Rick Perry: We Need President Military Respects

Rick Perry declared, "One of the reasons that I'm running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States."

Rick Perry declared, “One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States.”

Politico’s Ben Smith argues this would seem a reversal of the traditional concept of civilian control of the military: It is soldiers owe their commander-in-chief respect and obedience. But it’s not an unusual concept, at least in recent years. Disdain from the ranks for President Clinton was palpable–but they still followed his orders into more hostile fire zones than you can shake a stick at.

Smith also points to a May Gallup poll titled “U.S. Military Personnel, Veterans Give Obama Lower Marks.”

U.S. military veterans and those currently on active military duty are less likely to approve of President Obama’s job performance than are Americans of comparable ages who are not in the military.

These results are based on an analysis of more than 238,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from January 2010 through April 2011. Respondents were classified as veterans/active-duty military based on responses to a series of questions probing whether any member of the household had served in the U.S. military, and whether the respondent himself or herself had served and, if so, whether the respondent was currently on active duty. Americans currently serving in the military overseas or on ships at sea would not be included in this national cell and landline telephone sample.

Thirty-seven percent of all active-duty military personnel and veterans surveyed approved of the job Obama is doing during the January 2010 to April 2011 time frame. That compares with 48% of nonveterans interviewed during the same period.

Considering that for the post-Vietnam era we haven’t had a military draft and that those under 60 who have served have therefore been volunteers–and that these volunteers skew rural, conservative, and Republican–the gap is actually surprisingly narrow. Indeed, what’s more surprising to me is that the older cohorts–who were a cross-section of American male society–are still below the nonveteran line. Indeed, they approve of Obama less than the all-volunteer cohorts.

Interestingly, the Gallup survey also showed that “Although active-duty military personnel are less likely to approve of the job Obama is doing than are national adults overall, this group’s disapproval is only marginally higher than that of national adults. This is because active-duty military — particularly those under 40 — are significantly more likely to say they have no opinion about Obama’s job performance than is the case for all adults in the same age group.” That’s a healthy sign, actually: it means that deference to civilian authority is still a strong part of the military ethic, even down to the enlisted ranks.

If Gallup’s data is representative, then, the only military cohort who strongly disapproves of Obama is the over-40 set. That means we’re talking about very senior non-commissioned officers who have over 20 years of service and field grade officers. But even there, the numbers essentially track the public at large. More importantly, one can disapprove of the job the president is doing and still respect him as commander-in-chief. After all, the fact that the economy is in the toilet is more of a factor in the general public’s disapproval of Obama’s job performance than, say, his handling of Libya, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Perhaps this is just Perry’s rather odd way of pointing out that he, alone of the major contenders for the presidency, served in the military. (Ron Paul was a flight surgeon on active duty for two years and in the National Guard another three; he’s not going to be president.) He served five years in the Air Force as a C-130 pilot. But it seems an odd way to do it. Granted, his predecessor as Texas governor campaigned on a similar theme. But Obama simply doesn’t have the moral baggage or friction with the military brass as Clinton.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Military Affairs, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mike says:

    I wear a uniform – in fact I am wearing an Army one right now and I don’t respect Perry and don’t plan on voting for him. Try again governor.

  2. sam says:

    “He served five years in the Air Force as a C-130 pilot.”

    Well…ah forget it.

  3. hey norm says:

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told 60 Minutes that President Obama’s decision to launch a raid against Osama Bin Laden’s compound with ground troops was “one of the most courageous” decisions he has ever seen a president make.

    Gates adds “”Frankly, my heart was in my mouth… There was a lot of uncertainty about whether he was there. This was a very risky operation. So, I was very concerned. So was the President… I worked for a lot of these guys and this is one of the most courageous calls — decisions — that I think I’ve ever seen a president make.”

    Gates cites the uncertainty of the intelligence and the potential consequences if the mission failed as reinforcing his view of Obama’s courage in making the call.

    I prefer actions to words. But Perry is from Texas, and Bush proved that they like to talk big there.

  4. Al says:

    Huh? Is Perry worried that the US Armed Forces could revolt?

  5. Lit3Bolt says:

    Dog-whistle coup-seeking seditious Sons of Confederacy code-speak from Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry. News at 11.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lit3Bolt: that.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States.”

    Rick, do yourself a favor: If you want respect, shut up.

  8. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Obviously this will strike a nerve with the anti-American left. Not surprising. The truth hurts.

  9. Cynic in NY says:

    “A president that the military respects” Hmm thats why Paul leads in military donations and not you right?

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:
    Says the man whose screen name is taken from an imbecilic, incompetent, pus$y-whipped anti-semite who lost an empire and got his own family killed in the process.

    If you can’t trust the judgment of someone sufficiently clueless to call himself Tsar Nicholas II, well, who can you trust?

  11. Andyman says:

    Some people like to say that congressional gridlock is a feature, not a bug, because the less the government accomplishes the better off we all are. In that light I’d think that we’d want to make the relationship between the White House and the Pentagon as dysfunctional as possible; the less utilized the military is the better off we all (including the soldiers) are.

  12. WR says:

    This is part and parcel with Romney running around saying that Obama is a bad, bad man because he didn’t take his generals’ orders on the exact timetable for the Afghanistan withdrawal.

    Republicans seem to hate the idea that the military does not rule the country, and that they are under the control of the elected government. I wonder why that is.

  13. R.Dave says:

    Seems like there’s a mis-match between Perry’s comment about “respect” for the President and Gallup’s data about “approval” of the President’s job performance. I’d be curious to see what the response would be to a poll question asking directly about “respect” for President Obama. I’m willing to bet the result would be a higher-than-average level of respect among military personnel, based on the civilian control and deference to command aspects of military culture and training.