Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Changing attitudes and politics among vets

Afghanistan visit
Is this what happens when a nation's fighting forces have to grind (and die) through two long wars in a decade -- one begun on false pretexts and exited ignominiously; the other trudging along without definable purpose long after most everyone has forgotten what the point ever was? Soldiers aren't dumb and they know enough to suspect their sacrifice is being misused.

Veterans have long been considered a Republican base constituency, a group among whom Democrats were lucky to get any votes at all. But the Washington Post reports that Obama political strategists think that the president can win far more current and former military voters than has been the recent norm for a Democrat.

Obama is attempting a novel approach to reaching veterans and to understanding who they are and what their concerns are. While most veterans are older and more conservative, younger veterans who served more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan include more women and minorities. Politically, they are more reflective of the nation overall: independent-minded, less socially conservative and more supportive of the winding down of the two wars the president inherited. …

“Before 2008, nobody talked about military families,” said Rob Diamond, who served in Iraq and is the Obama campaign’s vote director for veterans and military families. “Military families have become part of the national conversation. Americans realize that when you have an all-volunteer military, the sacrifice is not just by the service members but their families, too.”

The Obama campaign sees an opportunity to tout his record not only on foreign affairs but also on social issues such as his repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gay men and lesbians from military service. At the same time, the campaign is pointing to the president’s work on the home front, such as programs to help military families cope with long deployments.

While the Wapo discusses the 2012 campaign politics, Reuters/NewYork Times makes bold claims about what the current crop of veterans take from the wars of the '00s.

Disaffection with the politics of shock and awe runs deep among men and women who have served in the military during the past decade of conflict. Only 32 percent think the war in Iraq ended successfully, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. And far more of them would pull out of Afghanistan than continue military operations there.

While the 2012 campaign today is dominated by economic and domestic issues, military concerns could easily jump to the fore. Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Israeli politicians and their U.S. supporters debate over whether to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities as partisans bicker over proposed Pentagon budget cuts. …

If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population. …

"We looked real cool going into Iraq waving our guns," said McDowell, 50, who retired from the 82d Airborne Division in November with a Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars. "But people lost their lives, and it made no sense."

It's hard to believe that the military has changed enough so Obama's lead among veterans will hold up when Republicans wrap themselves in the flag. Neither he nor Romney were ever in uniform, but Obama can certainly portray himself as a responsible Commander in Chief who did wind down one war. And his family friendly overtures should help him in the era of the overstressed "all-volunteer" force.

Vets are different than the nation's general demographic profile. Eighty-four percent of vets are white; 93 percent are men. Twenty-five percent have a disability (compared to 14 percent of non-vets.)

The largest demographic block of living veterans --34 percent -- are from the Vietnam era. Their war, whether they affirm or despise it, was a Democratic war. Vets of the wars of the '00s are 10 percent of the total. They fought Republican wars. Will their disillusionment realign their politics? This election may begin to suggest an answer.

Demographics from National Journal. Photo of the President at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan from US Army Flickr.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

Great perspective!!!! Thanks!!!

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