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August 13, 2008

Is Obama Politicizing Military Spouses?

Unfortunately I don't have much time this morning for an extended comment on this story:

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…

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.

In 27 years in the active duty Marine Corps, I have never - ever - seen anything like this.

One of two things is going on:

1. Barack Obama's campaign undertook this "infiltration" campaign without bothering to consult anyone with even the most elementary knowledge of military rank structure, culture and protocol, or

2. They had military advisors, but chose to do this anyway.

Either way, the result is not good.

Are they incompetent? Or just so full of overweening ambition that they chose to disregard centuries-old traditions which have withstood the test of time for good reason (and which, quite frankly, anyone with an ounce of sense ought to have been able to foresee, even absent a military background).

You decide.

This wasn't brain surgery. The only up side here is that a certain cranky Marine wife now feels considerably less guilty about losing her cool over the Obama campaign's previous shenanigans earlier in the week.

Update: Predictably, Oliver Willis is still waiting for the big blue clue bus to arrive:

Over at Michelle Malkin’s place they’re all a-twitter over Michelle Obama meeting military spouses, but they apparently had their fainting couches out for cleaning when in 2004 Bush held campaign event after campaign event using the military as a backdrop.

No, Oliver. We knew Michelle was meeting with military spouses last week. That isn't the issue, and if you were honest you'd admit it. But that would require you to face what the Obama campaign is really doing:

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....

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”).

The Obama campaign is free to advertise their events on military bases (the same as any political candidate would) and military folk are free to attend.

What is NOT acceptable is for a political candidate to encourage military personnel and/or their spouses to actively solicit participation in such events. It is that part which crossed the line between simply making an event available to all personnel on the base and mobilizing the military command structure to swell the ranks of attendees at Mrs. Obama's roundtable discussions.

Not kosher. Not by a long shot.

Update II: This took me a long time because I do have a full time job and I can't blog during work. However, I took the opportunity during my lunch today to do some additional research on this. On the Obama website, there is a Blue Star blog for military supporters of the campaign. I was able to locate a sample letter put out by the campaign. It contains guidelines for contacting other military spouses:

If you'd like to forward this letter to other people, please keep in mind the following rules that keep the important distinction clear between official military business and personal business:

* Do not send this letter to any official DoD (.mil) or government (.gov) email address.
* Do not send this letter to any DoD or government fax machine or mailing address.
* Do not use any DoD or government equipment or supplies in forwarding this letter or any other official Blue Stars communications.
* Do not forward this letter, unsolicited, to any spouses who are subordinates of your family member/service member.
* We discourage members from sending this letter, unsolicited, to any family member in their service member’s chain of command

If you are aware that any of the above actions are occurring, notify Heidi at BlueStarsForObama@gmail.com.

I have to say that I still do not like the idea of using military spouses to proselytize for the campaign. Bases have ample means available for publicizing upcoming events. However, based on this letter it does appear that BSFO are mindful of at least some of the problems associated with what they are doing and have attempted to set some guidelines.

It is important to me to get this right, especially in a campaign where way too often, unfounded and somewhat hysterical accusation are being tossed out like penny candy.

Posted by Cassandra at August 13, 2008 08:02 AM

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Comments

I vote for Number 2! But these military wives should not be willingly playing along. They can't claim that they don't know better.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 13, 2008 09:47 AM

I see that the Engineer is retired as of this day.

Congratulations and thanks, sir.

Cricket is thus completely free to point out procedural and moral errors to said military spouses.

In her usual understated way, of course.

Congratulations and thanks, Bad, Naughty Cricket. :)

Posted by: socialism_is_error at August 13, 2008 09:49 AM

Couldn't agree more, mr rdr. But then I'm consistently appalled at what people are willing to do these days. And a lot of the younger wives don't think about things like 'undue command influence'.

I don't expect a wife (necessarily) to think like that. I *do* expect the future Commander in Chief of our armed forces to know better. And if he doesn't, his advisors ought to set him straight in a hurry.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2008 11:14 AM

Cassandra is right on this issue. The most the 'voting officer' in each unit (I don't know about the Navy or the Marine Corps so set me straight on this one) can do is encourage the service member to either register to vote, update their voting information if they haven't registered to vote absentee, point them over to the library where they can research the issues using a variety of media and that is it. Anything more or less than that is not serving the interests of the servicemembers.

I should know because the Engineer did that for awhile. I just read this to him and he wanted to know if Bill Clinton was Obama's military advisor...

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2008 11:47 AM

A large clue bat, of considerable size, weight and mental density, needs to held in front of the nose of MO's opinion shapers whilst they contemplate future effects of this idiocy. Either that or keep on swinging your own not inconsiderable clue bat yourself.

The BHO bunch has no clue about anything except winning, and that seems to be their sole (Soul?) goal, at any cost. God Help Us All!

Posted by: DougW at August 13, 2008 11:52 AM

The Obamas don't seem to like us very much--and by "us," I mean the vast majority of Americans. They think we are almost all either oppressors or suckers, and this is particularly true of Michelle.

Her level of disdain for us is so strong that it will be difficult to hide, and I suspect that most military spouses will figure out the real nature of this woman pretty quickly.

Posted by: david foster at August 13, 2008 12:00 PM

SWWBO already did. I did see MO's 'for the time I am proud of my country' nonsense and wanted to snatch her baldheaded.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2008 12:22 PM

Well, Ill give you points for thoroughness and journalistic integrity. I still think that it's playing it a bit close to the flame, and wouldn't be at all surprised that more than a few military members and their spouses will think likewise.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 13, 2008 02:42 PM

That sounds a lot like the "threaten the Republicans" campaign of Mr Mattzie and his Accountable America

Posted by: ZZMike at August 13, 2008 02:49 PM

I don't like it either, mostly because I can't imagine doing such a thing for any candidate I supported (even given the "guidelines"). That is just such a no-no in the military community - it crosses all kinds of lines and if you mount that kind of campaign, no matter how many times you warn people or how many 'guidelines' you put out, some idiot will abuse them or someone will misunderstand.

That is why you never, never go there. The military is not like the civilian community. It just isn't, and I can't understand why such an obvious thing is beyond the Obama campaign. But then when you read his ridiculous "Plan for Military Families", that's no surprise.

I got mad all over again just reading it. I wish I had time right now, but I don't. However, I will revisit this, because it is garbage.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 13, 2008 03:10 PM

I found this post really interesting. I'm an old reader, now an army wife, and completely agree that this sounds awfully sleazy, even if they are *technically* trying to "play by the rules" by setting up specific guidelines.

There are several things that bother me about this that I want to mention. First of all, new military wives, of all ranks, may not understand the "unspoken" rule that you avoid any kind of undue influence over other military members or their family members, especially when it comes to politics. They also might not understand what they can/should do about it if the wife of a higher ranking soldier (regardless of whether the soldier is her husband's direct superior) tries to influence her politically.

Here's an example: Say a new LT's wife (or even just an LT's wife who doesn't pay much attention to military etiquiette) knows that she shouldn't email such a letter to the guys in her husband's platoon, but she knows a few wives of lower-ranking soldiers in another company, and sends it to them. In my mind, this still violates the "unspoken rule" because said specialist's wife might feel intimidated due to the fact that the sender's wife was an officer (any officer), regardless of whether he was her husband's direct officer.

I know that if a Col's wife (even if her husband's position was unrelated to my husband's) approached me with a similar proposition (very unlikely to happen, as usually Col's wives know what is and what isn't appropriate), I would be plenty intimidated and concerned. Yes, I would feel pressured, and part of it is because you never know where that Col is going to be 2 or 5 or 10 years from now. For all I know, said Col will be my husband's commanding officer, or the base general of a post we get moved to. Especially for those military families who plan on being career, even stretching the definition of "undue influence" a little bit can be very disconcerting. *shudder*

Posted by: Emily at August 14, 2008 04:36 PM

I found this post really interesting. I'm an old reader, now an army wife, and completely agree that this sounds awfully sleazy, even if they are *technically* trying to "play by the rules" by setting up specific guidelines.

There are several things that bother me about this that I want to mention. First of all, new military wives, of all ranks, may not understand the "unspoken" rule that you avoid any kind of undue influence over other military members or their family members, especially when it comes to politics. They also might not understand what they can/should do about it if the wife of a higher ranking soldier (regardless of whether the soldier is her husband's direct superior) tries to influence her politically.

Here's an example: Say a new LT's wife (or even just an LT's wife who doesn't pay much attention to military etiquiette) knows that she shouldn't email such a letter to the guys in her husband's platoon, but she knows a few wives of lower-ranking soldiers in another company, and sends it to them. In my mind, this still violates the "unspoken rule" because said specialist's wife might feel intimidated due to the fact that the sender's wife was an officer (any officer), regardless of whether he was her husband's direct officer.

I know that if a Col's wife (even if her husband's position was unrelated to my husband's) approached me with a similar proposition (very unlikely to happen, as usually Col's wives know what is and what isn't appropriate), I would be plenty intimidated and concerned. Yes, I would feel pressured, and part of it is because you never know where that Col is going to be 2 or 5 or 10 years from now. For all I know, said Col will be my husband's commanding officer, or the base general of a post we get moved to. Especially for those military families who plan on being career, even stretching the definition of "undue influence" a little bit can be very disconcerting. *shudder*

Posted by: Emily at August 14, 2008 04:39 PM

I found this post really interesting. I'm an old reader, now an army wife, and completely agree that this sounds awfully sleazy, even if they are *technically* trying to "play by the rules" by setting up specific guidelines.

There are several things that bother me about this that I want to mention. First of all, new military wives, of all ranks, may not understand the "unspoken" rule that you avoid any kind of undue influence over other military members or their family members, especially when it comes to politics. They also might not understand what they can/should do about it if the wife of a higher ranking soldier (regardless of whether the soldier is her husband's direct superior) tries to influence her politically.

Posted by: Emily at August 14, 2008 04:40 PM

Whoops. Accidently posted several times 'cause I didn't think it was working. Sorry 'bout that.

Posted by: Emily at August 14, 2008 04:41 PM

'S okay. Some things are *worth* repeating.

Posted by: BillT at August 14, 2008 04:46 PM

Exactly :p

Great comment, Emily - I'm glad you spoke up! I had thought of a few of those points, but didn't want to monopolize the conversation. And you expressed them better than I would have anyway, plus you added ones I didn't think of.

Posted by: Cass at August 14, 2008 04:55 PM

The reasons Emily mentioned are why I would never dream of doing something like this.

It's like my husband said the other night - obviously they just don't care/understand that in the military even the appearance of wrongdoing is something you shy away from. Also, as Emily pointed out, I learned over the years that even if I don't feel intimidated by senior wives, often other people do.

One of the most disconcerting things about watching my husband rise through the ranks has been the reaction of other wives - and not just those in our command. Many become visibly uncomfortable around you - just because of your husband's rank, and it has nothing to do with you.

You can put many at ease over time, but some will never be able to forget it.

Posted by: Cass at August 14, 2008 05:00 PM

Reminds me of an incident from about '71 or '72. There was a speaker at an Officers' Wives luncheon in the now-defunct "O" Club at Ft. Dix. Before the speaker began, she told the ladies to take their seats in order of rank, and there was a bit of shuffling around as Mrs. Colonel deferred to Mrs. BG, then the several Mrs. LTCs and -- you get the picture.

Sitting in the rear was a 2LT WAC who was married to a Captain in one of the BCT Brigades.

Madame Speaker looked over the assemblage and announced, "I asked you to seat yourselves in order of rank, but the only one of you with any rank is sitting in the rear. You have seated yourselves in the order of your *husbands'* rank."

Great reshuffling ensued...

Posted by: BillT at August 14, 2008 05:29 PM

The undue influence being what it is, is why many units had a voting officer to do nothing but ensure the right to vote was made available to everyone. No electioneering, and any political events that were to take place on the base usually were cleared for posting by the PAO, and as far as the Engineer knew, not even the orderly rooms had such announcements in order to avoid fights, undue influence, etc. Such notices were posted at the library and published in the base newspaper.

BillT, too funny!

Posted by: Cricket at August 15, 2008 01:10 PM

Bill, very funny. I always found it a little amusing that so many military wives would use screenames that would say something like LAW (Liberal Army Wife) or "Marine wife" or some such thing in relation to their husbands.

I try to make an analogy to what kind of behavior men do that would be like that, and always fail.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 17, 2008 06:49 PM

I always found it a little amusing that so many military wives would use screenames ... in relation to their husbands.

I think it's kinda neat, myself -- KtLW did the same thing when she picked her e-mail handle.

I think it expresses commitment beyond the traditional assumption of the husband's surname, because the act of picking a screen name is a *pure* choice -- one of the few which an individual can make that is absolutely free of external pressure.

Posted by: BillT at August 18, 2008 12:48 AM

I learned from a qualified *expert* (my Mom - a 24 yr milspouse herself when my Dad retired after 28 yrs) that, regardless of their husband's rank, my name has the exact same thing in front as Cass, Carrie, Cricket, et al: Mrs.

Posted by: DL Sly at August 18, 2008 02:15 AM

Ymar:

I think that is because few men see their identity as having anything to do with someone else whereas for women, their identity is often tied in with caring for others (either that, or large parts of their lives end up being determined by the actions of someone other than themselves).

This is especially true for military spouses. The term "dependent spouse" always annoyed me, but when you're married to someone in the armed forces, you don't have much control over the circumstances under which you live your life.

Posted by: Cass at August 18, 2008 06:35 AM

You mean dependent spouse (DS) doesn't stand for drooling spouse? I feel upgraded.

*running away*

I think military spouses do try to separate themselves from the military for that reason.
When you cut us, do we not bleed?(William Shakespeare)

Posted by: Cricket at August 18, 2008 09:19 AM

When you cut us, do we not bleed?

If I cut you, Grim would pound the living daylights out of me. Then they'd lock me up. And everybody else would pound the living daylights out of me.

So, I can't answer the question, because I have no desire to gather the necessary empirical data.

Posted by: BillT at August 18, 2008 11:11 AM

Bwahahahahaha! Grim won't pound you too hard.
Seriously though, I had it a whole lot easier than my mother did. She and I shared a lot of insider snark about the military that left my other siblings in the dark, service brats though they are.

We used to go shopping together at Fort Ord whenever we drove down to Salinas from Ft. Lewis.
Or we would get a movie at the library, have lunch at the officer's club. I have some happy memories; but there the times she would say that the Army had changed for the better, and that she was glad I didn't have it as rough.

Posted by: Cricket at August 19, 2008 09:59 PM

hey Obama always remember that I am gonna be yo number one fan an don't never forget that. Once the other day at school. A white boy came up to me and said that he is not voting for obama because he is black,and I told him thet it doesn't matter what is your race it matters about what can you do to change our country.
P.S Hope You Win The 2008 Election!!!!!!

Posted by: Kierra Carr at October 29, 2008 04:30 PM

Thank you #1 fan.

And don't forget to stay tuned in folks for another random burst of synaptic, carbon-arc pitted testimonials in our next installment of Deep Thoughts...

Posted by: Jack Handy at October 30, 2008 06:48 AM

Because you're good enough, you're smart enough and doggone it, people like you.**
Have a joy, joy day!

(** - the views expressed in this comment do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, half-vast staff nor the assembled knavery.)

Posted by: J. Jones at October 30, 2008 11:16 AM

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