Out of Context?

I caught this over at the Washington Monthly,

But go read Spencer Ackerman’s summary of Rumsfeld’s performance. Sure, we ought to have more armor for our Humvees by now, but this isn’t really a question of armor, it’s a question of respect:

Today, he came face to face with pissed-off frontline soldiers. And he treated them with the same arrogance and condescension that their superior officers have come to expect. To the question about unequal retirement benefits for equal service, Secretary Marie Antoinette replied, “I can’t imagine anyone your age worrying about retirement. Good grief.”

Indeed. Hard to imagine an average joe worrying about retirement. Who does this grunt think he is?

It is genuinely to Rumsfeld’s credit that he talked with the troops and took their questions. But these aren’t hardened politicians on Capitol Hill, and they deserved better than Rumsfeld gave them.

I thought, “Geez, that sounds pretty heartless”. So, I dug around for the transcript and here is the relevant question and the entire answer,

Q: Specialist Skarwin (Sp?) HHD 42nd Engineer Brigade. Mr. Secretary [Cheers] my question is with the current mission of the National Guard and Reserves being the same as our active duty counterparts, when are more of our benefits going to line up to the same as theirs, for example, retirement? [Cheers] [Applause]

SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughter] I can’t imagine anyone your age worrying about retirement. [Laughter] Good grief. It’s the last thing I want to do is retire. The pay and benefits for the Guard and the Reserve relative to the active force have been going up unevenly at a rate faster than the active force. If you go back over four years — matter of fact, I just went over this with the senior person in the department who looks at pay and benefits. And apparently, what’s happened is that for a variety of reasons, the incremental changes that are made each year, in terms of pay and benefits and health care and retirement and what have you, have brought the Guard and Reserve up at a faster level than the active force. And what one has to do in managing the total force and the total force is critically important. We need the Guard and Reserve as well as the active force. And we have to see that we have the incentives arranged in a way that we can attract and retain the people that are needed to defend the country. At the moment, we are doing well in terms of attracting and retaining the people we need. And if anything, I think the data suggests that the Guard and Reserve forces had been advantaged relatively compared to the active force over the past four years. Question.

Hmmm, sure looks like Rumsfeld thought he was making a joke about being worried about retirement at a young age and was not being disdainful. The seems especially true in that Rumsfeld went on and talked at length about the question the soldier raised. I admit I didn’t see any tape of the Q&A session so maybe I missed something in terms of tone or something, but it sure seems like Both Drum and Ackerman dropped the ball and didn’t look at the overall context/answer Rumsfeld gave.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Fiorina pulls a huge boner, then bones on top of the boner for a boner squared and then… blames Obama! What a loser. http://bit.ly/43v

  2. Fiorina pulls a huge boner, then bones on top of the boner for a boner squared and then… blames Obama! What a loser. http://bit.ly/43v

  3. Bithead says:

    Or, as is more typical, edited the answer for their own political purposes.

    Just because the election is over doesn’t mean the fruitbats are not still running the presses.

  4. Whatever says:

    They didn’t drop the ball – they lied.

  5. kappiy says:


    I didn’t see this exchange either, but if you read the transcript you’ve cited, it seems pretty clear that Rumsfeld’s arrogance and condecension the Washington Monthly people were talking about was clearly on display.

    Rumsfeld’s retirement barb was clearly a joke, but the problem is the substance (or lack thereof) of his answer. You say Rummy “talked at length about the question.” True. But did he answer it with substance? Clearly not. He talked around it, failing to give the soldier a clear answer about the disparities between Guard, reserves, and active duty people. That is precisely indicative of his condecension. When someone in Rumsfeld’s position gives clear BS to a legitimate concern, it shows nothing but contempt and lack of respect.

  6. Paul says:

    What??? Kevin Drum tell an untruth?

    NEVER! You must be mistaken. Gee that almost never happens. (…more than 3 times in a day)

  7. Steve says:


    I disagree, I think Rumsfeld pretty much said that he thought the Guard and reserves are, if anything, a bit ahead of the active duty in his view and that things are pretty much where they should be. That is, he didn’t think there was a serious disparity. Is that contempt and lack of respect? Maybe, kind of hard to tell without seeing some kind of numbers.

    As for Drum and Ackerman, they didn’t point to that part of the answer, but the joke and mis-represented it. You did a valient job trying to cover for them, but you failed.

  8. ken says:

    Rumsfield was indeed making a joke. But his joke used his questioner as the butt of the joke. Making fun of an subordinate’s question is a sure way to stifle serious questions from others.

    Can you imagine going to your boss with a question and in front of a group of your peers he makes fun of you and your question before answering it? That is essentially what happened here.

  9. Steve says:

    Well ken it depends on if the ribbing is good natured or not. As I noted I didn’t see it, so I don’t know the tone, but based on the ribbing I’ve seen at work functions where I work, I don’t think it has to necessarily be out of line.

    Did you see that part of the tape?