The Conservative Military

By Bob Wilson

The November 14, 1997 Arizona Republic features an interesting article written by Wall Street Journal writer Thomas E. Ricks. The title of his piece is "Military is becoming more conservative, political." In it, Mr. Ricks makes his case by revealing that the ratio of conservatives to liberals in the military has grown from 4-1 in 1976 to 23-1 now. He says only 3% of senior military officers say they are even "somewhat liberal," compared with 27% for civilian elites. He calls the situation "acute." He says this situation "raises the potential for tension when the commander in chief isnít perceived as equally conservative." I donít necessarily disagree with the figures in Ricksí article, though I would argue that from my experience as an officer, the reasons for this tendency generally are not well examined by Ricks.

As far as tensions between the military and the current administration goes, the following explains much. President Clintonís reputation for having problems with the military is well known, and predictably, not a highly appreciated feature of his position by the military. His early days in office are full of examples of his disdain for the uniformed services. Among the early gaffs were the famous "left-handed salutes." His staff, within hours of his inauguration, informed senior military officers that they were to refrain from official visits to the White House "in uniform." The Clintons hosted several official social functions where uniformed military officers were required to tend bar and serve food. (This would be a violation of The Geneva Convention if those officers were prisoners of war!) His staff took to using marine helicopters for golf carts, with dress uniformed soldiers toting the clubs. The total lack of respect and appreciation for the institution and people in the military (along with their mission) would probably explain the none too subtle "lack of enthusiastic support" of him from many military people whose political leanings might otherwise be classified as "other than conservative."

Additionally, Bill Clinton is the first president to openly admit having used illegal drugs. This revelation by a candidate to a U.S. military academy would result in their rejection. Consequently, the current commander in chief would not be a suitable candidate for commissioning as a second lieutenant. As an enlisted man, he would not be considered for access to classified information. Many of the presidential staff corps avoided the required drug screening tests for years, some resigning or being reassigned when news of their reluctance to comply with testing became public. I would guess that many senior military officials wondered privately if they were compromising our national security when they gave requisit classified briefings to this president and his staff.

Aside from a personal animosity that most career military people have for their commander in chief, their devotion to the sworn obligation to defend the Constitution, follow legal orders, and carry out their duties in all circumstances is unquestioned. This is the result of the tradition amongst the military officer corps of a thing not highly valued among some politicians, and in ever shrinking demand in the general population called "honor."

With the understanding of the above, it is somewhat an honor (again, not a familiar term to most liberals) to proclaim that those who qualify to serve as officers in the military are documented to be overwhelmingly conservative. This being the case, I wonder if the crises which Ricks calls "acute" is really -- that the military is "conservative relative to the administration," or the other way around.


Bob Wilson is a businessman and pilot living in Arizona.