The Issues at Stake

The story of Gary Stein as portrayed in the mainstream media reads this way: an active-duty United States Marine was discharged for criticizing the president on facebook. NBC (via msnbc.com) says:

“The U.S. Marine Corps has decided to discharge a sergeant for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook.”

If true, this would represent a gross violation of the rights to self-expression all Americans hold very dear.

Conservative media and activist groups have adopted the proudly conservative Stein as a poster boy, saying he was railroaded because his political views differed from the current president’s. From the website of Oath Keepers, a conservative group:

“This [situation] is all because Sgt. Stein dared to found the Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page, and because, on a separate Facebook page run by someone else, in a discussion thread conversation with other Marines, Sgt. Stein strongly expressed his opposition to some of Obama’s unconstitutional policies and expressed his intent to refuse unlawful orders.”

Fortunately for our society, not to mention the fabric of our armed forces, (1) the mainstream media has oversimplified the issues involved and gotten this case’s interpretation completely wrong, and (2) the conservative media and its allies have also missed the major point of Stein’s discharge.

Here are three examples of Stein’s publicly available writing:

“Screw Obama…I will not follow all orders from him.” (source: CNN, April 14, 2012)

Sergeant Stein has called the president “the economic and religious enemy.” (source: Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 2012)

Stein called the president a “domestic enemy,” echoing words in the Marine Corps enlistment oath (source: The Hill, April 25, 2012). What Stein seems to miss, ironically, is the rest of the oath. Here it is, in its entirety [my emphasis added in bold]:

“I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

So, this is not a matter of an American citizen expressing political opinions, whether on facebook or elsewhere. This is a matter of maintaining our trust in civilian authority over our military. By his writings, Stein has called into question his commitment to fulfilling his sacred oath as a Marine, specifically, his intention to follow the orders of the democratically elected President of the United States, no matter who that president happens to be. Marines don’t get to decide whether or not they’ll follow the president’s orders based on their particular party or political philosophy.

The American electorate gets to make that call.