In my job building a new way for Americans to communicate politically, I often need to be non-partisan. It’s often challenging. To be non-partisan, I need see that my own opinions arise from my point of view, rather than from truth. One of the ways I do this is by seeing the falseness of generalizations. Recently I ran into an assertion that Democrats were better at war.
I read this interesting piece from David Brin from 2012 on how Democrats and Republicans wage war:
One of these retired flag officers told me: “Democrats admit they don’t know anything about military matters. They consult, they ask questions, they listen.”
He added, “Republican presidents all assume they’re some mix of John Wayne and Patton. Plans are for nerds. Caution is for wimps.”
My initial feeling was that the article is wrong in its generalization.
It says Clinton made a small mistake at the beginning of his presidency, learned from it, and then was careful and successful. Obama has been careful and successful from the start. And Bush made huge blunders for years before finally turning Iraq over to the military, resulting in a third of our deficit, a half million lives lost, and the continuing destabilization of the whole region.
But are Democrats really better at war?
So does that mean that Democrats were better than Republicans at war? As far as I know, Bush senior, a Republican, did fine at it. He had the discretion to not overthrow Saddam Hussein, foreseeing all of the problems that Bush junior did not. And before that, while Reagan (R) seemed like a cowboy in the Iran-Contra affair, I think Nixon (R) and Johnson (D) made very similar mistakes about the Viet Nam war.
It simply means that a person who’s willing to proceed cautiously, listen to experts, exercise judgement and learn from his/her mistakes is probably going to be better at war. That’s regardless of political affiliation. And it probably means they’ll be better at all aspects of governing they bring these skills to.
Have the parties changed?
But I’ve found myself agreeing with many others that the parties have changed over time. Republicans have catered to a base that values emotions, belief and philosophy more and thoughtfulness less. This population is more susceptible to the emotional propaganda from right-wing media. And they are alienated by both political-correctness and scientific facts.
The leadership has similarly changed. John McCain chose the inarticulate Sarah Palin as his running mate. Romney and Ryan seemed more thoughtful in 2012. But Trump’s current stupidity, contradictions and childish temperament are obvious, but many Republicans are swept away by his confidence and self-righteous anger.
So perhaps since Bill Clinton was president, Democrats in the White House have been better at war than Republicans. But I think we should emphasize and value the traits that make this true. Perhaps one day soon, the Republican party will value wisdom and judgement again.