Former Arkansas governor and former Fox News show host Mike Huckabee said some things on Thursday night. It was part of what the New York Times called a "happy warrior" pose Huckabee might be planning to adapt.
There was that stuff about taxing pimps and prostitutes. (Yes, really.) And, then there was little commentary on the military that was, well, not very attuned to the usual GOP frequency on all things military, country and flag. It was also not very accurate.
First, let's deal with the facts. Here's how those military comments came to pass.
MODERATOR: As commander in chief, how would you handle [whether to allow transgender people to serve in the military]?
HUCKABEE: The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things.
It's not to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people think would make us a different country and more diverse. The purpose is to protect America. I'm not sure how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines makes our country safer.
And, that set off a bit of a Twitter tornado, spinning across the left and the right with some large bits of Twitter-appropriate snark whirling inside.
— SaidyDigital (@saidydoll) August 7, 2015
— Bryan Lowry (@BryanLowry3) August 7, 2015
— Paul and Storm (@paulandstorm) August 7, 2015
By Friday, Huckabee's language became a trending topic on Facebook.
Part of the reason that people on the right and the left found reason to take issue with Huckabee's claims is that there was just so much there.
First, the purpose of the military has and does include killing, as Huckabee said. But there's also the defending, the peacekeeping, the rebuilding, the search-and-rescue work and the high- and low-level diplomacy that are pretty well-documented parts of most military careers.
The military also invests pretty significantly in research that has helped to develop all sorts of medical and technological advancements -- oh, like this here thing called the Internet. As a result, the military and its needs have been the impetus behind not a small share of private-sector jobs. Military contracts are also an important source of work for the disabled.
(The virtual scrum around military contracts and the intensive lobbying that happens anytime the words "base closure" come up in Congress offer a clear testament to all of the above.)
Second, on Huckabee's claims that the military has no role to play in transforming society -- and the related implication that a diverse armed forces has little to do with the military's defensive aims -- there's a lot of evidence to contradict him there too.
More than a few intelligence officers, officials and defense agencies have been clear about the need to recruit and maintain soldiers and agents who look like the population of the United States. Understand that that's a pretty common and evidence-grounded idea inside both defense and intelligence agencies -- even if not always aggressively perused -- for both for optical and tactical reasons.
The clearest example: A man who looks and sounds like Huckabee might have just a little harder time gathering information covertly right now than an American with ancestral ties to the Middle East or Africa, who speaks multiple languages with the fluency of an early-in-life learner or who is deeply familiar with the customs of other countries.
And the military has played a key role in promoting diversity. When President Harry Truman ordered the military to integrate (and in the decade or so that it took for that to become real), prohibitions on which jobs, housing and food non-white members of the military could access weren't the only things that changed. Once given the chance, African Americans mastered the art and science -- and they, along with Latinos and Asian Americans, managed all sorts of ground-based military missions and engaged in complicated or perilous tasks with white soldiers.
That life-long bonds forged between soldiers is a well-known phenomenon. But high-ranking former military officials have also submitted information in court cases involving Affirmative Action, workplace discrimination and other issues. When they did, most said this plainly: When the military opened its doors fully, it gave all kinds of people all kinds of opportunities to train, to gain skills and to travel the world. The military gained new sources of talent. And in the process, widespread notions about black intellectual and/or moral inferiority also took at least a bit of a hit.
In fairness, Huckabee's comments seem to have largely been an attempt to critique what he considers a frivolous expense. He objects, in his words, to spending on gender-transition surgeries and related health-care instead of newer, better military equipment.
While that health care is hardly a widely agreed-upon matter, it's also worth looking at the price tag of such medical care.
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, estimates that health-care services sometimes needed by transgender individuals can cost between $25,000 and $75,000. And the Williams Institute, a think tank that centers its work on LGBTQ issues, has estimated that there are about 15,000 transgender people who currently serve (mostly unknown to their colleagues) in the military. If every one of these men and women were to require, say $75,000 in medical services in a single year related to their gender identities, this would amount to about $1.1 billion.
That figure may sound like a lot off-hand. But, it doesn't even come close to the $55 billion total price tag the Pentagon put on the most recent version of the B-52 bomber around which it is making plans. That's $550 million per plane. (A subsequent estimate in 2013 put research, development and production costs on those planes at closer to $810 million each. That would boost the total cost of the Pentagon's B-52 order to $81 billion Bloomberg reported).
So, Huckabee the Happy Warrior might have scored a pithy line. And it garnered some applause. But it was also a vast over-simplification.