Empty Words – and Actions
As this year's Memorial Day holiday draws to a close, it's fitting to note that some good news has come out of Capitol Hill. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008, the bill that extends full educational benefits to our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, sailed through the U. S. Senate by a decisive 75-22 margin.
So, the new G.I. Bill now moves to committee, where the next step is to reconcile it with the House version before it is sent to President George W. Bush's desk for his signature – well, veto.
All 22 "nay" votes were Republicans, most of them from the usual flock of chicken hawks who love to pound their chests about the glory of warfare, but draw the line at materially supporting our men and women in uniform (never mind actually donning one). No real surprises there.
And as one can see, three senators didn't show up for the vote. One of them was Ted Kennedy (D., MA), who certainly had a good, if unpleasant, reason for his absence. Another one was Tom Coburn (R., OK). Who knows what he was up to that day. And the third one was...none other than presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R., AZ).
So, where was the maverick, straight-talking, troop-supporting Senator McCain that afternoon? Attending a fundraiser in California.
That's right. Begging for campaign money was a higher priority for John McCain than voting to support Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Never mind that fellow Senators Barack Obama (D., IL) and Hillary Clinton (D., NY), also embroiled in their own presidential campaigns, still found time to go to Washington to cast their votes.
But the well-being of our troops just wasn't a big enough deal for the man aspiring to serve out Bush's third term. He's learned well from his mentor and idol, at least.
And what reasons is John McCain offering for opposing this bill? Well, this is where it gets really embarrassing for him.
Senator McCain is saying that passing this bill would hurt troop retention, conjuring up images of war fighters bolting for the exits as soon as their three years are up.
He's saying that it's "too generous" to give educational benefits to troops who've spent "only" three years in the battlefield.
It's hard to fathom exactly how insulting and condescending Senator McCain's attitude is here. Is he essentially calling our troops nothing more than a group of unpatriotic opportunists who joined the armed forces only for the benefits? One would think that combat veteran John McCain, of all people, would be well aware that there are far less dangerous ways to make a living in America.
The funny thing is that the McCains of the world never fail to use every photo-op available to praise our troops for their courage and resolve. So, is he now telling us to disregard all those previous expressions of admiration – that our troops are just mercenaries looking to make a quick buck? That's exactly what he's insinuating with his stated reasons for opposing this new G.I. Bill.
That's offensive enough. What's even worse is that President Bush has stated that he opposes this bill, and promises to veto it. In other words, the man most responsible for embroiling our troops in this destructive war, a man who never experienced combat himself, is now balking at the idea of adequately rewarding our troops for their service.
Amazingly, there are still those who continue to insist that Republicans "support the troops." But not that many; Bush's approval ratings roughly coincide with those of scurvy.
And John McCain stands right by him. That's our maverick.
So, when November rolls around, just remember who was there for our troops – and who wasn't.