Why Democrats Seem Unpatriotic and Weak on Defense

Question: Why are Democrats viewed as weak on defense and somehow lacking in patriotism?

Wesley Clark: You know, I was a soldier in Vietnam.  I was an Infantry Company Commander.  I came back, I was wounded; came home on a stretcher in 1970.  And I did another couple of Army jobs and ended up teaching at West Point and I would read in the New York Times every day from my perch 50 miles above New York City on the Hudson.  I was kind of shocked at the anti-military attitudes that were present in the country.  

I remember in the spring of 1971, a hundred thousand people converged on the Pentagon in June of 1971.  They threw blood; I guess it was goat’s blood or something, on the steps to the Pentagon.  People were being accused of being murderers and baby killers.  You just can’t imagine the civic outrage.  Now most of these people were not wearing suits and ties, most of these people showed some evidence of being associated with the more free-thinking elements of society.  You could call them counter-culture, and you would say these people were also probably voting Democratic.  That is to say, they didn’t like their parents’ authority, they didn’t like government's authority, and they didn’t like the university’s authority.  They were more free thinking because the authority meant, in the minds of many people of this generation, "We’re gonna get drafted.  We’re gonna go into the military and we’re not gonna make it out of Vietnam." 

Some people went to Canada, a lot of people protested.  It’s also, of course, a great way to meet girls, and so if you were a young guy and you were looking to have a good time, there's nothing like a good street demonstration to do this—especially in the United States because it’s not too dangerous and people are really nice and they get along really well.  

But that was the early 70’s, and this attitude was, of course, picked up by members of Congress because people run for office.  I remember when Senator Kennedy led the fight against the supersonic transport.  We were actually gonna take the B-58 Bomber and just like the Europeans did when they built the Concord, we were going to have our own supersonic transport, and it would have been civil aircraft, but we were putting a lot of money in it.  At the time, it was, the, you know, the people against the technology and Senator Kennedy represented that. And this technology was part of the military industrial complex, it was spin-off.  It would have put us in a really world-leading position on aviation technology, even more so that we already were in, but you know, enough was enough.  

And so we decided to put out national priorities in other directions.  And the Democrats kind of became the party of this voice.  When it was discovered that there was a secret bombing campaign in Laos in 1972, Richard Nixon was the President, he was a Republican.  And it was natural that at the same time that Nixon had done the Watergate break-in, and Democrats in particular were outraged against the President’s conduct, here he was doing a secret bombing campaign against the wishes and intent of Congress. And so they became outspoken on this.  

The war ended the next year, in 1973. Our prisoners came home and Nixon resigned, and Vietnam became an item of history.  But the legacy of Vietnam was that it was the Republicans who were doing the fighting and it was the Democrats who were doing the objecting.  And the objecting was not only to the policy, it was also to the people who wore the uniform.  Now, I know, maybe Democrats don’t want to hear that today, but that’s the way it was.  And I was one of those young people who was told, you know, you didn’t have to wear your uniform, you know, in Washington D.C. too much because people didn’t welcome it.  Today, if you wear a uniform and you’re on an airplane, the flight attendant may say, let’s give a big round of applause to our men and women who are fighting in Iraq.  That was unheard of in the 1960’s.  And we had thousands of soldiers who came out of that war with PTSD exactly like the PTSD that people have today coming out of Iraq, but we didn’t even know what to call it then.  We thought they were like druggies, or hippies, or maladjustment problems.  They got washed out of the military, in reality, there were a lot of emotionally damaged and sometimes physically impaired young men who had served their country, tried to serve it well and under some difficult circumstances, and without all the support mechanisms that are in place today.  

But we didn’t understand all of that then.  And so, what happened was, the Democratic party, it had a sort of residue of... and then when President Carter was elected in 1976, the idea was to get rid of dishonesty and the criminality of government that had emerged with the Watergate case.  And unfortunately what happened was that we had the fall of the Shah of Iran, we had the Americans taken hostage in the American Embassy.  And this... we tried to mount a military rescue and the military rescue was a fiasco.  Some people claimed it was a weak military blamed on the administration, and President Carter was defeated for re-election.  Ronald Reagan came in and he became the voice of a strong, rearmed "morning in America."  And this sort of became the image set in stone.  So Democrats got tagged with not being strong on national security.  

And today in the Democratic Party, actually if you go and look at the people who were elected into office, you say, “How many of you all served in the military?"  There’s probably more Democrats who served in the military and are veterans than there are Republicans.  And certainly that’s true amongst the youngsters.  But if you go to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion Halls and you ask people, “What do you think about those political parties?” These World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War veterans, they’ll tell it to you straight. They don’t have anything against Roosevelt and Truman, but in the 1970s and '80s, the Democrats, they didn’t believe in a strong America, they wanted to make us weak.  It may not be true, but it’s the mythology that’s out there in the political view and it’s been aided, promoted, and taken as a theme by the Republican Party.  

They want you to believe that they’re stronger on national defense.  That’s the reason I wore the American flag lapel pins.  And, whether they’ve served in the military or not, they’re the first ones to want to throw our military into a problem because it’s tough, it’s strong, and you know, they’re the "papa party," the Democrats are the "mama party."  The Democrats are for victims, they’re for the little guy, they’re—they’re oh so compassionate, everything’s so nice… but the Republicans, they’re big and they’re tough and they’re mean and they’re... “Boy, we’re gonna get after you if you try to threaten us.”  And that’s the characterization of the parties.  And it’s out there as a sort of mythology that underlies all of the day-to-day happenings of the American political system.

Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

Today there are probably more Democratic politicians who have served in the military than Republicans, says General Clark. Yet history has branded the Dems as the "Mama Party."

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.