In recent years, Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri has been something of a rarity in his party–a voice of moderation and sanity on defense issues. Over the course of a 30-year career in the House, Mr. Skelton has been a consistent champion of the armed services (and those who serve) supporting the weapons modernization programs, along with pay and benefit increases for those who wear the uniform.
But, apparently, even Congressman Skelton knows when to toe the party line. Appearing on Lou Dobbs’ CNN program last night, Skelton paid deference to the incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (Charlie Rangel of New York), and his warped ideas about those who serve in the U.S. military and make the sacrifices that come with service. While acknowledging that the all-volunteer military has been a tremendous success, Skelton quickly echoed Rangel’s talking points about who serves–and who may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice:
“The downside, of course, is — and I recently ran the statistics — the downside on this, as most of the deaths that have occurred in Iraq are young people that come from small-town America or from the inner city. Charlie Rangel should be credited with pointing out the fact that people in the military do not represent a broad spectrum of America.”
What rubbish. First of all, Congressmen Skelton didn’t offer any of the “numbers” he recently ran, so the validity of his casualty analysis is suspect, at best. Moreover, his assertion that the military does not represent a broad spectrum of America is a downright lie, as evidenced by the often-cited, 2005 study by the Heritage Foundation. Studying demographic data of U.S. military recruits over a three-year period (2003-2005), Dr. Tim Kane found that today’s enlistees are a reflection of society at large. Among the key findings from his study:
In summary, the additional years of recruit data (2004Â–2005) support the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on average than their civilian peers.
Recruits have a higher percentage of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distribution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.
Demographic evidence discredits the argument that a draft is necessary to enforce representation from racial and socioeconomic groups. Additionally, three of the four branches of the armed forces met their recruiting goals in fiscal year 2005, and Army reenlistments are the highest in the past five years. A draft is not necessary to increase the size of the active-duty forces. Our analysis using Pentagon data on wartime volunteers effectively shatters the case for reinstating the draft.
In fact, Kane’s analysis found that poor neighborhoods are underrepresented in today’s military, negating Skelton’s claims that the sons and daughters of the needy are dying in disproportionatee numbers in Iraq. Indeed, the only group that seems to bear a greater burden (in terms of military service) are southerners, and in particular, those from rural areas below the Mason-Dixon line. However, southerners have long answered the call of the armed services (for a variety of reasons) including the fact that a military career has long been viewed as a honorable calling in that region. In other words, many recruits from the south sign up because they choose to, not because they have to.
Congressman Skelton ought to know better–and probably does–but there is clearly a limit on how far he’ll go in bucking Charley Rangel. As the Ways and Means chairman, Mr. Rangel will exert considerable power, influencing issues that affect Mr. Skelton’s rural district. Calling Rangel an idiot on national TV would be poor form (if not accurate), and have a decidedly negative impact on programs that would benefit Skelton’s Missouri constituents. So, we can only hope that Skelton’s ill-advised comments were nothing more than a sop to his fellow Democrat, and not a reflection of his own views on the military. If a genuine Democratic “defense expert” believes blatant lies about those who serve and bear the brunt of combat casualties, then our Congress–and the military–are in real trouble come January.
If you’d like to let Mr. Skelton know how wrong he is on these issues, here is contact information for his office in D.C., and his district office in Missouri.