Tuesday, October 31, 2006

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John Kerry reminds us why he lost in 2004

From David Stout, "Kerry and G.O.P. Spar Over Iraq Remarks," New York Times, October 31, 2006:

Debate over the Iraq war seemed to reach a new intensity today, with President Bush and other Republicans accusing Senator John Kerry of insulting rank-and-file American troops and Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, lashing back at some of his critics as “assorted right-wing nut jobs.”

The latest flap, in which Mr. Kerry accused Republicans of distorting what he said on the West Coast on Monday, was another example of the heated rhetoric surrounding the war issue as the Congressional elections approach. President Bush said Monday that a Democratic triumph in the races for the House and Senate would amount to a victory for terrorists.

Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who is believed to be considering another run for the White House in 2008, set the stage for bitter back-and-forth as he addressed a gathering at Pasadena City College in California.

The senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

President Bush, campaigning this afternoon in Georgia for a Republican House candidate, condemned Mr. Kerry’s remarks as “insulting and shameful.”

“The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots — and Senator Kerry owes them an apology,” Mr. Bush said, according to the White House.

Earlier today, Mr. Kerry’s remarks were denounced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and, like Mr. Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, as well as by a group of House Republicans.

“Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. McCain said any suggestion that only the poorly educated would agree to serve in Iraq is “an insult to every soldier serving in combat.”....

But if anyone should apologize, Mr. Kerry said, it is President Bush and his administration officials who started the ill-conceived war. He said his remarks, which he conceded were part of a “botched joke,” had been distorted and called the criticism directed at him the work of “assorted right-wing nut jobs and right-wing talk show hosts.” (emphasis added)

[OK, on a gut level this is pretty offensive to someone in the military. But is Kerry right about a lack of education being correlated with military enrollment?--ed.]

The evidence seems mixed. Consider this Terry Neal summary in the Washington Post from last year:

David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland, said contrary to conventional wisdom both the poorest and the wealthiest people are underrepresented at the bottom of the military ranks, for completely different reasons. This trend held for both from the conscription years of Vietnam through at least the late 1990s.

Poorer people, he said, are likely to be kept out of the military by a range of factors, including higher likelihood of having a criminal record or academic deficiencies or health problems.

Back during Vietnam, "the top [economic class] had access for means of staying out of the military," said Segal. "The National Guard was known to be a well-to-do white man's club back then. People knew if you if joined the guard you weren't going to go to Vietnam. That included people like Dan Quayle and our current commander in chief. If you were rich, you might have found it easier to get a doctor to certify you as having a condition that precluded you from service. You could get a medical deferment with braces on your teeth, so you would go get braces -- something that was very expensive back then. The wealthy had more access to educational and occupational deferments."

Today's affluent merely see themselves as having more options and are not as enticed by financial incentives, such as money for college, Segal said.

The Army was able to provide socioeconomic data only for the 2002 fiscal year. Its numbers confirm Segal's findings that service members in the highest and lowest income brackets are underrepresented, but because those numbers chronicle enlistments in the year immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks, it's difficult to ascertain whether this was a normal recruiting year.

Also of note: Jerald G. Bachman, Peter Freedman-Doan, Patrick M. O'Malley, "Should U.S. Military Recruiters Write Off the College-Bound?" Armed Forces & Society 27 (July 2001): 461 - 476:
This article examines trends and relationships involving high school seniors' military service plans, their college plans, and their actual entry into military service. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the Monitoring the Future project show that, although individuals planning to complete college are less likely than average to plan on military service, the upward trend in college plans cannot account for many of the year-to-year changes in military propensity. Moreover, it now appears that the majority of young men expecting to enter military service also expect to complete a four-year college program. Most important, planning for college does not reduce enlistment rates among high propensity males, although for some of them it may delay entry by several years. These findings suggest that educational incentives for military service are now particularly important, given the high proportions of potential recruits with college aspirations.
And, finally, Meredith A. Kleykamp, "College, Jobs, or the Military? Enlistment During a Time of War," Social Science Quarterly 87 (June 2006):
This article questions what factors are associated with joining the military after high school rather than attending college, joining the civilian labor force, or doing some other activity. Three areas of influence on military enlistment are highlighted: educational goals, the institutional presence of the military in communities, and race and socioeconomic status.

The analysis uses data from a recent cohort of high school graduates from the State of Texas in 2002, when the United States was at war, and employs multinomial logistic regression to model the correlates of post-high-school choice of activity in this cohort.

Results confirm the hypothesis that a higher military institutional presence increases the odds of enlisting in the military relative to enrolling in college, becoming employed, or doing some other activity after high school. Additionally, college aspirations are clearly associated with the decision to enroll in college versus enlist and also increase the odds of joining the military rather than the civilian labor market, or remaining idle. Unlike previous studies, few racial and ethnic differences are found.

Voluntary military enlistment during wartime is associated with college aspirations, lower socioeconomic status, and living in an area with a high military presence.

Tim Kane, "Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005" Heritage Center for Data Analysis:
[I]t is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pen­tagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. 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....

the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) sup­port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas.

Anyway, although I do like the description of Rush Limbaugh as "doughy," perhaps it would be best for the Dems if they took Kerry and locked him in a closet for the rest of the week.

UPDATE: Here's Kerry's explanation in fuller detail:

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.
OK, so the line as Kerry says he intended it is not as offensive as the New York Times story suggests. YouTube has video of Kerry making the quote in context.

The title to this post still stands, however -- this is a classic replay of Kerry's "global test" statement during the 2004 presidential debates. As Andrew Sullivan puts it: He

may not have meant it the way it came out. That doesn't matter. It's wrong to talk about the military that way - wrong morally, empirically and ethically. And the way he said it can be construed as a patronizing snub to the men and women whose lives are on the line. It's also dumb politically not to kill this off in one news cycle. Is Kerry not content to lose just one election? Does his enormous ego have to insist on losing two?

posted by Dan on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM


Oy, you too, Dan? Isn't it pretty clear that Kerry meant "If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq" ... "like George Bush"?

posted by: ogged on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Ogged: I generally support Kerry, but I don't think it's so clear that that's what he meant to say. His explanation sounds a lot like a bad excuse, and either way the general line of his statement was pretty dumb. Even assuming that he really meant to say "like George Bush" or something like that, it is insulting to hear a rich, pampered Ivy League grad attribute other people's political views to a lack of education.

posted by: Ryan McCarl on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Does it make a difference that Bush is also a rich, pampered Ivy League Grad?

posted by: crane on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

This is stupid. Kerry says he meant "George Bush." The comment comes after another barb at George Bush. And there is, therefore no reason to believe that he said anything offensive about our men and women in uniform. And Sullivan's out of it. If the object of his remarks was George Bush, what the heck does he need to apologize for (to our troops).

I think you'd better retract, Dan.

posted by: Daniel Nexon on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

More disappointing is Kerry's non apology where he takes aim at Republicans and says, "It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who've never worn the uniform of our country are willing to lie about those who did."

Considering the military overwhelmingly votes Republican and many liberal Democratic students don't want the military to recruit on their college or law school campus because the millitary’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, does John Kerry really want to criticize Republicans lack of military service?

Also why does one military service now matter to people like John Kerry when previously it did not? Why when Bill Clinton ran against two very decorated war veterans in 1992 (George H.W. Bush) and 1996 (Bob Dole), Democrats like Kerry said military experience shouldn't be an issue? Bill Clinton actively avoided military service in Vietnam but still favored a more interventionist foreign policy than either of his two Republican opponents.

Given the contentiousness that still divides the baby-boomer generation over the efficacy and the morality of the Vietnam War, why do Democrats like John Kerry choose to continue to make this an issue? The Vietnam War is over, so why do people like John Kerry insist on refighting it?

posted by: Ian on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

OK, so the line is not as offensive as the New York Times report suggests

Oh yes it is. Since when do you take such a feeble attempt at spin at face value?

Kerry cannot speak of the military without his disdain and condescension breaking out. Current active duty, veterans and military families are QUITE aware of his attitude.

Hillary's too, for that matter. But Kerry is so much less capable than she.

By the way, you might want to extend your lit review a little bit WRT military levels of education. It is quite common for people to pursue degrees WHILE serving. Some of us even manage PhDs from places like Stanford, Cornell, MIT, Princeton ... while in uniform.

The depth of ignorance about military matters, the military community and service in uniform that one encounters among the middle/left is, frankly, pathetic.

posted by: true on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Kerry should offer to apologize, just as soon as Bush apologizes to Americans for Iraq.

One of the most courageous things Reagan did was to apologize for Iran Contra. I strongly doubt we will ever see anything come close to that from Bush.

posted by: Lord on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Thank God that too few dead people voted Democratic to elect that jackass President.


posted by: chsw10605 on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I don't have any doubt that when John Kerry made his crack he was directing it at George Bush, not at members of the military.

This is just not a guy who can pull his own weight in public controversies. What probably happened here is that Kerry indicated to the person or people who write his speeches the tone he wanted to take, did a quick review of the draft given him, and didn't notice that one particular line could be interpreted in more than one way. Now, naturally, he is outraged at the outrage directed at him, mostly by people playing to their base as he was trying to play to his, just doing it a lot better.

It's still remarkable to me that the Democratic Party chose a show horse liberal Senator from Massachusetts as its nominee in 2004, a man whose main claim to fame is his entry in the Guinness book for having married into more money than any man in the history of the world. In many ways John Kerry is the ideal candidate for winning Democratic Presidential primaries; he makes no Democratic interest group uncomfortable, comes from a safe Democratic state, thinks thoughts but no dangerous or unpredictable ones, and would never question the dominant role of campaign staff in the permanent campaign. He just hasn't figured out how to present himself to people who don't vote in Democratic primaries. He never will.

posted by: Zathras on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

This headline is grossly misleading. Kerry lost because of something euphemistically known as the 'exit pole discrepancy.' His problems reading a speech had nothing to do with it.

posted by: Anon E. Mouse on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

This headline is grossly misleading. Kerry lost because of something euphemistically known as the 'exit poll discrepancy.' His problems reading a speech had nothing to do with it.

posted by: Anon E. Mouse on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Kerry clearly meant Bush, not the troops. Once a Republican, I have no patience with these people anymore.

Related: During my senior in college, I thought about joining the military. A fake ID charge made the Army guys dissuade me from school to be an army officer. I looked at enlisting in the Marines. My degree was in history with a concentration in the Middle East. I have really mild asthma that has never caused an attack. I got a 99 percentile on the intelligence test and can (uh, could) run 10 miles in an hour. And my recruiter was going to have me do all sorts of lying about not having asthma in order to join.

A few months ago my buddy who works at a top consulting firm had a quarter-life crisis and was ready to join a police or fire department. However, during high school and college, he smoked pot maybe 20x and tried a few harder drugs a total of 3x. So he'll never be able to do any of that.

The OSS would have never put up with this shit. They probably recruited drunkards and reprobates.

posted by: Mike on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

The Vietnam War is over, so why do people like John Kerry insist on refighting it?

A fixation on re-fighting old battles is something that seems to be pretty common in older types.

Maybe it's their way of pretending they're still young, trying to convince themselves that something that ended more than 30 years ago was 'recent'.

posted by: rosignol on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

As Bagdad starts to spiral down the drain the only thing that can save us is another big dose of Karl's own magical thinking. Forget the collapse of the plan to secure Bagdad, forget that the top British generals are saying that its time to strike their tents, forget that October's casualities are the highest in two years and ignore that the Brit's have had to evacuate their embassy in central Basra. It is all Kerry's fault.

Why talk of the horrors of Iraq. We all know that Kerry's attach on Bush's ignorance and stupidity in Iraq is really just a slur against our brave troops. If we all act like enough like stupid
sheep all our problems will disappear. Ignorance is strength.

posted by: Bill D on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I read your post title with excitement, because I thought you were going to make a fascinating point. Turns out you understood Kerry to be talking about the troops? I'd be embarrassed for you if I knew you better. The post title is correct, as you state in your update, but you got played into posting a discrediting response. Even Matthews immediately caught the reality of this "issue." Can't wait for your take on the next FOMC minutes.

posted by: jf on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I know two guys in military - Marines - in Iraq right now, and from what I hear from them all this talk of offense to troops etc etc just isn't the case with actual troops - it may have some play with COs but the grunts don't give a shit about politicians and what they spew. In fact for guys in country there's a strong sense, usually unexpressed, that most everything back home is so much bull shit.

So, although for sure Kerry's an idiot and hopefully this means an end to his [mal]lingering executive hopes - I have to agree with his expressed disdain for guys who never served claiming to know anything about what guys who do feel and think. I'd have to say the self serving platitudes of Bush et al are likely just as insulting to the average grunt as any idiocy that comes tripping out of Kerry's mouth.

posted by: non clinical response on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Bush is on the campaign trail in "safe" Republican districts saying directly, with no need for interpretation, that a vote for the Democrats is the same as a vote for the terrorists.

It doesn't really get much lower than that, does it? This truly is a man who owes an apology to half, or more, of the American people and to the families of those who have died in Iraq. Remember his jokes about searching for WMD at the White House Correspondents dinner? Classy, no?

The Republicans have reached the point of hysteria as this election cylce winds down. They are grasping at straws.

posted by: Pug on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Add me to the list of people who immediately understood the joke to mean what Kerry later said it meant-- that stupid Bush got stuck in Iraq. It took me a minute to understand what the hubbub even could be about, i.e. to see that the way it was worded it did literally apply to soldiers. Yes, yes, he's handled it like a clod, etc. But it was entirely evident to me what it meant.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I'm very disapointed that you are taking this position.

I though you were smarter then this.

I come here for you intelligent and insightful comments, so I expect better from you.

While I gave up on Kerry during the last campaign, I think you are completely offbase here.

posted by: spencer on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I think a lot of the commentary here and elsewhere misses an important point. Kerry's intent (far-fetched post-hoc rationalizations aside) was no doubt well-intentioned. He was telling a group of college students to stay in school. But for being in school, many of those students would enlist. It's a natural fork in the road for someone aged 18-21. In our society, self-improvement through a college education is highly stressed and so his comments made perfect sense for his audience.

The vast majority of service men and women serve in the enlisted ranks and of course, don't have higher educations. These are the people who took the fork in the road that Kerry was advising against. Enlisted troops are intensely proud of their service, but also extremely sensitive to any suggestion that it is less valuable because of their rank, which is closely tied to their decision to forgo (at least for the moment) higher education. Kerry, being the tone deaf elitist that he is, trod right on that raw nerve.

Incidentally, I think this same thinking explains why the young Lieutenant Kerry could square his insults directed at the soldiers in Vietnam with his boastfulness regarding his own service. You see, he was better than them. He was an officer.

posted by: Simon on 10.31.06 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

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