Response to Russell’s Post on Outing


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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68 Responses

  1. Thanks for this response, Mike.

    If Rep. Schock had been arrested for propositioning people for sex in an airport bathroom, a la former Senator Craig, and the details of that arrest comprised a news item, I would have no qualm with it. Reporting on such things is, as you say, a reporter’s job.

    But Hod hasn’t even met that standard. He’s passing on what someone else supposedly saw the Congressman doing in the privacy of his own home. “He’s a hypocrite” is the justification for passing on a little tidbit that otherwise would barely rate as a blind item in Us Weekly. Since adjudging the hypocrisy of others as a means of rationalizing this kind of behavior, which I cannot believe makes the outer look anything other than nasty himself, I think it is poor form and to be avoided under these circumstances.Report

  2. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    The problem is that we are all imperfect

    And we’ll seize on those imperfections to shred anyone who dares to disagree with our political beliefs, because they deserve it (I, however, don’t, because I agree with my political beliefs).Report

    • Well, not anyone. He is a sitting member of congress with a voting record. He puts himself before the electorate and request to be judged on his principles, beliefs, actions… And to what extent his principles mirror his actions. I wouldn’t want to be put before the white hot light of the media, let alone opposition research, but those seeking office have volunteered for additional scrutiny.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Does he request to be judged on his principles? Or is that just an assumption on your part?

        If he had been out, had publicly admitted his homosexuality the whole time, but still voted the same way on gay rights that he had before, would that have been more or less laudable?

        What if he had said “Hey, my job is to represent the will of my constituents, even when it clearly disagrees with my personal feeling on the matter”?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Creon’s sentence seems to me fortuitously ambiguous. It could be read as “his request …” or “their request..”. granted, one of those seems more likely than the other, but still, the unlikely gets to the heart of the issue. It’s not necessary for an individual to explicitly agree to be judged by the electorate (and the media) on their actions and beliefs. It seems to me implied by not only accepting the job, but even *trying* to get the job.Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Creon’s right on, here.

        I don’t happen to support capital punishment. Find me a congressional district in which a majority shares my view.

        If I were to run for office, I would not not run against capital punishment. I don’t support it, but I don’t hate it enough to make it the centerpiece of my political identity and philosophy. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, I don’t think. Just someone who lives in the world as it actually exists.

        I can perfectly well cast myself into the shoes of a gay man who doesn’t believe in gay marriage. There’s no natural reason, except self-interest, that they should, actually. If I hold a political office, I would see it as my task to fairly represent the moral and political beliefs of my constituency, while using whatever knowledge, expertise, and passion to improve things between the cracks.Report

  3. Avatar Rod says:

    I find this issue difficult to generalize. I don’t have much issue with, for instance, a Republican congressman who is also gay voting against ssm on the principle that he’s representing the views of the constituents that elected him. I have a much harder time when said public figure acts as a cultural war jihadist by day and an “alternative lifestyle” party boy by night.

    Was it legitimate news when AG Spitzer, known for making special projects of prosecuting prostitution, revealed to be a client himself? Is it legitimate news when a congressman decries welfare and is found to be the recipient of substantial ag subsidies? I think so, and I think some, but not all, of these incidents of outing are like that.

    As a general proposition I agree that a person’s sexual orientation is nobody else’s business, even if that person is a public figure. But that presumption is forfeited, IMHO, when said person makes everyone else’s sex life his business by setting himself up as a culture warrior. There’s an honest debate to be had about efficacy of strategy and tactics but I can’t see a moral argument against revealing the hypocrisy.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Rod says:

      On some level, I respond differently to Haggard at some random Illinois congresscritter. Haggard made his name, in part, moralizing on this issue. And he became an important messenger. A concerted effort to out him as a messenger makes sense, then, as seems more fair than a guy who is “voting his district” or simply “voting the wrong way given that he himself prefers sex with other men.” Taking random congresscritter out as a messenger doesn’t seem to justify the invasion of privacy involved.

      Ken Mehlmen is somewhere in between. He was rather actively going against those with his own sexual preference… but was doing his job. We can say “But he chose his job.” Which he did. But that was an aspect of his job and not the totality of it. Sometimes you have to take aspects of your job you don’t like, because you view your job as otherwise being critically important. Yet it doesn’t seem that far out of bounds to think that he could have had a similar impact somewhere else, doing something else, for the conservative movement that he believes in.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Rod says:

      “Was it legitimate news when AG Spitzer, known for making special projects of prosecuting prostitution, revealed to be a client himself?”

      Of course. But the part of that news story that people forget is… Spitzer isn’t that dumb.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Rod says:

      A person’s sexual orientation SHOULDN’T be everyone’s business.
      But it IS if they’re a public figure, because it, if concealed, represents a lever.
      (note: this is also why the number of children a public official has is public business)Report

  4. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    If a black politician said we should go back to segregation and that Jim Crow was wildly overhyped, he’d be rightly criticized for attacking his own people. What Shock is doing isn’t so different, only he can hide the group he belongs too.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      What if the politician was 1/4 black and passing? Should we out him as black?

      I don’t mean that snarkily. I think the difference between your example and the real case in hand is that the black politician you posit is–at least as I interpret it–obviously black. But it’s certainly possible that s/he’s not obviously black (while meeting the general American standard for blackness), and in that case your example is a very good analogy. And maybe you meant such a case, or could mean it, or at least would also be willing to consider that variation on the case.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Yep. we should out him.
        This is the only example cited where I’d be okay with not outing him if he wasn’t being a
        “cultural warrior” though…
        (because being black and hiding it isn’t a good source of blackmail).Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Yes we are all imperfect and should be forgiving and show grace but I am on Rod’s side here that this is not an issue that can be easily generalized and fall into two camps. I don’t think anyone would argue about the imperfection of people.

    But there is a certain level of cognitive dissonance in a good number of social conservatives that can be extremely vexing. Conor P. Williams wrote about it on this sight. Everyone is hypocritical but there is a difference when the people being hypocritical are connected to positions of influence and power and can leverage real control over the lives and fates of others. This is especially true for hardcore culture warriors who can seemingly turn it off with a switch and go an party with Byronesque abandon at night.

    No one is accusing Representative Shock of that kind of hypocrisy but he did do a lot of damage against a group is ostensibly a member of and that group is still in a bitter struggle not to be treated as human. The Duck Dynasty hoopla reveals that there are still a lot of people who see gay people as less than human. We’ve been through this on the site.

    David Brooks and Ruth Marcus were rightly trashed on the internet for their tut tut columns against the legalization of marijuana even though they admitted to smoking it in their youth and Ruth Marcus said she might even smoke if she went to Colorado or Washington in their future. Wiegel correctly called them the perfect parody of the Beltway Pundit who thinks about society without interaction much with society.

    Freedom for me but not for thee is a rather vexing and smug position and cannot always be explained away and people who willingly choose positions of public power or influence whether in the media or politics or anything else should be challenged on their actions and hypocrisies.Report

    • @newdealer

      Your point and @rod ‘s point are what give me pause from my general position, which is that involuntary outing of others is inappropriate. (That said, the revelations about Brooks’s and Marcus’s–and, I’d argue, Obama’s–pot use is more fair game because in all cases these appear to be revelations they made voluntarily.) I am, however, worried that the proverbial dog catcher who happens to oppose gay marriage might be outed.

      Well, I’m not that worried. But I do think there ought to be some sort of nexus based on how much of a culture warrior one is, how public the official is, and how relevant the official’s actions are. Even if we settle on such a nexus, I’d rather start start from the assumption that involuntary outing and exposure of personal hypocrisies is wrong, and then compel the one who supports it in a given instance to justify it.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        There are people in the gay community who did or who do oppose gay marriage but not for the reasons as offered by Representative Shock or the GOP.

        Though it is kind of inverse. The radical wing of the gay community allegedly opposed or seemingly opposed gay marriage because they did not want homosexuality to change from a radical and transgressive act to something that was ordinary and even bourgeois. It is a very 1960s kind of argument and I don’t understand it fully. Jason K and Russel are probably better sources for whether I am getting this line of thought right or not. I can’t imagine anyone getting elected to anything except the Faculty Senate with this kind of argumentation.

        That being said the proverbial dog catcher is probably a rather rare figure.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Anything that is blackmail material is still the public’s business, no matter how much of a “culture warrior” you are.
        Say you believe that crack cocaine should be legal.
        Monkey Business is still the public’s business. ;-PReport

      • @newdealer

        I agree that the proverbial dog catcher is a rare figure (do we even elect dog catchers anymore?), and that’s why I said I’m not that worried that he or she would be dragged into such gossip.

        What I’m concerned about is that some comments in Russell’s post and Jaybird’s follow-up seem to suggest that merely being a public figure is in itself justification for losing all privacy. In sober second thought, I’m not sure anyone actually said that, but that’s a concern I have about where we’re headed or where we already are.

        Of course, Mr. Schock is not merely a public figure, but one who, apparently, has taken a position antithetical to what most of us think of as the pro-gay rights position. So maybe there ought to be a level of scrutiny there. Still, I mostly sign on to everything Russell has said, including his qualms about the “evidence” used to out Mr. Schock.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

      Yeah, I wanted to write about Brooks’s opinion and tie it into this but wasn’t able to.

      If I were stretching to be as charitable as possible, I’d say that they would be arguing that we need to keep the laws primarily as affirmation of society’s disapproval of marijuana but not thinking about it beyond that. Certainly not thinking about people who might be *ARRESTED*.

      When people admit to having broken laws that they go on to explain should remain on the books, I’m always a bit dumbfounded. I’ve never heard a satisfactory reason for this position and the above is my best attempt at trying to imagine one.

      It’s mindboggling to me.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think it depends on the law. I can see someone committing robbery, reforming, and thinking that robbery should remain a crime. Same with DUIs and others.

        For things like marijuana-use, not so much.

        The problem with keeping a law on the books is that people can still get arrested. I suppose you could reduce the punishment to a symbolic one though like a 20 dollar fine.

        The blog-o-sphere had a field day with Brooks. Interestingly I think that Marcus wrote something worse than Brooks with this:

        “At the risk of exposing myself as not the total fuddy-duddy of my children’s dismissive imaginings, I have done my share of inhaling, though back in the age of bell-bottoms and polyester.

        Next time I’m in Colorado, I expect, I’ll check out some Bubba Kush. Why not? They used to warn about pot being a gateway drug, but the only gateway I’m apt to be heading through at this stage is the one to Lipitor.

        Still, widespread legalization is a bad idea, if an inevitable development.”

        Though Brooks annoys more people than Marcus so he probably got the brunt of the criticism and Marcus seems to concede that marijuana legalization is inevitable.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think it depends less on the crime and more on how they answer the question “Do you believe you should have gone to prison if you did?”

        I also want to throw something else out there that gets lost in the debate: There is a lot of space between “This drug should be legal and roughly as available as cigarettes and alcohol” and “This drug should be illegal and we should send people to prison and derail their lives for using and selling it because it’s just that dangerous.”

        Other countries that have illegal drugs and don’t have nearly the prison population that we do. I’m in between supporting a middle ground and supporting decriminalization-and-regulation, but if I had a question to ask David Brooks it would be “What do you think should happen to people who do drugs?”

        There might actually be common ground. Which is, I grant, more complicated than mockery.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I imagine that someone who breaks the law, gets arrested, goes to jail, pays his debt to society, and goes on the talk show circuit could reasonably argue “the law that put me in jail should stay on the books!”

        It’s the person who breaks the law, does not get arrested, then goes on to talk about what he did and wave it away… and *THEN* argue that the law should remain on the books that has me flummoxed.

        I mean, is it fair to ask Brooks what amends he’s made for his drug use?

        That sounds like such a silly phrasing but, I’d hope, if he thinks that the law that he broke was a law that should stay on the books that he’s found some way to make amends. If he doesn’t think that he needs to… hell. I don’t even know what to think about that.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think that’s a fair response if Brooks’s response is “Yes, they should go to jail” but not if his response is “No, we should treat it like jaywalking” and I would prefer to get that answer before preceding. Because if it’s the latter, he’s a potential ally towards movement in the right direction.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        The very fact that we’re having this conversation is, itself, progress. I’m old enough to remember Doug Ginsburg. The fact that we’ve changed direction when it comes to who we’re asking “what the heck?” is a good thing.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

      I did like what Brooks said about the marijuana-smoking section at Applebee’s.Report

  6. Avatar Neil Obstat says:

    The late Sen Strom Thurmond of S. Carolina was a segregationist, anti-civil rights stalwart, fought voting rights, and I imagine prior to and despite _Loving_v._Virginia_ , an upholder of anti-miscegenation laws as well.

    At 22 he fathered a child with his family’s Black, teenage maid. Across the years he provided financial support/assistance well into her adulthood, paid for her education (she eventually earned a Masters in Education), and provided her access to himself while in office beyond what might be considered normal for an average citizen or constituent. She was eventually acknowledged as his child after the Senators death, and recognized by his family. She stated that she never revealed their relationship publicly as she believed neither would have benefited.

    Had undeniable evidence been obtained back in the day, would it have been right & proper for the Senator’s “youthful indiscretion” and his ongoing support to have been revealed to the public at large after all the various civil & voting rights acts of the 50’s & 60’s had passed into law, despite his highly public oppositions and rejections?

    How would this have been morally/ethically different than outing a closeted legislator who has consistently acted in his elected role counter to the unalienable rights of LGBTQ citizens & residents?Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Neil Obstat says:

      That, actually, was a basically “known thing” down in South Carolina, apparently.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Neil Obstat says:

      Sexual relationships like the one Strom Thurmond had were not uncommon from what I understand among the Southern elite. It is one of the many aspects of Jim Crow that made the system noxious and toxic. It is the very example of freedom for me (because I am elite) but not for thee (the Lovings were not elite, they were working class.) David Hackett Fisher covers the Cavalier version of Republicanism well in Albion’s Seed. The Cavaliers (the Southern Aristrocracy) believed in freedom and liberty for a small elite and no one else.

      I don’t know if Kim is right on Strom’s half-black child being a known fact in South Carolina but I would not be surprised if it was. It was a different world back then and the media thought they had a responsibilty to cover certain things up. They covered up FDR’s polio and paralysis or how bad it was. They also covered up JFK’s many affairs.

      Now we live in a different era and this stuff would not be covered up. The media back then felt it was important for the nation to cover up the frailties and hypocrisies of our leaders and politicians unless it was actual corruption. These days are gone.

      To answer your question, I don’t think “outing” Strom Thurmond would have helped or hurt the civil rights movement or the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Though these kind of hypotheticals are impossible to prove.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’m not sure if the news media knew about it.
        But I was sitting on a bus talking with someone who’s grandma went to college
        with the black woman Thurmond was … “dating?”, and apparently it wasn’t
        so hush hush.

        I’m more okay with public hypocrisy than private hypocrisy.
        Can’t blackmail if everyone knows about it already.Report

  7. Avatar Philip H says:

    @russell-saunders & Mike raise important issues. Both the Current President and the last Democratic one were (and occasionally still are) pilloried for their lack of military service while the Republican intervener between the two was ALSO pilloried for his military service not really being service. Yet it seems not to really have impacted their willingness to make decisions on the use of force once in office.

    Likewise, where and whether a man puts his . . . male member . . . when off duty often has little impact on his willingness or ability to support anyone’s political or moral position, much less vote for it. I’m cis-hetero (to use a term that Veronica Dire has used repeatedly) and so have no personal experience with life as either a transgender or homosexual male. And yet I can support full human rights for each group,including the right to marry based on both intellectual and moral arguments. That doesn’t mean I ALSO feel compelled to “out” members of either group simply for disconnects between their personal sexual practices and their public works. We as a Nation are way too puritanical in that regard.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Philip H says:

      Would you say the same if you could draw a direct connection between votes and
      their coverup of illicit behavior?Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to Kim says:

        Probably, though in that case I’d suspect we’d be looking at legal violations, not just moral or ethical ones.

        You have to understand that I was raised on Louisiana politics in the 1970’s and 1980’s, where corruption was a known, given fact. So how a politician chooses to live vs. what they support or don’t have been disconnected for my pretty much all my life. Hence my lack of desire for this sort of thing.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Philip H says:

      I read an article on this called the Politics of Spite which was an interesting thesis but one I am not sure I fully support.

      The piece was written as a response/critique to the What’s the Matter with Kansas argument. The theory is that there were more guys like Dick Cheney and George Bush than there were like John Kerry during Vietnam and this is a big psychological scar/shame for them and they sympathized with going after Kerry for his war record because they are all insecure bullies.*

      *That being said there are people like my dad who took a deferment to get out of Vietnam and are still as Democratic as Democratic can be.Report

      • I just read that article (my workplace is closed today, so I have time to loaf around), and I’m not sure I agree with it completely, either.

        However, I do think “spite” can explain a lot when it comes to people’s voting patterns. I know that in the past, I’ve for or against things or people out a motivation that can be called “spite.”

        The problem is that spite is hard to define and pin down. And I think it’s also intermixed with perceived self-interest, actual self-interest, and a wish to place others’ interests, or a greater interest, above one’s own parochial interest.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        Concurred. It is very hard to prove psychologically but I think that there is a lot of voting that happens because of real or imagined resentments and a kind of “chip on the shoulder” worldview.

        There was an article on buzzfeed about a teacher in Iowa who managed to lose 37 pounds and only ate McDonalds for three months. Someone I went to graduate school posted this as a kind of stick your tongue out against people who dislike McDonalds. A lot of people he was friends with posted that there are a host of other factors that could explain the weight loss and McDonalds is still not healthy. A while back, Palin and Limbaugh were touting a guy who lost a lot of weight while only eating junk/fast food. Again it is possible especially if you exercise and restrict calorie intake (both examples were very strict on eating between 1800-2000 calories a day) but it does not make McDonalds or junk food healthy.

        So this seems to be the politics of spite on perceived enemies. Liberals hate junk food, we hate liberals, therefore we love junk food. Combined with being anti-expert.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        ND, you realize that those counter-demonstrations (“See, you can eat at McDonald’s without going to pot!”) were in large part a response to a movie the movie from the guy who ate at McDonald’s in an intentionally unhealthy to make the opposite point, right?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        Liberals hate junk food, we hate liberals, therefore we love junk food.

        Cleek’s Law!Report

      • If we’re talking about aligning our positions in the spite war when it comes to junk food, I tend to align with the pro-junk food fashion. I admit that most of what’s called junk food is really bad, especially when eaten in the quantities that some people (e.g., me) eat it, although I’m not sure that many people eat it as much or as badly as the Supersize Me guy did.

        But there’s just a certain moralism against its consumption, and even against its existence, that turns me off.

        I remember having a conversation with Chris recently here about the gluten-free movement. At the time, I didn’t buy his claim that anti-glutenism was really a thing. But shortly thereafter, a friend of mine (who really is a kind and generous person, by the way) started informing us about the dangers of gluten and the benefits of gluten-free diets. This same person had, a few months ago, sent us as “a gift” a copy of the video “Forks Over Knives,” which in my not so humble opinion is a dishonest pro-vegan screed.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        Pierre, I’m not clear on your comment. You didn’t know that there were anti-gluten people? Or that it had transformed from people something for people who had gluten-intolerance into a belief that gluten is bad for everybody?

        I actually talk about anti-glutenism a bit in the first three paragraphs of this post (as a segway onto another subject, “Game”).Report

      • @will-truman

        I like that blog post you referred me too and I think I agree with it.

        To answer your question,

        You didn’t know that there were anti-gluten people? Or that it had transformed from people something for people who had gluten-intolerance into a belief that gluten is bad for everybody?

        I think it’s mostly the latter. For quite a while, I’ve know several people, my sister among them, who have some sort of gluten intolerance and who really seem to be doing better now that they’ve cut gluten from their diet. None of these people, as far as I know, is an anti-“MEDICAL ESTABLISHMENT!” type. They, along with their doctor(s), have simply come to the conclusion that gluten does something toxic to their system.

        My discussion with Chris was more that he brought up the latter-type people, and I had disagreed, claiming never to have met those. One reason I wrote my comment was as a mea culpa to Chris that I was wrong.Report

      • @stillwater

        Yes, that is pretty interesting. I guess I mostly agree, in large part because I’m mostly unfamiliar with the bandwagon part of the gluten-free bandwagon. I really resent it, however, when people send me unsolicited advice (or documentaries) on how I should be eating when they have only the slightest idea of what I eat and what my overall health needs are. In this case at least, I have a real, live example of someone doing so.

        I do have to admit, however, that I’m not above (or below?….I’ve always had a lot of trouble understanding that expression) doing the reverse-bandwagon thing that article’s author talks about. And if anti-glutenism becomes more of a thing in my own life, maybe I’ll become one of the spiteful. Not that I’d be right to do so, only that that tends to be my pattern.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to NewDealer says:

        No one’s saying that fast food is good—only that it’s neither all bad nor uniquely bad. No, french fries, soda, and chicken nuggets aren’t good for you. But they sell those things or their nutritional equivalents at almost all restaurants. Pick a restaurant at random, and there’s a 95% chance I can find something on the menu as unhealthful as anything you’ll find at McDonald’s. And there are plenty of things at McDonald’s that really aren’t significantly worse than an average home-cooked meal. But McDonald’s is a big corporation whose restaurants are patronized by the wrong kind of people, so it gets all the hate.

        And as Will points out, those McDonald’s weight loss stunts were a response to Spurlock’s film (which appears to have involved not only bad food choices but also straight-up fraud).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

        I had a student in my class who I’m pretty sure was/is somewhere on the spectrum. His mom was/is in deep denial about it. There have been a number of culprits she has blamed for his struggles other than what most of us think it is, including sensory integration/processing, minerals in the tap water, and vaccines. For a few years now, it is gluten and nitrates that have been her focus. She is convinced that the gluten and the nitrates are the root cause of the not-autism her son seems to have.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to NewDealer says:

        Nothing wrong with fat, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue, and ground bone.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Wrong? no. Bad value? hell yeah.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Philip H says:

      it seems not to really have impacted their willingness to make decisions on the use of force once in office.

      It may–possibly–have made them more willing, being personally unfamiliar with the horrors of war. Here’s a (redacted) abstract from an American Political Science Review article.

      Other research has shown (1) that civilians and the military differ in their views about when and how to use military force; (2) that the opinions of veterans track more closely with military officers than with civilians who never served in the military […] We examine the impact of the presence of veterans in the U.S. political elite on the propensity to initiate and escalate militarized interstate disputes between 1816 and 1992. As the percentage of veterans serving in the executive branch and the legislature increases, the probability that the United States will initiate militarized disputes declines. Once a dispute has been initiated, however, the higher the proportion of veterans, the greater the level of force the United States will use in the dispute.

      “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick? Veterans in the Political Elite and the American Use of Force.” Christopher Gelpi and Peter D. Feaver. APSR, volume 96, issue 4, 2002. Pp. 779-793.Report

      • @jm3z-aitch

        Not that I know the literature or the facts, but that seems to make a lot of sense.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        But does it? Granted I’m not the President, nor am I a veteran, but I do believe firmly that we’ve been too liberal in our use of force the last 20 or 25 years. I don’t need experience getting shot at in a jungle to rely on the wisdom f those who did, and who, frankly, are now getting screwed by the Nation they choose to serve.Report

      • @philip-h

        One of the examples I was thinking of was Eisenhower, who got the US out of Korea, avoided a third world war (albeit with a dangerous MAD nuclear strategy), and took measures to minimize the growing US involvement in SE Asia.

        Not sure if my anecdote works, however. Ike still intervened or supported intervention in Guatemala and Iran, and if he didn’t go whole hog into Vietnam, he adopted measures that kept open the possibilities that his successors might do so. Also, there are plenty of presidents who had significant military service and who adopted arguably prowarfare tactics, such as Truman (in Korea) and JFK (in Vietnam and in Cuba) and GHW Bush (in Panama and Iraq).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:


        I understand you. But keep in mind you’re an anecdote, and the researchers were using statistical evidence. There are always outliers, so we can always find anecdotes/individuals–and lots of them!–who don’t match the general standard.

        For example we know that men are taller than women…on average. But we’d have no trouble finding a particular woman who’s taller than a particular man we chose. Or to use another example, if 99% of Barack Obama’s 2012 voters are sane, we’d say Obama voters are sane. But that would leave us with over 600,000 insane Obama voters. That’s a lot of outliers, but they’re outliers nonetheless.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @jm3z-aitch ,
        The Problem I have with your reasoning – and t a certain extent the reasoning of those writing your paper – is that US Presidents (who are theoretically the ones making the final decision to wage war) are a statistically insignificant portion of the population (on account of there having been only 44 of them). While Eisenhower no doubt benefited form his time in uniform in terms of his willingness or not to wage war, a plurality of our Presidents were never in uniform, and so positing that military experience would have led to different outcomes is a stretch at best given the population size of U.S. Presidents. when assessed against that group, I’m not such an outlier, other then never having bee President that I can recall.Report

      • Was the article James cites focused only on presidents or other policymakers? You’re right that I, for one, used the example of the presidency, and that the president usually (at least since 1945 and arguably since 1900) has a strong, probably decisive role in whether the US goes to war.* But even in our post-WWII and post-Cold War era, the president’s NSA advisors and secretaries of state and defense likely play a role. And although Congress tends to rubber-stamp war actions, at (rare) moments, it (mildly and probably ineffectively) tries to act against them. I suspect one reason Obama decided not to intervene in Syria was the possibility that Congress might not approve, or approve only narrowly, the action.

        *At the same time, I’ll say that “theoretically,” it is the Congress who decides. Not the president.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:


        That’s why the researchers used data on legislators–there’s enough of them to make things statistically significant.

        Are presidents different? Sure, because they’re in a different institutional position. They might, as a group, be more likely to use force than legislators simply by virtue of their position as the one guy we hold accountable for national security issues. But even if their institutional position incentives them, as a group, to use force more than legislators would, it’s an entirely different–and much more speculative–issue to argue that this incentive would eliminate significant personal differences among presidents. So if there’s a real difference between vets and non-vets (both in the general population and in Congress, the researchers argue), we should expect that difference to continue among presidents.

        That doesn’t, of course, in any way invalidate your own position as a non-vet who would use much less military force. In fact I’m right there with you.Report

      • @jm3z-aitch

        That doesn’t, of course, in any way invalidate your own position as a non-vet who would use much less military force. In fact I’m right there with you.

        Speaking only for myself (also a non-vet), if the American public were misguided enough to elect me president, I would probably become a national-security statist as much as Obama, or likely worse, because I’d be building on his arrogations of power. In the abstract, I’m on board with you and Phillip H. In practice, I imagine I’d have a much weaker will to actually disregard the many institutional and other incentives that would urge me to stay the awful progression.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @pierre-corneille ,

        One other key difference between you and me – I’m actually a federal bureaucrat (though NOT on the national security side). Having lived and breathed federal bureaucracy, I have a better then most idea of how it really works, and how the internal power struggles usually play out. Which is to say that if I were to occupy the White House my first questiosn to the politicals and the generals would be what do the GS-9 analysts really think? In most cases, that’s where the realists in government are, and our politicians use then too little and generally too late.Report

      • @philip-h

        Yes, that is a real difference between you and me. I am at the very low (and probably among the most contingent) rungs of a state-level bureaucracy. However, I am several steps removed from anything resembling the types of power struggles, etc., with which you are probably familiar.

        But to truth tell, I think even the most experienced person would have to have a strong will indeed to overcome the national security incentives if they be made head of state/government. Not that you or @jm3z-aitch wouldn’t and not that no human couldn’t, just that it would be hard. Very hard.Report

      • Avatar Philip H. in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @pierre-corneille , you are correct the incentives and disincentives are strong, but they often succeed because people are ignorant of the real power structure and how to make it function.
        @burt-likko , I’m actually a GS-15 who worked his way up from a GS-7. But my Granddad was a career Marine non-com, and I learned early that a guy with three up and three down (the Marine enlisted equivalent of a GS-9) usually knows more about making things go then an O-6 or a Flag officer.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:


        I once had the opportunity to participate in a meeting at the State Department about U.S.-Muslim relations. This was in the Bush years. It took me about 3 seconds flat to figure out who in the room was career and who was an appointee. The career folks knew their stuff, didn’t ask stupid questions, and didn’t roll their eyes.

        (The best questions from appointees: 1) Why don’t the Muslims like us? We keep telling them how much we want to help them. 2) Why can’t you just tell us whether we ought to support the Sunnis or the Shiites in Iraq? You know there’s no way in hell a career State Department bureaucrat would ever ask a question that mind-bogglingly stupid.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        1) Why don’t the Muslims like us? We keep telling them how much we want to help them. 2) Why can’t you just tell us whether we ought to support the Sunnis or the Shiites in Iraq?

        Heh. As If the questions aren’t ridiculous enough, they’re ridiculously inconsistent anyway, no?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Heh, good point. I guess it would be fair to note they were asked by different people, but still…representing the same administration.

        The second question led to a long moment of silence as everyone just tried to digest it, a “did I really hear that?” moment. It also led to one of my few moments of triumph where I have the right comeback in a timely manner. I realized that his question was drawing on old Cold War theories of containment (should we back Warlord X or Warlord Y so that we can keep the commies out of this country?), and having long since grown sick of every Bush administration response to criticism be, “that’s pre-9/11 thinking,” I (the first to speak, and how fortunate was that?) said, “well, that’s containment policy; that’s really pre-9/11 thinking, isn’t it?” Which, I noted with enjoyment, rather shocked the questioner (a 20-something low level political flunky, the clean-cut Young Republican or YAFer type). Then a career person asked an intelligent question and we moved on to a more sensible discussion.Report

  8. Avatar Kim says:

    You so funny. Very, very funny.
    Blackmail material is ALWAYS the public’s business.
    Always, always, because it is how things get done in Washington.

    I do not mind if you speed, while publically saying you don’t want
    to speed (what, you think someone’s getting blackmailed over that?
    really?). I do mind if you cover up or bribe public officials to get off
    of a speeding ticket.Report