One of the common tropes in the War on College is that the academy is so politically homogeneous and liberal. And that accusation is pretty much accurate. Poll after poll shows that academics are far more liberal than the rest of the country. I don’t need the polls to tell me this. Compared to the rest of the country, I’m a RINO-type moderate. Compared with the rest of the academy, I’m slightly to the right of Attilla the Hun.
Once this point is acknowledged, conservatives usually press on to raise a follow-on query: Isn’t this a real problem? If academics are liberals, won’t they discriminate against conservative students and faculty and warp the minds of impressionable college students? Isn’t this a problem that needs fixing?
My response to this answers a question with another question: Do you think the U.S. military needs similar political pluralism? Because the military is the doppelganger of the academy. Which suggests that neither profession needs political re-education.
Political scientists have known that the military is more conservative than the rest of the country since Samuel Huntington’s “The Soldier and the State.” A Military Times survey of more than 2,200 active-duty personnel released last month, however, suggests that the military has become more sympatico with the more libertarian tea party ethos:
In the last nine years of the Military Times Poll, the percentage of respondents who consider themselves Republican has slowly dropped, from nearly half of those surveyed in the late 2000s to just 32 percent this year. Increasingly, readers are more likely to describe themselves as libertarian (9 percent) or independent (28 percent).
Likewise, readers who described themselves as “very conservative” have remained steady over the years, but “conservative” respondents have dwindled as well — down to 29 percent from a high of 41 percent in 2011.
Democrats and liberal readers make up about 8 percent of the poll respondents….
Duke University political science professor Peter Feaver, a former George W. Bush National Security Council adviser, said the rise in popularity for independent and libertarian positions among troops comes as little surprise to him.
“The military follows national trends but lags and skews conservative,” he said. “The libertarians’ sensibility fits with some of the military’s profile more naturally, particularly the ‘don’t tread on me’ kind of mentality.”
Army Maj. Wayne Lacy describes himself as a libertarian but said he has seen some of his fellow soldiers gravitate away from the Republican Party line and toward tea party candidates.
So, even as active-duty personnel grow increasingly disillusioned with the GOP, they are still far more conservative than the rest of America.
Inevitably, this has had an effect on support inside the military for President Obama:
[O]ne thing is clear: [President Obama] is a deeper unpopular commander in chief among the troops.
According to a Military Times survey of almost 2,300 active-duty service members, Obama’s popularity — never high to begin with — has crumbled, falling from 35 percent in 2009 to just 15 percent this year, while his disapproval ratings have increased to 55 percent from 40 percent over that time.
So is this lack of support for the current commander-in-chief a problem? Nah, not really.
First of all, there have been no widely reported instances of soldiers disrespecting the president (psst… NYPD members… take note). Second of all, the military has implemented the Obama administration’s edicts on gays in the military, women serving in combat, and more training designed to reduce sexual assaults. And as the Military Times story suggests, the polled service members have grown more accepting (to varying degrees) of each of these concepts during Obama’s time in office. In other words, even if members of the U.S. armed forces do not like Obama, they are accepting and implementing his policies.
This is what a profession does. Regardless of political or personal proclivities, professionals do their job based on their training, guided by the codes and standards of the discipline. In the military, this means that soldiers respect the chain of command and adhere to their honor codes. In the academy, this means a divorce between one’s political views and what one teaches in the classroom.
Indeed, Pheobe Maltz-Bovy’s profile of Very Lefty Professor Corey Robin in Tablet makes this point plain. The profile details Robin’s political views and adroit use of social media at length, but buried in the profile is this tidbit:
One line he keeps strict, however, is between his anti-Zionist activism and his teaching. On his blog, he chastises an unnamed male reporter for finding it hard to believe that the topic would never come up and for “not understanding the difference between what we do inside the classroom and what we do outside the classroom.” …. For Robin, academic activity and world-at-large activism are deeply linked, but he insists that the classroom is not the place for a professor—or, at least, for him—to express him- or herself politically.
Robin’s views on the divide between what goes inside and outside the classroom is a common one in the academy. Because academics are part of a profession, much like soldiers are part of a profession.
So the next time someone suggests that the academy needs more political heterogeneity, consider whether the same imperative applies to the military. For me, the norms of both professions make me far more sanguine about the current situation. But maybe the problem isn’t these professions, but rather the erosion of trust in professions (except nurses) altogether.