This November will mark the second time that I have been eligible to vote in a presidential election. I was barely nineteen years old when it came time to cast my ballot in 2004. Like any other teenager, I was clueless about the world of politics. I read only the front page of newspapers. I didn't know what a blog was, much less read them. It's safe to say that I was in the realm of the uninformed but not undecided; my parents were voting for George W. Bush. I shook his hand at a 5K in Dallas when he was still my governor. I figured that was good enough.
My vote wasn't cast in a school gym or a courthouse. I filled out my absentee ballot on the floor of my company area in the closing weeks of basic infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Though our superiors were to remain apolitical during the process and not recommend one candidate over another, it was our first foray into the belief that the military heavily favors conservatives. They told us how badly in shape Bill Clinton left the Army, and any liberal was sure to do it again. My drill sergeant, "Hurricane" Harris, told us the news of who won in an unusual way. He asked those who voted for Kerry to raise their hands. A few hands went up in an embarrassingly slow movement. "Well, he didn't win!" Hurricane proclaimed with a laugh. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief.
With an entire enlistment and a fifteen month tour in Iraq behind me, I'm a bit more in tune with politics and the candidates than I was four years ago. I consume news and information at an obsessive rate, but my attention is focused on veteran's issues and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't care about Obama's smugness or McCain's ridiculous amount of houses. I don't give a shit about Michelle's lack of patriotism or Cindy getting high on her own supply of painkillers. In the end, it comes down to the treatment of veterans and what to do with those sticky territories where we still have American soldiers under fire.
I really want to like John McCain. He gets automatic points for being a fellow veteran and his well-known experience of a POW for 5 1/2 years. He should know the VA system like the back of his hand, I imagine. But by the belief that conservatives will always have the military in the tank, they can afford to burn us when it comes to pro-veteran and pro-military legislation. Even if some of us notice their betrayals, we still make up a tiny constituency. To them, we don't hold any sway. Otherwise they wouldn't treat us like scraggly dogs - smacking our nose after tossing us the table scraps.
There are plenty of minuses in the column of John McCain regarding these issues, but I'll cover the main reasons he has turned me away from his vote this year.
1. Opposition to the new GI Bill
This is the big one, the vote where veterans watched with bated breath to see if a new GI Bill would replace the outdated and underwhelming education benefits package. The outcome was literally going to change lives. With its passing, veterans could attend any school they want and have it paid for. If it was struck down, only a fraction of tuition costs would be covered. It came to no surprise that the bill was extraordinarily well received by politicians in an election year, but there were a few unsurprising holdouts. President Bush and his administration opposed it as being overly generous. My own senator, John Cornyn, opposed it for the same reason. When I called his office to learn why, his aide offered nothing more than it would encourage too many people to leave the service (that claim was later destroyed by the same report they cited). Cornyn stood by McCain as he offered his own watered down, toothless counter-bill, an insult to veterans who didn't luck out and land a slot in a military academy. It was a pathetic attempt to derail popular support for Webb's bill.
When the time to vote came, only two senators sat it out. One of them was Ted Kennedy, at home recovering from his brain surgery. The other was John McCain. He managed to miss the vote not once but twice, his maverick image tarnished by not taking a stand with a vote after publicly opposing the bill. Much to the chagrin of Bush and McCain, the GI Bill passed resoundingly. But what followed after that was even more outrageous. Forgetting about the newfangled internet, McCain went out took credit for the GI Bill, using the imaginary transferability issue to claim victory:
A lot of people put work into the bill. Politicians like Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel wrote and carried the bill under fire from Bush. Veteran's organizations like Vote Vets, IAVA, the VFW and American Legion helped to raise public awareness about the bill and lobby Washington. McCain, on the other hand, had a simple choice: to stand with fellow veterans and get the bill done, or side with the conservatives he hoped to woo in the election. Clearly, he went with the latter while taking the credit of the former.
2. The Elephant in Afghanistan
For the life of me, I can't recall John McCain having any sensible plan for Afghanistan, a place more dangerous per capita than Iraq and with a fraction of the troops. While the surge brigades crowded Baghdad, Afghanistan demanded attention that still has not been met. Obama has pledged at least two brigades to be sent there, a decision that would immediately ease the chaos on the porous border with Pakistan. McCain cannot make that same pledge; those brigades would be tied up in Iraq waiting for that ever so vague moment of victory. We're starting to see the price of not enough eyes on the objective when bombs start falling. Our resources are elsewhere, and that hinders American forces in Afghanistan that are trying to keep a lid on escalating violence.
3. Underwhelming Voting Record
I'll let the numbers speak for themselves here. IAVA scored legislative voting in 2006 after identifying what would benefit active duty servicemen and veterans. McCain gets a D, Obama a B+. It'll be interesting when they release the 2008 scores this fall. To read up on the methodology and to see a bunch of (R)s get Ds, download this document.
A little less damning is the Disabled American Veteran's group scoring, simply "with us" and "against us." John McCain scored 11 with us and 16 against us, with 5 not scored. And Obama? 17-1-1.
4. Plans for Leaving Iraq
This issue is almost baffling in its simplicity. Obama's plan to get out of Iraq is pretty similar to what the Iraqis want. McCain opposes this, insisting on a blank check approach. There is no telling if McCain would reverse any agreement made by the two governments on a definite date of departure.
Some might suggest that I should vote for McCain because he is a fellow veteran. These are the same people that suggested Kerry was a bad choice four years ago. Despite his many, many detractions, he still set foot in Vietnam when his opponent did not. Though Obama hasn't served, he has proven to have a positive impact when it comes to veterans. I admire McCain's past, but I cast much doubt on his vision of the future.