By David HIll - 02/25/14 06:52 PM EST
As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stood at his podium this week, announcing the Obama administration’s intent to shrink our troop size to levels not seen in three-quarters of a century, he kept staring down at his notes.
He should have been looking up. I’m surprised a shoe wasn’t flung in his direction.
Thinking as a pollster about how the public will react, I have little hard data. The size of “the military” has been such a noncontroversial topic since Sept. 11, 2001, that there are almost no extant polls on the topic, surely none that dive into the topic as deeply as the Hagel-Obama proposals force us to explore.
Do Americans “like” the military? That is, does the military have a favorable image? I say yes. Do Americans feel that the military is doing a good job? I say yes. Do Americans feel they are so secure that they are willing to reduce our force size? I say no. Does the military cost taxpayers too much? The answer might be yes, but if that is the topic, everything about government costs too much.
The more appropriate question might be whether the men and women in uniform should be on the wrong end of cuts not proposed for other programs and expenditures, including entitlements, corporate subsidies, paper-pushing bureaucrats’ salaries, benefits and pensions, and so forth.
This is such a dopey political move. Because the reductions hurt reserve and National Guard units in every little nook and cranny of the country, not just regular and deployed troops, every local politician and governor will be obligated to scream bloody murder. For their convenience, Hagel made the announcement while the governors were in town for their winter National Governors Association meeting, allowing them to immediately express, in near unison, their reservations to TV cameras. The networks also pounced, with a bevy of “military experts” exposing the folly of cuts.
In some potential swing states, like Indiana, which is one of the most sympathetic states to the military in the nation, the reaction will be harsh, especially when the next shoe falls, and Hagel unveils additional, whispered proposals that will force soldiers to pay more for their housing and mandate higher healthcare charges for veterans. There are also more base closings in the offing. Indiana knows all about that. Enough will be enough. And Hoosiers won’t be the only Americans who are hornet-mad.
We see Syria decimated on the nightly news. Downtown Kiev is burning on our TV sets. Cairo is a powder keg ready to explode. There is a lot of heavy weaponry in places we barely know, in the Middle East and the old Soviet republics. Iran is intent on getting nuclear weapons. Zany Kim Jong Un is readying his well-armed and insane crew for mayhem. Weather disasters have created military deployment disasters for months here at home. Meanwhile, China’s People’s Liberation Army, across the Pacific, has more than 2 million personnel. And in response, Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama have decided to downsize all our forces. Brilliant!
The last poll I could find on the topic, conducted by Gallup just over a year ago, showed that only 35 percent of Americans thought we were spending “too much” for “national defense and military purposes.” This hardly constitutes a mandate for the Hagel-Obama cuts.
But, of course, this is a recurring theme. This president and his minions play to their base at every opportunity, from healthcare to Keystone XL, siding with one-third of Americans against the other, right-thinking two-thirds.
It’s just what they do.
Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.