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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rejecting and Denouncing

posted by on May 22 at 15:55 PM

John McCain rejects, after months of controversy, the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee. (Hey, everyone’s gotta reject a pastor this campaign season…)

McCain went on to point out that, unlike a certain Democratic rival, he hadn’t actually gone to Hagee’s church.

In the denouncing department, McCain is furious with Barack Obama for criticizing him today on the Senate floor over a vote on a bill that would expand veterans benefits. War-hero McCain found himself in the difficult position of voting against the bill while 25 of his Republican colleagues voted for it, helping it to pass. Said Obama:

I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill. I can’t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans.

What did McCain say in response? Sit down and get comfortable, this is a long one. (And perhaps a sign that he’s a wee bit touchy about this?)

It is typical, but no less offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of. Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for President is different than serving as President. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can’t always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America’s veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim.

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years. My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. I grew up in the Navy; served for twenty-two years as a naval officer; and, like Senator Webb, personally experienced the terrible costs war imposes on the veteran. The friendships I formed in war remain among the closest relationships in my life. The Navy is still the world I know best and love most. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well .

But I am running for the office of Commander-in-Chief. That is the highest privilege in this country, and it imposes the greatest responsibilities. It would be easier politically for me to have joined Senator Webb in offering his legislation. More importantly, I feel just as he does, that we owe veterans the respect and generosity of a great nation because no matter how generously we show our gratitude it will never compensate them fully for all the sacrifices they have borne on our behalf.

Senators Graham, Burr and I have offered legislation that would provide veterans with a substantial increase in educational benefits. The bill we have sponsored would increase monthly education benefits to $1500; eliminate the $1200 enrollment fee; and offer a $1000 annually for books and supplies. Importantly, we would allow veterans to transfer those benefits to their spouses or dependent children or use a part of them to pay down existing student loans. We also increase benefits to the Guard and Reserve, and even more generously to those who serve in the Selected Reserve.

I know that my friend and fellow veteran, Senator Jim Webb, an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously, has offered legislation with very generous benefits. I respect and admire his position, and I would never suggest that he has anything other than the best of intentions to honor the service of deserving veterans. Both Senator Webb and I are united in our deep appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives so that the rest of us may be secure in our freedom. And I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.

The most important difference between our two approaches is that Senator Webb offers veterans who served one enlistment the same benefits as those offered veterans who have re-enlisted several times. Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all veterans, but increases those benefits according to the veteran’s length of service. I think it is important to do that because, otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment. At a time when the United States military is fighting in two wars, and as we finally are beginning the long overdue and very urgent necessity of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, one study estimates that Senator Webb’s bill will reduce retention rates by 16%.

Most worrying to me, is that by hurting retention we will reduce the numbers of men and women who we train to become the backbone of all the services, the noncommissioned officer. In my life, I have learned more from noncommissioned officers I have known and served with than anyone else outside my family. And in combat, no one is more important to their soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, and to the officers who command them, than the sergeant and petty officer. They are very hard to replace. Encouraging people not to choose to become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly. As I said, the office of President, which I am seeking, is a great honor, indeed, but it imposes serious responsibilities. How faithfully the President discharges those responsibilities will determine whether he or she deserves the honor. I can only tell you I intend to deserve the honor if I am fo rtunate to receive it, even if it means I must take politically unpopular positions at times and disagree with people for whom I have the highest respect and affection.

Perhaps, if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully. But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election.

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Telling potential recruits you have to re-enlist to get the full benefits makes it a harder sell. Whereas giving greater benefits after only one term is more attractive. So if the bill that passed cause some to leave sooner rather than reenlist, it will also bring in more new troops. It's a wash.

Posted by elenchos | May 22, 2008 4:03 PM

Wow - if he gets this long-winded when he loses a floor vote, how long will his concession speech be in November?

Posted by Ziggity | May 22, 2008 4:05 PM

shorter mccain:

this bill would discourage soldiers from re-enlisting in an endless, unwinnable war that I helped start, therefore I cannot support it.

Posted by brett | May 22, 2008 4:08 PM


Posted by Jeff | May 22, 2008 4:09 PM

Worth noting: the existing system offers the same benefits to 1-termers as to career soldiers.

And it's been around since long before the current retention problem started.

Posted by lostboy | May 22, 2008 4:16 PM

note: McCain hasn't bothered to show up in DC to vote on anything since March, apparently...

Posted by heh | May 22, 2008 4:20 PM

That's pretty fucking high and mighty from Mr. "Bomb Bomb Iran".

Posted by monkey | May 22, 2008 4:39 PM

shorter mccain:

this bill would discourage soldiers from re-enlisting in an endless, unwinnable war that I helped start, therefore I cannot support it.

Bang. Fucking. On.

Posted by Tiktok | May 22, 2008 4:40 PM

@1, it's easier to retain folks than find new ones - esp. lately!

And experienced NCO's count for quite a bit, esp. when there's an actual shooting war going on.

Still waiting for a Republican to stand up and say this stuff's expensive and we need to worry about deficits (this week.) Maybe W. will if he tries to veto it. C'mon, W., say something stupid...

Posted by CP | May 22, 2008 5:23 PM

Oh, and add this to the list of things that McCain is older than: Pearl Harbor attack!

Posted by CP | May 22, 2008 5:29 PM

McCain's is a very good answer, sure to impress many. He is speaking to a VAST electorate of his generation that we underestimate at our great peril. He really sounds like a Democrat, in the way he carefully explains his position, a lot like Kerry or Obama himself.
This is going to be a tough election, make no mistake.

Posted by calvin | May 22, 2008 6:52 PM

I still say we should give him back to Vietnam.

Posted by Heather | May 22, 2008 6:54 PM

This is like that argument that if you had a decent welfare system then no one would want to work a shitty job for starvation wages.

Heaven forbid that poor people would have an option for receiving medical benefits other than serving in the military! And heaven forbid that the military might become too generous with its benefits! Without being forced by poverty into "service", how many people would be idealistic enough to really WANT to serve as part of the US military occupation of Iraq?

Posted by Trevor | May 22, 2008 7:04 PM

Oh. My. God. Old people can really prattle on, can't they? If he tries to yammer on like that to the American public at large, they'll lose him after 15 seconds.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 22, 2008 7:27 PM

Oh, but I can't wait for McCain to have to defend this bullshit during the debates.

Posted by Ryan | May 22, 2008 9:10 PM

I feel safe saying this since comments on this post seem to have tapered off: I REALLY (and I mean REALLY) hate to admit this, but he's got a good point. Career soldiers are career soldiers because they WANT to be, because they LOVE what they do, and because they are GOOD at it. They aren't the ones that are in for the benefits. Of course there are exceptions to that "rule" but that is the majority. Having spent 7 years serving, I think I can safely say that. Anyone who joins at this point has to know that they are going to deploy. Anyone who says their recruiter told them they would never deploy is full of shit. I also agree that soldiers that serve longer should get better benefits. A lot of people enlist because of the initial benefits (e.g., enlistment bonuses, tuition reimbursement) but decide it's not for them and get out after three years. They're no less honorable than the ones that serve for 20 or 30, but they did sacrifice much less than the lifers and should be compensated as such.

Posted by DanFan | May 22, 2008 9:40 PM

fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck... there are no boobies or swear words, how am I s'pozed to get through it? Can someone please summarize what those 8,000,000 words were trying to say?

Posted by Lose-Lose | May 22, 2008 10:24 PM

What calvin said @11.

McCain is using the kind of language that grabs middle America. Veterans understand this logic. Obama supporters better get ready for a battle. I think it is going to get really ugly and you all know McCain has a decent chance of winning this thing.

Posted by Jamey | May 22, 2008 11:37 PM

16 --- DanFan, True. However, some cherry probably has the same chance of getting killed his first patrol as the guy beside him who may be in his second, or even 3rd, rotation. 11 & 18, Spot on, I agree.

Our people in uniform have volunteered to put themselves in harms way. The LEAST we can do for them is pay for their education after they get out.

Posted by Bitterly Remembering The Last Time | May 23, 2008 1:49 AM

If this is the level of debate, then I say "Right ON!" I loves me a wonky debate that makes me feel like I learned something instead of trading talking points.

Posted by NaFun | May 23, 2008 6:17 AM

Parts of that speech sound an awful lot like "You can beat be in November if you make Senator Webb your running mate."

Posted by steve | May 23, 2008 6:44 AM

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