COLUMBUS, Georgia — When it comes to military matters and foreign policy, the election of 2012 is unusual in several ways. The nation is still engaged in conflict abroad — and yet neither Afghanistan nor overall foreign policy itself is an overriding electoral issue. It’s also the first election since 1944 in which neither candidate has served in the military.
So how do military men and woman, their families, and those who live in areas heavily dependent on the military view this election? Interviews near Fort Benning, Georgia, a large Army base, opened a window on some of their concerns and opinions.
Overall, Romney seemed to have an edge, though few people interviewed were truly enthusiastic about him. There was also an undercurrent of concern about how far right the Republican Party has veered. Some found it disconcerting that neither major party nominee had been in the service.
“For me, it’s like voting for the lesser of two evils,” said Krista Watts, 28, whose husband is an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Benning. “It is very difficult for me to get enthusiastic.” Watts, who is pregnant with her second child, said she thought military service should be a requirement for those who want to be president.
Sergeant Major Lewis Worrell, 51, who has three decades of service under his belt, said he had considered Obama back in 2008, but was put off by the controversy over Rev. Wright’s inflammatory remarks, and found it hard to believe Obama could have attended his church regularly without being aware of Wright’s sentiments.
“That kind of turned me off,” said Worrell.
Worrell, whose son is also in the military, had reservations about both parties. He thought the Democrats were too liberal, and that Obama had wasted too much time pushing health care, without sufficient concerns about cost controls. That said, he also thought the Republican Party had veered too far to the right, noting that though he didn’t support an unrestricted right to abortion, “there are times where abortion has a place.”
Still, when he added it all up, Worrell said he’d be voting for Romney.
Yet others who normally voted Republican weren’t so sure. Thelma Swindal, 51, of Phenix City, Alabama, whose father spent 30 years in the Army, said she was only lukewarm about Romney because he hadn’t strongly identified with the military. Swindal was pleased that Obama had brought our troops home from Iraq, but had misgivings about the escalation in Afghanistan. She was open to hearing the incumbent’s case for a second term.
“I can’t wait to hear Obama’s speech,” she said.
Not so Kim Mitchell, 51, of Atlanta, whose father was also career military. Romney struck her as a humble man who would keep the military strong, while judged Obama “arrogant.” Yet Mitchell said she had misgivings about the very conservative stands of Paul Ryan, Romney’s ticketmate.
“I’m comfortable with him [Romney}, but not happy with his vice presidential pick,” she said. “He’s too far right, too conservative on social issue. But he and Romney have a chance to turn things around. All Obama is doing is adding to the debt.”
That was a reframe that recurred: Obama and the Democrats are running up the debt – and giving away too much in government benefits.
Antoinette Brady of nearby Buena Vista felt that “Democrats want to give away the world.” Her opinion had been shaped in part by the dishonest GOP charge that the Obama administration has eliminated the work requirement for welfare.
Others said they just didn’t think Obama’s policies had worked.
Reddy Kumbham, a 39-year-old physician from Columbus, said he had liked Obama four years ago, but “pretty definitely” was going to vote for Romney in November. He was particularly skeptical about the stimulus.
“If it worked, I don’t see signs of it,” he said. “I’m not an expert on economics, but I don’t see it.”
That was not an across-the-board sentiment, however. Kenneth Jordan, 61, a former Marine from Columbus, felt Obama had done a good enough job in his first term to merit a second.
“I think Obama had done the best that he can,” he said. The loss of jobs to cheaper foreign labor wasn’t the president’s fault, Jordan said, citing a local factory whose owner had reluctantly moved his own operations overseas because he simply couldn’t compete against rival firms that benefitted from cheap labor costs.
He credited Obama for pushing to extend unemployment benefits for those who couldn’t find jobs in the laggardly economy, and said he appreciated the president’s efforts to make sure everyone has health insurance.
While he himself had care, “You have a lot of folks walking the streets who don’t have anything,” Jordan concluded.