Sunday, November 18, 2007

Support Our Troops...Until They Come Home?

Published in the Summer 2009 issue of New Politics.

Hardline conservatives have traditionally sought to vest monopoly control over patriotism in the Republican Party. In contrast, they frequently castigate Democrats and liberals in general as traitors. As Ann Coulter claims, liberals have a “preternatural gift for always striking a position on the side of treason.”

These hardliners have employed a number of tactics in their effort to monopolize patriotism. One of the more recent of these is the use of the popular “Support our troops” slogan, in which they have attempted to convince Americans that opposing the war is somehow equivalent to opposing our troops. Noam Chomsky attests to the propagandistic value of such catchphrases:

The point of public relation slogans like "Support our troops" is that they don’t mean anything. They mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa…The issue [is], Do you support our policy? But you don’t want people to think about that issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for (Media Control, 2nd ed., p. 26).

Are liberals really anti-American? Do they truly wish our troops harm? One can infer an answer to this question from the 2008 Congressional Report Card, published by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Action Fund. The Report Card assesses the extent to which members of Congress have endorsed pro-veteran legislation relating to an “entire range of issues…including veterans' health care, the new GI Bill, mental health, and support for homeless veterans.”

To be clear, IAVA is a non-partisan group. To the best of my knowledge, the 2008 Report Card does not list party affiliations of legislators next to their scores. Anticipating the accusation of partisanship, IAVA points out that “the methodology behind the report card is completely transparent – those who voted with veterans scored well, those who did not support our veterans did not.” They note, further, that “both parties did very well” overall.

That said, there is a strong correlation of over 70% between party affiliation and one’s total score in both houses (the figures below display average scores for Democrats and Republicans). Specifically, Democrats are associated with higher support for pro-veteran legislation. This relationship is statistically significant at below the .01 level, which in laymen’s terms means that there is less than a 1% chance that this relationship is simply coincidental (please feel free to contact me if you'd like to obtain my data).

Maybe it is worthwhile to inquire on the grades our presidential candidates received. Perhaps to the surprise of those who support John McCain (himself a veteran), the senator got a D, whereas Barack Obama got a B (which is also quite low, at least in comparison to the many who got perfect As).

In short, it appears that many are eager to send our men and women in uniform to war and yet turn their backs on them once they return. This invites the impression that our troops are regarded less as freedom defenders, and more as impersonal, expendable resources like money. That’s hardly patriotic.