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Chris Matthews: West Point ‘Enemy Camp’

Along with serious discussions about President Obama’s newest new Afghanistan strategy, a minor brouhaha has errupted over Chris Matthews’ labeling West Point “the enemy camp” last night.  Jeff Porter has the scoop at Newsbusters:

“It seems like in this case, there isn’t a lot of excitement,” Matthews said. “I watched the cadets, they were young kids – men and women who were committed to serving their country professionally it must be said, as officers. And, I didn’t see much excitement. But among the older people there, I saw, if not resentment, skepticism. I didn’t see a lot of warmth in that crowd out there. The president chose to address tonight and I thought it was interesting. He went to maybe the enemy camp tonight to make his case. I mean, that’s where Paul Wolfowitz used to write speeches for, back in the old Bush days. That’s where he went to rabble rouse the “we’re going to democratize the world” campaign back in ’02. So, I thought it was a strange venue.” [emphases Porter's]

At Scared Monkeys, we get, “Are you kidding me? So this is what liberals in the MSM think our our fine military institutions like United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and the United States Air Force Academy. They think that there very place that creates the leaders of the United States that defend their rights of Freedom of Speech, the enemy. Unreal.”

JammieWearingFool adds, “Well, actually maybe it’s not all that hard to believe since to Matthews and his ilk the military is the enemy.”

Erick Erickson chimes in with, “Classy.”

First, Matthews saying mildly stupid things in his stream-of-consciousness analysis is hardly news at this point.  It’s what he does.  He’s a bright, likable guy but he’s very emotional and gets caught up in the moment.

Second, even within that context, Matthews isn’t using the word “enemy” in a literal sense.  People in politics and sports have long used military metaphors to describe clashes with the other side.  They “put on their war paint” and “go to war” and “take no prisoners.”  It’s silly, of course, but it’s a natural part of the lingo.

And, like it or not, the United States military in general and West Point in particular are considered to be naturally hostile to Democratic presidents.   The degree to which this is the case is wildly overstated; soldiers are professionals, tend to respect their commander-in-chief, and trained to obey orders.   But it’s undeniable that Reagan and the Bushes were held in higher esteem in military circles than Carter, Clinton, or Obama. Republicans are presumed to both have more admiration for the military  whereas Democrats are presumed to be somewhat hostile.   Republicans are more supportive of providing the military the tools it asks for, while Democrats tend to favor of cutting defense spending so as to support social welfare programs.  And Republicans are more deferential to military leadership and customs while Democrats tend to push for social change.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Second, even within that context, Matthews isn’t using the word “enemy” in a literal sense.

    Exactly. A stupid choice of words, to be sure, but anyone who understood it differently is being willfully ignorant.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    And, like it or not, the United States military in general and West Point in particular are considered to be naturally hostile to Democratic presidents.

    It was not always thus. Check the relationships of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter with the military and particularly the military academies during their presidencies.

    I think that this particular issue derives from the patent disdain that President Clinton showed to the military early in his presidency. President Obama isn’t a former Viet Nam War protester and his comportment with the military is just fine. Baby Boomers like Chris Matthews (he’s actually a bit old for a Baby Boomer but close enough) and superannuated hippies aren’t helping.

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  3. IanY77 says:

    Glad someone figured out the proper context. It was an attack on Obama, not the military.

    And before anyone says that a guy who talked about a “jolt up the leg” or whatever wouldn’t say something like that about a Democratic president, Matthews is the guy who said W glimmered with a sunny nobility and that everyone liked him, “except for the wackos”. It’s less that he’s a liberal, and more that he’s a shameless bandwagon jumper.

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  4. Andy says:

    And, like it or not, the United States military in general and West Point in particular are considered to be naturally hostile to Democratic presidents

    There’s a lot of presumption in that statement and there seems to be little to no actual evidence this is the case. It’s the kind of thing that gets repeated so often that it’s become an unassailable assumption.

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  5. Mithras says:

    From the 2003 Military Times poll of U.S. Army respondents (both officer and enlisted, but leaning toward career Army):

    The poll found:

    •About half described their political views as conservative or very conservative; four in 10 called themselves moderate; and only 7 percent called themselves liberal.

    •More than half called themselves Republicans, and just 13 percent said they are Democrats. Recent polls of the general public show the nation evenly split, with Democrats, Republicans and independents making up about a third of the population each.

    •Two-thirds said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve. More than 60 percent called the country’s moral standards only fair or poor.

    In follow-up interviews, service members repeatedly said the choice to serve, by itself, demonstrates moral quality above most civilians. Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality.

    It’s no wonder that Democrats think the U.S. Army officer corps works hand-in-hand with the Republican party.

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  6. JKB says:

    So Mathews gets a pass because he routinely talks out his backside? It might have been verbal diarrhea but the implication was that the military is hostile to the CinC which there is no evidence of. I personally am very happy to see the cadets and others in the military are not public acolytes of Obama mania.

    Soldiers show respect for the position and excitement for the man. Obama has done nothing (so far) to earn other than positional respect from the military. The slow decision process for Afghanistan didn’t help him in this respect. His decisions may or may not be popular in the ranks but that is the burden of command. With Bush, I never thought the response to him by soldiers was anything other than a popular commander. It was not a comment on him as a politician or his broader policies.

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  7. Andy says:

    I am absolutely shocked, shocked that Chris Matthews babbled something ridiculous and stupid.

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  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I am suprised one of the three people who watch MSNBC reported on this. As someone on another weblog posted. Chris who?

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  9. Highlander says:

    At the ripe old age of 62 and as a ex Democrat,I can well remember when the Democrat Party held just as good(if not better) national security credentials as the Republicans.

    Any honest assessment would have to arrive at the fact that the Democrats are now the party of a Post American Epoch. And they stand for an internationalist approach deemphasizing American national sovereignty. This necessarily means reducing America’s military role and strength, and more conciliation and appeasement in dealing with America’s enemies. Is the Democratic establishment led by Obama going to come out and just say,that is what they are now about? Of course not, they aren’t political fools. In fact they are a pretty damn savvy bunch of politicans.

    But instinctively the young cohort of Americans, who man our all volunteer and very professional military understand this. After all they are at ground zero where the effects of this internationalist approach first show up. And these are very well educated and aware young military people(much more so than when I served as a Marine officer).

    It has been my personal experience that the American military takes very seriously their oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. To the extent that the Democratic party chooses a post American more internationalist path. Which will inevitably lead to the adoption of international law as supreme over American domestic(constitutional)law. Then indeed America’s military may well and tragically become the enemy.

    In that event I would bet on the side with the most guns. Guess who that is?

    Incidentally,I am also an ex-Republican. In their narrow little Country Club way of looking at the world, at the end of the day,they are almost as screwy as the Dems.

    God help the Republic. On the Roman time continuum it is either 70BC or 370AD. We’re going to find out which one real quickly.

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  10. Franklin says:

    Two-thirds said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve. More than 60 percent called the country’s moral standards only fair or poor.

    In follow-up interviews, service members repeatedly said the choice to serve, by itself, demonstrates moral quality above most civilians. Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality.

    Ahhh, so somebody thinks they are morally superior to someone else. Call the press!

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  11. Andy says:

    Mithras,

    It’s no wonder that Democrats think the U.S. Army officer corps works hand-in-hand with the Republican party.

    BTW, your link is broken, but I’m aware of the various Military Times polls that have been done over the years. They are not scientific and not at all representative of the serving military for many reasons that I can go into if you wish. Any conclusions made from them are about as valid as conclusions from an internet poll.

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  12. Mithras says:

    Andy-
    Thanks. I think this link will work.

    And yes, I’d be interested in whatever you have that indicates the poll’s result distorts reality.

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  13. Mithras says:

    Here’s an interesting discussion by an Army officer of the limits and uses of the MT polls:

    These surveys can be useful in two ways. First, they can be useful as a gauge of opinion trends. While the results of these surveys might not present an accurate estimate of overall military attitudes in a given year, over time they reflect how the opinions of a portion of the military are shifting. By extension we might assume that the rest of the military is shifting to a similar degree, even if the starting point is not the same. …

    Secondly, if we limit analysis of the survey data to senior officers then the ‘subscriber bias’ is likely to be minimal, in that the attitudes of senior officers in the Military Times subscriber database are likely to be similar to the attitudes of senior officers generally.

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  14. sam says:

    @Highlander

    Any honest assessment would have to arrive at the fact that the Democrats are now the party of a Post American Epoch

    Are you absolutely certain that we are not in post-American epoch?

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  15. sam says:

    Actually, let me ask the question I should’ve asked: What do you understand by the term “American Epoch”?

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  16. Davebo says:

    Erick Erickson chimes in with

    Who cares?

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  17. Drew says:

    I suppose thats about right, James. After all, this is the guy who told us he had a warm, sticky fluid running down his leg……over an Obama speech. Prone to hyperbole, or the moment. (I, of course, would NEVER be prone to hyperbole.)

    That said, he’s a bright and experienced guy in the public eye with the attendant rules. We should expect more. He should deliver more. Its a bad gaffe.

    Next.

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  18. sam says:

    I, of course, would NEVER be prone to hyperbole.

    :)

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  19. Andy says:

    Mithras:

    The polls are completely unscientific. They are limited to a self-selected subset of the paper’s subscribers, which itself is a small self-selected subset of the entire military population. They skew heavily toward older, white male, married, careerist, Army personnel, especially retirees. This is apparent by looking at the self-reported demographic data. Just to give you one example, the average age of active-duty respondents in the Military Times polls is almost 37 years, yet the average age in the entire active-duty military is only 28 years.

    These papers are called the “Lifer times” by many of us in the military because only the hard-core lifers and retirees seem to be subscribers. Most of the rest of us read the paper, but that is because our unit subscribes so we can read it at work. As a result, these “polls” completely miss huge segments of the military population.

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  20. Mithras says:

    It would be interesting to find a statistically valid poll of active duty service members designed to show differences among enlisted, noncoms, junior and senior officers.

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  21. Andy says:

    Mithras,

    Indeed, unfortunately, such a thing does not exist that I know of, and I’ve looked long and hard. The DoD doesn’t poll on politics and, due to the privacy act, can’t release contact information so that pollsters can contact military personnel directly. All we have is guesswork and anecdotal information, unfortunately.

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