By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
An officer and a gentleman,
Standing on a soapbox,
Crying, I'm a POW and a Vet.
But you haven't done anything for us yet.
You claim Stars and Stripes, freedom for all,
Unless you are homeless, have suffered a fall.
Why must you lie for political gain?
Do you have an answer, Mr. McCain?
In August, a Gallup poll showed McCain well ahead of Obama among vets (mainly, the pollsters said, because McCain is a Republican). More recently, a non-scientific poll released this month by the Military Times showed that vets preferred McCain 3-to-1 to Obama. That would be a coup for McCain, although those surveyed by Military Times were older, whiter, and more senior in rank than the general armed services population. But the Center for Responsive Politics reported this summer that Obama had received about $74,000 in political contributions from active military personnel, compared with McCain's $16,000.
If nothing else, John McCain's voting record on veterans issues is a stunning example of hypocrisy, coming from a guy who owes his fame to his celebrity status as a former POW.
In an effort to rehabilitate himself after the Keating Five scandal and show he wanted to stop government overspending, McCain made Arizona a sacrificial lamb, refusing to request or support any earmarked spending. Every year, millions of dollars are appropriated to specific projects in individual states. Some are boondoggles, to be sure, but others are good programs, including many for veterans. Citizens Against Government Waste, which has made McCain its poster boy, publishes a list every year of programs the group and McCain dismiss as pork.
There are no projects marked "Arizona" in the veterans-related "pork" that Citizens Against Government Waste has listed for the past several years, but the list targets dozens of programs in other states designed to help veterans.
For 2008 alone, the list included:
• $277,000 to train veterans to be teachers in Pensacola, Florida,
• $196,000 for a computer lab for disabled veterans in Providence, Rhode Island,
• $196,000 for renovation, construction, and build-out for a low-income veterans housing program in southeastern Massachusetts,
• $147,000 for construction of affordable housing for homeless veterans in San Diego,
• $196,000 for housing homeless veterans with special needs in Denver.
McCain voted against them all, just to make a point.
Point taken. The saying goes, "Hate the war, love the warrior." In McCain's case, it almost seems reversed.
John Adams, chairman of Arizona Veterans for Obama, recalls that in the second presidential debate, McCain called for a spending freeze on just about everything but veterans services. "His record belies the fact that he would promote Veterans Affairs expenditures," Adams says. "John McCain's record shows that he has been untrustworthy."
About McCain's love for the war, his celebrated support of the troop surge in Iraq when so many others shunned the idea, Adams says, "We ought not to fight wars unless we have to. The lesson of the surge is not that we've been able to limit violence . . . it's that we've been able to delay our withdrawal by another two years."
The surge that McCain has backed, Adams adds, has cost the United States $10 billion a month and at least another 600 lives.
In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, published in 1999 as his first presidential bid went into full swing, McCain admitted that he received better treatment than his fellow Hanoi Hilton prisoners, because of his father's status at the time as a high-ranking Naval commander. Not that prison camp was a walk in the park for him — to this day you can see the scars of war as he makes his way across a stage to speak.
But McCain doesn't dwell in his books on how much his life was different from the lives of his fellow soldiers — after the war.
McCain endured painful physical therapy in his quest to fly again, but he didn't have trouble getting treatment. His biggest career challenge was persuading his military bosses to allow him to study at the War College; as he wrote, he pulled strings with now-Senator Warner (his father's old friend during Warner's time as Secretary of the Navy) when he was told his military rank didn't qualify him for the placement he wanted.
McCain had come home in 1973. By 1980, after a prestigious stint as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate (landed through his father's influence), he'd met a much younger and richer woman, Cindy Lou Hensley; ended his first marriage to Carol McCain, who herself had been gravely injured in a car accident while he was in Vietnam; and taken off for his new home, Arizona.
He'd also given up the military for a career in politics.
He was pretty much a one-note wonder in a crowded campaign in 1982 for the congressional seat being vacated by John Rhodes.
"Thanks to my prisoner of war experience, I had a good first story to sell," he and Mark Salter wrote in a later memoir, Worth The Fighting For, published in 2002.
McCain emerged from a crowded Republican Party to take the congressional seat he'd come to Arizona to claim. From the start, McCain toed the GOP line — even if it meant crossing his fellow vets. In 1983, he was the featured speaker at the state Disabled American Veterans convention. Before he spoke, the DAV's state commander took the stage to sharply criticize the Reagan administration's lack of support for veterans benefits, despite campaign promises to the contrary.