household income for his hometown ZIP code as deter­mined from Census 2000, the mean income for 2004 recruits was $43,122 (in 1999 dollars). For 2005 recruits, it was $43,238 (in 1999 dol­lars). These are increases over the mean incomes for the 1999 cohort ($41,141) and 2003 cohort ($42,822). The national median published in Cen­sus 2000 was $41,994. This indicates that, on aver­age, the 2004 and 2005 recruit populations come from even wealthier areas than their peers who enlisted in 1999 and 2003.

When comparing these wartime recruits (2003-2005) to the resident population ages 18-24 (as recorded in Census 2000), areas with median household income levels between $35,000 and $79,999 were overrepresented, along with income categories between $85,000 and $94,999."

"Additionally, in the most recent edition of Population Representation in the Military Services, the Department of Defense reported that the mean reading level of 2004 recruits is a full grade level higher than that of the comparable youth population."
College graduates are not underrepresented among enlistees who become enlisted men and women, because the overwhelming majority of those people are 18-21. Almost no one in that age range is a college graduate, so they are exactly proportionate to the general population. But in that age range, roughly 75% of the general population are high school grads, while 98-99% of those in the military have high school diplomas--meaning they are on average smarter and better educated than the general population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005, 25.3% of veterans 25 years and older have at least a bachelor's degree, as opposed to 27.2% of the general population.

Over 33% of veterans over 25 have some college or associate degrees, while 26.6% of the general population does. And the number of veterans enrolled in programs towards college degrees is increasing.

Even accounting for no other factors like career choice, the proportion of veterans with at least bachelor's degrees is almost exactly the same as the proportion of the general population. So in no way are college graduates underrepresented in our military--many of them have just put off their education until later.

Oh, and individual veterans make a median income of $33,973 a year, a full $10,000 more than the average nonveteran.

Someone page John Kerry, Michael Moore, Daily Kos, and all the other people I linked above who want to paint our servicemen and women as poor unwitting victims of a distant elite.

They've got it all wrong. Our servicemen and women are the elite.


Rob said...

Ghengis Khan...Ghengis Khan...Ghengis Khan...Ghengis Khan...Ghengis Khan...

Rob said...

By the way, that is a good point about the age of most of our enlisted. It is pretty much always ignored in the argument of our military being less educated. I don't know if it is the fact that people don't realize/know how young our service members are, or if it is just an overall ignorance of dealing with anything outside an individual person person's scope.
I just bugs me when people see our service members as too dumb to go to college, or often too stupid to avoid and see through the trappings of those evil, soul-less recruiters.

When many people find out I served, they can't believe I have a college degree, or vice versa, if they know I have a college degree, can't believe I served. The fact that our service members know and understand that they can serve and still get a higher education speaks volumes of their intellegence over the general public, I think.

dcat said...

But again, here's the point -- it is disingenuous to say that most of the people you point out are saying that the people who enter the military are too dumb to do anything else. What many of us are arguing is that a lot of people enter the militaery because they believe that it is their best option and that college at the time may not seem ike a realistic or attainable goal.

And I simply donm't buy the argument about Kerry's credibility when it comes to the military. On this issue his service record is absoluteluy relevant. It is beyond disingenuous to aver that he called all members of the military rapists and murderers. Some of them, alas, have been. If he does not have credibility because he speaks truths that some in the military don't want to hear, too bad. the credibility problem becomes theirs not his.


Rob said...

Sure, some people join the military because they think it is their best option; but some people work at Taco Bell or join a trade (electrical workers, Iron Workers, working at the local plant, etc.) because they think it is the best option. What I don't understand is why the military gets such a bad wrap for giving people opportunity. Yes, working at Taco Bell is less dangerous (depending on the neighborhood) than serving in, say, the infantry. But also, as Tom pointed out, not everyone joining the military is from poor areas; in fact, the numbers say just the opposite is has been the trend for the last few years. Personally, I come from a middle class family, my parents were actually able to pan for my college, without loans, and I joined the military. Obviously I didn’t join due to the lack of options. And I feel that most people join the military out of a sense of honor and duty to one's country, not due to a lack of options; though I am not saying that is never the case. But I think you would be surprised on the number of service members who join because of this sense of honor and duty.

As for your point of some service members being murders, rapists, etc, sure, there have been some within the military, but those people also exist within the regular population. It’s not a complete aberration, and something only found within the service. And the fact that he has said these things isn't necessarily the problem I have with it, it is the fact that he said (says?) all of these horrible things, and then wants you to applaud him for his service. It would be one thing if he were to have just condemned any dishonorable actions, but he was the one that made the accusations.

But these are just my opinions

Tom said...

Please. If you would like, I can go out and find another forty links today with Democrats and liberals claiming that our military is made up of victims who had no choice but to join the military because they were dumb, lazy, or poor. Since I wrote this post, ABC News had a story on it and so did the San Francisco Chronicle.

I have no problem with saying that many people inthe military joined because it was the best option for them as individuals, but it is simply factually wrong to argue that they join because they are poor, uneducated, and have no other options. That is what a lot of Democrats and their supporters have said and are saying. Listen to what they say.

On the second point, for the life of me I cannot figure out why you are defending Kerry's record on these matters. He has repeatedly made nasty claims about unnamed individuals in the military who have committed crimes, but has provided absolutely no evidence to that effect (except a half-assed confession that was not a confession that would get him in any trouble). That's why Kerry may have a few buddies from his service days who seem to like him, but has no credibility with the military or veterans, writ large.