- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Michelle Obama is having “round table” discussions at various sites near military bases to discuss issues faced by military families (“Michelle Obama courts vital military families,” Politics, Thursday). A group known as Blue Stars for Obama, largely made up of military wives, has been asked by the Obama campaign to contact other military spouses and enlist/encourage them to attend and to, in turn, contact other military wives and ask them to do the same. It’s an attempt to infiltrate and extend support for Sen. Barack Obama in what has traditionally been a more conservatively leaning group, although the military is not as monolithic politically as many would think.

General knowledge of how the military leans is primarily conjecture, even if correct, because military members and families have historically — and for good reason — refrained from open participation in political campaigns under the mantle of their military position or venue. It is forbidden for active-duty members.

There is nothing wrong with the event concept if Mrs. Obama’s wish is to have a conversation with military wives to discuss their issues. It would be great if she could actually hear from wives who agree and disagree with her husband’s policies regarding the military.

The problem is in how the campaign is attempting to bring military spouses to the discussions with Michelle. They are asking members of Blue Stars for Obama to go out and seek other military spouses, who are not signed on to Blue Stars for Obama, in order to drum up large crowds for the events.

Some BSFOs are known to be contacting other military wives, urging them to take part in a political event; the rough equivalent of “undue command pressure” — unacceptable behavior considering that spouses of junior officers or enlisted personnel can sometimes be intimidated by a request or admonition from the wife of a senior officer or enlisted military member. After all, the senior officers and enlisted write or have input on the fitness reports for those under their purview (“I can’t cross the chief officer’s or master sergeant’s wife; her husband holds my husband’s career in his hands”).

Since the military member cannot take part in publicly supporting a particular candidate, it has always been understood among military wives that it is also inappropriate for a military member’s spouse to use her position in the military community to solicit others toward her personal political views via access she has gained to e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other networking avenues available to her within the military context.

Mrs. Obama probably is not aware of that aspect of military protocol. However, it is upsetting to many military wives - those who honor the protocol and also believe in their own right to support any political person or ideology they choose as long as they don’t proselytize as representatives of the military - that the time-honored practice is being subverted by the Obama campaign and by military spouses who seem not to understand the line they are crossing.

It is entirely appropriate for Mrs. Obama to hold these discussions. It is appropriate for her husband’s campaign to get out the word that she is coming to the area so that those military spouses who want to attend can do so. It is another matter altogether for the campaign to ask Blue Stars for Obama - military family members themselves - to contact and try to enlist other military spouses to that end. That brings politics, and the polarization inherently involved, into the sisterhood of military wives, a place where good order and unit cohesion are just as important as they are to the units of military members. The military should not be politicized on the staff or distaff side; it is clear the Obamas do not have a historical view of how the military community operates best and are capitalizing on military spouses who also lack such understanding.

SUSAN PERCY

Clifton, Va.

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