November 4, 2006

November 4, 2006 | Commentary on

Kerry Echoes Liberals' Disdain for Military

Sen. John Kerry's mangled anti-Bush joke has metastasized into a week of negative news for liberals hoping to regain control of the Congress. Even his reluctant apology has done little to quash the fires he lit. Significantly, these fires rage because liberals have yet to expunge the scarlet "D" that has adorned them since the Vietnam War -- "D" for disdain of our military.

Let's review the tape. Kerry advised students at a campaign rally in California that they would "do well" if they studied hard and made "an effort to be smart." If not: "You get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry's inference, of course, was that military recruits are motivated not by patriotism and a willingness to defend our liberties by placing themselves in harm's way, but by economic desperation and a lack of opportunity. Thus, a disproportionately minority cadre of young men and women from our poorest communities enlist reluctantly and must fight President Bush's "illegal" war in Iraq. As Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich.) put it: "This is a rich man's war and it is a poor man's fight."

Indeed, in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, liberals insisted that the burden of military service was being borne, in Rep. John Murtha's (D.-Pa.) words, by "people who are volunteering because they could not find a job." Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and 14 of his liberal House colleagues sponsored legislation to reinstitute the draft. "It is plain fact," argued Rep. John Conyers, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, "that the military [sic] does not come from the higher socio-economic status [sic] of society." Rep. Pete Stark (D.-Calif.) reasoned that a draft "with no deferments and no exceptions" would be "both fair and democratic" because "it will mean that Americans of every background will serve our country, not just the poor and disadvantaged as it is today."

This patronizing form of class-warfare is deeply rooted in the liberal psyche. It's no surprise, moreover, that it seeped through, accidentally or not, in Kerry's unfortunate statement. But the liberal premise is utterly wrong.

A new study by my colleague Tim Kane examines the characteristics of U.S. military recruits since 1999 and finds "recruit quality is increasing as the war in Iraq continues." His review of Pentagon enlistee data uncovered a number of what liberals will regard as inconvenient truths, including:

  • The poor are enlisting at demonstrably lower rates since 9/11. Specifically, the percentage of recruits from the poorest one-fifth of American neighborhoods declined from 18% in 1999 to 13.7% in 2005. The reverse is true for recruits from the wealthiest one-fifth of neighborhoods. They are now overrepresented, accounting for 22.8% of all recruits.
  • These recruits are more likely than other Americans to have read and understood Kerry's statement. Why? Their mean reading level in 2004 was a full grade higher than that of the comparable youth population.
  • Not surprisingly, the percentage of high-quality recruits -- defined as those who both score above the 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test and have a high-school diploma -- jumped from 57% in 2001 to 64% four years later.
  • Pentagon data also indicate that recruits from the 100 zip codes with the highest concentrations of African-Americans joined the military in proportion to their share of the population. "This indicates," Kane concludes, "that these areas are not being overtly targeted to enlist large numbers of black recruits." Reinforcing Kane's point, recruitment data for 2005 indicates that only two recruits hailed from Rangel's Harlem neighborhood in New York City.

We'll give the last word to a former colleague, a Ph.D. economist who left his family earlier this year to serve in Iraq:

A number of us here at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad take great exception to [Kerry's] comments. There are many highly successful people here who have left their "comfortable jobs" and families back in the U.S. to be a part of something important.

As for education, just in my office there are three Ph.D.s, a Harvard MBA, and a junior staffer who will be heading to Harvard or Stanford next year to start an MBA program … Down the hall from me is a highly successful oil geologist (and former professor of geology), an electricity economist, a former investment banker, and a broad range of international economic, financial and utilities consultants.

"We're all here," he emphasized, "to help rebuild Iraq, not take cheap shots from those who just want to score political points a week before the election."

Mike Franc, who has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president of Government Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Michael Franc Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events Online