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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

McCain's Stand on Veterans is to Stand on Veterans

John McCain poses with veterans
The ABC News blog, Political Radar, summed it up this way; "Obama Tells Veterans: 'I WIll Not Let You Down'." Speaking to a town hall in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Obama told vets:

We should make sure that today’s veterans get the same benefit that my grandfather got when he came back from World War II. It was a good investment not only for him, but it was a good investment for the country, built our middle class. So we're gonna make sure that that get's passed. Because we gotta have outstanding educational opportunities for our veterans when they come home.

"I will cede to no one the ability to talk about veterans’ issues," Obama said. "John McCain will have to decide whether he thinks that the current level of benefits is sufficient. If he does, then that’s a substantive debate that we’ll have in November."

Do I need to add that it was Memorial Day yesterday? For his part, John McCain spent his day defending his stand on increasing vets benefits under the 21st Century G.I. Bill -- he's against it. His reasoning mirrors George W. Bush's in that he's afraid that if you give veterans decent benefits, active duty personnel will quit to become veterans.

"In my life, I have learned more from noncommissioned officers I have known and served with than anyone else outside my family," McCain said at a competing New Mexican event in Albuquerque. "They are very hard to replace. Encouraging people to choose to not become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly."

Except the current debate is over a bill authored by Virginia senator Jim Webb -- former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan -- that merely updates the benefits given to veterans of WWII to the present market. In other words, this is catch-up. McCain's and Bush's arguments ignore history; the original G.I. Bill didn't destroy the military and bring America to her knees. McCain, who makes his political living posing as America's leading veteran, stands in opposition to almost every veterans' organization in the nation -- virtually all major vet groups support Webb's bill, including the typically right-leaning VFW. McCain, clearly, does not stand for veterans here. McCain stands for the military and puts that institution above the people of whom it's comprised.

Since McCain's opposition to the bill is identical to Bush's and since their arguments are likewise identical, a Memorial Day NYT editorial applies just as aptly to Baghdad Johnny as it does to the Commander in Chief.

He is wrong, but at least he is consistent. Having saddled the military with a botched, unwinnable war, having squandered soldiers’ lives and failed them in so many ways, the commander in chief now resists giving the troops a chance at better futures out of uniform. He does this on the ground that the bill is too generous and may discourage re-enlistment, further weakening the military he has done so much to break.

So lavish with other people’s sacrifices, so reckless in pouring the national treasure into the sandy pit of Iraq, Mr. Bush remains as cheap as ever when it comes to helping people at home.

And, while Bush was "pouring the national treasure into the sandy pit of Iraq," McCain's only real complaint was that he wasn't doing it fast enough. McCain's stand on Iraq has always been "more" -- more personnel, more money, more blood, more death, more throwing our reputation in the world down the toilet. With Baghdad Johnny it's always more, more, more. Like Bush, he assumes that if what you're doing isn't working, you do more of it. Unlike Bush, he comes to that conclusion months sooner.

Except, of course, when it comes to the G.I. Bill and veterans' benefits. Then the mantra is "less, less, less." Plenty of medals to hand out, many posthumous, but anything that might make these volunteers choose to improve their prospects outside of the military is bad. John McCain, as much as he talks about veterans, can't convincingly argue that he stands for them. McCain stands for the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, the Veterans' Administration, but not the veterans. Get down on that ground level, where you see that armies are made up of individual people, and John McCain is nowhere to be seen. He's hovering high above, where an army is one thing and the only reference to individuals is in the BS catch-phrase "support the troops."

A catch-phrase rendered meaningless by the lack of support it represents. Like those damned. stupid bumper magnets that people put on their cars or those idiotic little flag lapel pins that the Republicans pretend you're required by law to wear, McCain's support of the troops is for display purposes only. John McCain supports the troops in much the same way that a mattress sale supports Presidents' Day -- i.e., he doesn't. Veterans are just an excuse to run a sale on John McCain.

Of course, in Bush's case, the White House has a strategy; when you're getting bad press, attack the media. In a response to the NYT editorial, the White House said that the paper "doesn't let the facts get in the way of expressing its vitriolic opinions" and that the "editorial could not be farther from the truth about the President's record of leadership on this issue."

If had been about McCain -- and, as I've pointed out, to a certain extent it is -- you could expect the Straight-Talker to try to spin his way out of it in a very Bushian way.

It's bad enough that Bush hides behind soldiers whenever the going gets tough -- expect him to be surrounded by military personnel when he vetoes Webb's bill -- but when the opportunity arises to do them any good at all, he runs. This is shameful behavior from a US President and it's just as shameful from a presidential candidate like John McCain. If you think praising veterans while stabbing them in the back is a wonderful thing for a president to do, Baghdad Johnny's your man.

In the competing vet events yesterday, Barack Obama came out on top -- clearly and inarguably. John McCain's stand on veterans is to stand on veterans. To use them and, when you're done with them or they're rendered unusable, to throw them away. McCain's view on vets is a typically Republican view; a sink or swim argument that's loaded with market-tested words and phrases like "bootstraps" and "personal responsibility."

Bush will veto Webb's bill. And John McCain won't vote to override. He probably won't vote at all, showing that, for all his heroism and valor, he's a political coward.

Barack Obama proves that you don't have to be a vet to care about vets, while John McCain demonstrates that being a vet doesn't automatically mean you give a damn. There's one veteran in the world that we know John McCain cares about and that's John McCain. As far as caring about any other vets -- well, there's no evidence of that.


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