I share Derb’s ambivalence. I think if Tillman returned alive, he would and should have received great praise, just as he deserves posthumously. But I don’t think that his service — or anybody else’s — automatically confers the presumption of his opinions being right on any save a very narrow band of issues. I trust my “air power guy,” for example, to have more valuable opinions than my own on avionics, military strategy etc. But it does not follow that if he said “you’re wrong on tax cuts” that I should give his opinion any more weight than anyone else’s. And even if he said I was wrong about the B2 bomber, he’d still owe me an argument. “Because I say so” is a winning argument only for God and parents.
In a sense there’s a vague whiff of identity politics which gets stirred up in these discussions. The left loves to say that because a person is black or a woman or if they grew up poor then their views on affirmative action or social policies deserve greater respect beyond the merits of their actual arguments. For example, statistically speaking if you grew up poor odds are you’re going to be worse on economics than if you grew up rich. And yet, we constantly hear about the “moral authority” on economic issues of people who grew up poor. What does one have to do with the other? Does growing up in a refridgerator box make you better at regression analysis? I’m being crass of course, but you get the point.
When it comes to military experience, I have no problem with the traditional conservative attitude that service in uniform is a sign of good character. But good character and good thinking are not synonymous. And I think that in the modern era where the media make personality matter so much more than they did in the past many Americans, conservatives and liberals alike, confuse the two. In short, facts and reasoning should stand independent from the person offering them. Are we supposed to believe that John Kerry or John McCain are more expert than John Keegan? Maybe so, but only if we actually hear their arguments about a specific subject.
Anyway, I tried to get into all of this in a funnier way in this column.