Monday, September 01, 2008

A Veteran's Case Against John McCain

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.


raven said...


Nice explanation of your position. The 3d of September marks 39 years since I came home (the day Ho Chi Mihn does). I was 19, two months short of my 20th so I couldn't vote for 14 months. You are light years ahead of where I was in terms of understanding what's going on. I knew Vietnam was bullshit and that Nixon and LBJ were skunks but beyond that I was pretty stupid. Your writing us great, keep up the fire.

Rick98C said...

Everything you wrote sounds right except for one thing. What are Kerry's many negatives in regard to veterans? The guy didn't just set foot in Vietnam he fought in combat. Then he had the balls to come out against the war when he knew the entire military establishment would condemn him. I thought it was amazing that those "swift boat warriors for truth" or whatever the hell they were called managed to turn Kerry into a pussy and Bush into a hero. I must admit that Bush is WAY better than Kerry at sending other people to war. The power of propaganda.

Doug Robertson said...

Your blog fascinates me, even though being quite liberal I don't always agree, but I'm not out to change anyone's mind and it seems that you're not either, and you think for yourself and your posts are always very thought-provoking. I admire that. Obviously I'm an Obama guy, can't stand McCain, really, but just wanted to butt in with a kudos for a most excellent post here, and a most excellent blog. I hope you keep on.

Demeur said...

I think you covered most of my talking points I've covered on my blog here. I think McCain like Bush would love to send the military into Iran and then we're at 'here we go again'. Our military is being run down and worn out. We can't afford anymore preemptive wars. They are too expensive in terms of money and lives.
I think McCain is one of those Hoo Rah boys that you don't want as a leader.

Hardtack said...

Sounds like you have thought about the issues that are of a concern to many combat vets. You have looked at the candidates, but from what I have read, still debating on whom to vote. I understand that.

In many ways, I am not happy with either candidate. One talks about change (and that is it), and the other made decisions while in Congress I really disagreed with.

For me, it comes down to what type of future does each candidate espouse. Having children changes your outlook. You are looking towards the future, and what type of country will our country be when your kids grow up and take over. Will we still be the same country, or will we be another socialist country and be compared to France, or Britain, or Canada?

But you have done an excellent job voicing your opinions; and you will vote.

Misty Fowler said...

Thanks for being so detailed about why you've come to the decision you have. It's an impressive read.

Trina said...

I too appreciate your explanation of your position. I admire McCain for his past, his voting record is concerning. I worry about Obama and his lack of experience.

Jennie Simpson said...

From one Texan to another, great job on thinking the issues through and giving those of us not in the military a good perspective.

RB said...

Great read. Thanks for point me to the IAVA scorecard. I dropped the data into Excel and bar-charted the scores showing party affiliation. It's pretty clear which party "supports the troops" with their votes. Talk is cheap.

Zach said...

thanks Dude, I forwarded this to some people I know - this is one of those posts that makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

for you I hope you like it

abstractjenn said...

Your post is fabulous- thanks for being so detailed.

I'm wondering if you might be able to help me find the latest information on the number of troops who have been deployed to OIF. Oddly enough I cannot find this information anywhere.

Thank you!

13 Stoploss said...

Good stuff. For many of the same (though unwritten) reasons, I am made up about being against McCain.

Mind if I link to you?

Anonymous said...

Since you know sooo much about Iraq, and obviously how to fix it, why are't you back over there instead of quitting when they apparently need someone like you? Why don't you run for office if you dislike being over there? You're either part of the problem, or part of the solution is what I've always been told, (I'm sure you've been called a problem before) and I AM very active in politics, albeit on a State level, and MAY be running for congress the next election. (2010)

Just a thought...

Alex said...

I think you're onto something, anonymous. But why stop with Iraq? I believe in evolution, so I suppose it's time to get my PhD in science. I'm for capital punishment, so hopefully I can go up to Huntsville and pull the switch next time.

What I could do, in all seriousness, is become an independent embed and go to Afghanistan. That is, if you'd like to bankroll insurance, equipment and a plane ticket. It's not free last time I checked. I'd like to do that, something that can add to discourse, but it's not possible right now. Also, if I were to go back, how much influence would a lower enlisted infantryman wield on policy? Not too much, I imagine.

Good luck on your election, and remember: if you lose, you're part of the problem.

Patrick Britton said...

While I feel McCain is the better of the two I respect and appreciate your perspective. I've always found it confusing for someone in the military to vote for the Democratic Party when their support of the troops hasn't always been solid.

However, you have presented an argument that I haven't heard before. Love the blog and will keep up to date with it.

The BreakUp Coach said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I admire your cool-headed replies to some of the sillier comments you get. I agree that the current situation with McCain and much of the GOP is to pay lip service and talk about supporting the troops while not actually supporting them: not voting for the GI bill, inadequate body armor and other equipment, disgraceful conditions at armed forces hospitals, no real effort to fix an outdated and underfunded VA system. It amazes me how many people seem to think that saying you support the troops over and over constitutes actual support. Before my grandfather, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War and longtime Republican, passed away last year we talked about how disgusted he was with the way the government was treating the troops and veterans. It kind of seems worse to me that McCain is himself a veteran, yet doesn't actually support them with his actions.

Anonymous said...

A beautifully written post. Good Bless You and all of your fellow vets. Wish all of you veterans would go public with what you know and think. Senator Obama needs all of the help he can get. Too many of middle America believes everything that McCain tells them, even all of the lies.

Big Sherm said...

Nice blog man! You really put a lot of information out there that should be shared on all of the media outlets. Thank you for your service to our country!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! Like you, I was dumbfounded to find out that McCain didn't vote for the improved GI Bill. With our Army stretched thin as it is, and recruitment getting harder and harder, you'd think McCain would see the value of the bill. I firmly believe that service to country should be a main reason to join the military, but you better believe that I'm going to talk about this great incentive when I start recruiting (recently DA selected for it).

Richard D. said...

Alex, thank you for your blog and comments. I have been reflecting much since I read your initial post.

I am fourty-four years old and had not until 2000 awakened myself to the state of my country at home and in the world. The son of an Air Force Colonel, I graduated from law school but did not practice, but rather took away from it a larger understanding of governance and jurisprudence, and diversity among people.

I am listening.

I envy you, in part, as a young man who is aware, who seeks to be informed,and acts to improve the state of our country. As I said, my awareness came late, almost too late to affect significant change within the remainder of my life.

As you and those like you are the Captains of our future, I am releived to find your blog and comments. Thank you.

To the "anonymous" blogger who plans to run for office in 2010, forget it. You're lacking the communication skills, are too angry to lead, and your idea of politics is hollow. You would be eaten up out of the gate, and your state would be better served for it.

Matty said...

Like another commenter, I took that IAVA rating data and dumped it into Excel. I sorted by party and then by rating.

98 Dems received an 'A' rating.

Number of Republican 'A' ratings? Zero.

Alex said...

Since when did numbers support the troops, Matty?

Matty said...

Alex, I'm not sure what you mean by your comment... I just found that statistical breakdown extremely interesting because I assumed I'd see some republican 'A' scores. I certainly didn't expect to see zero.

I'm a Iraq vet myself, and I'd never heard of IAVA... but I'll be joining shortly.

I think you made (it IS you, right?) a great explanation for why you're not voting for McCain. Keep up the great writing and expressing your opinions.

Alex said...


I was being facetious and it backfired, apparently. Most people think that having an (R) by your name gets you free in clear with veterans, so I was poking fun at that.

The writing is mine, and I do appreciate your kind words.

Matty said...

LOL... I can be dense that way. No worries. Again - great blog. Bookmarked!

Dobbs said...

Nice post, soldier. I'm a Canadian but am very interested in USA'n politics. Most of the people I know up here are baffled why anyone would consider McCain--the USA sometimes seems like Topsy Turvy World to us, the choice seems so obvious. Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough post. I haven't been to your site before but am sure to be back for your unique and informed perspective.

DA English said...

This was forwarded to me by a listserve and I'm so glad I had a chance to read it. While I may not be a big fan on the military, I do think those who serve should be taken care of and given a chance to get an education.

It is a shame that the GI Bill didn't pass. Those who have served deserve our governments help not only educational wise, but also in terms of medical and psychological care. I've heard some soliders talk about their tours in Iraq and I can't imagine going through what they have been though.

I hope you continue to write about veteran's issues and encourage you to try to get some of this published in newspapers as an opinion piece.

anotherpanacea said...

This got a brief mention on a community blog with pretty progressive readers, and hopefully you're seeing tons of new traffic.

Anyway, a great post and blog. You've got another new reader.

Anonymous said...

Excellent rationale, soldier, and thank you for your service.

Be careful though. Now that you've declared your choice and explained why with both logic and clarity, you'll be labeled a "fringe voter" or even a "traitor" by the zealots in the GOP. I'm moderate right-wing, and was pushed out of my party by the religious fundie freaks and social uber-conservatives because I expressed some of the same concerns about McCain that you did. This is xenophobia at its most obvious; the enemy can be found in our once-beloved GOP. They're the ones who insist that War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. George Orwell was a visionary.

I'm sorry for posting anonymously, but my job might be on the line if my politics became public knowledge. See how far we've sunk as a nation?

New Hoboken said...

Thank you is a beautiful, well considered, researched and communicated argument. I get all kinds of sentimental, poorly thought-out "letter from my son in the army in Iraq" emails from my Republican family members, and I assure you I have emailed this post of yours right back to them. Thank you also for your service. I wish you the best in all your endeavors, and will keep reading your blog.

Taylor said...

This was a valuable read. Thank you for not being afraid to say what you feel, for providing facts with opinions and citations to back up the facts.
Glad you're home safely, too.

Dan said...

Thank you for posting such an informed, rational, and sobering evaluation of the presidential candidates. Moreover, thank you for your service to our country.

WEF said...

Nice blog post. I summarized some of these points in my own blog (, but thought your post was not only better written, but far more convincing given your tenure in the military. I want to express my gratitude to you for going into harms way with the intent of keeping me and millions of other Americans safe. I think what the administration is doing to you is ridiculous and goes to show that these guys are after their own self interests. I am glad that you are speaking your mind about it, and genuinely give you my heartfelt applause for the courage to do so!

Anonymous said...

Please read and comment:

Theresa H. Hall said...

Dear Alex,

First let me thank you and all of our troops for keeping our country safe. I have had my nephews deployed to Iraq, numerous times, even after being injured.

You post is exceptional and if I were you I would get someone to present it to the New York TImes, CNN, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles TImes.

You explain many issues that give a clear indication of them without being impassioned or negative. Just factual.

Today I shall bring your article to the attention of my blogging community and ask that everyone can Stumble it.

Thank you for your dedication to our great country.


"Sleeping Kitten - Dancing Dog!"

markstoneman said...

Good to hear a vet mention these issues. There is indeed a strange gap between McCain's rhetoric and his record.

The cup is half full of something I don't like said...

Nicely written blog. You touch on one of my main issues with McCain. That is waiting to claim "victory" in Iraq without ever defining what victory means.

We won the war against Sadam years ago. It is now time for Iraq to win their own peace.

I believe McCain is still trying to fight and win Vietnam.

Midwest Mom said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective. It isn't one that I've been able to find in other places.

God bless you. And thank you for your service, from the bottom of my heart.

Sgt Jeff Galvan Army DoorGunner18 years said...

McCain is typical Republican, he gets a position, like VA Directors, and SHITS ON VETERANS! I kicked ass with Joint Special Ops Tak Force Viking(look it up on web!)Then Watched or victory go to Hell Because "Phoney Cowboy/Bush" took us off or Hi Value Targets, an switched to goose chase "Weapons of Mass Destruction" this let ENEMY regroup and get good at KILLING American Soldiers! Bush never had a plan to OCCUPY Iraq! His DAD told him not to do it! THIS IS WHY WE didn't go to the SLAUGHTER in Africa, or EL Salvador, Nicaragua, Columbia(still a mess)and ran out of Somolia--BECAUSE YOU GET STUCK WITH THE COUNTRY AND IT'S CIVIL WAR! I HOLD IDIOT BUSH responsible for every dead GI, HE KNEW WE NEVER HAD ENOUGH TROOPS(ask a POLICE CHIEF of L.A. or New York IF 150,000 cops is ENOUGH to RUN the state, with NO lights, no real police, AND EVERYBODY HAS A WEAPON..THEY WOULD LAUGH AT YOU...
WE(Viking/Special Forces) were sent without the 4th Infantry(tanks, artillery, 10k+ troops!)and were EXPECTED to have HEAVY LOSSES(Rep's,McCain didn't give a shit!) Every day at BALAD/Iraq we got mortered 3 times a day, and night..AND NOT 100 feet cleared from the GOD DAMN FENCE LINE! ARMY COMMAND DISGRACE! It became another VIETNAM! WE had 50 Chinnoks(300 m60 machine guns) 39 Blackhawks, and 29 Apache GUNSHIPS! WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO FIGHT BACK AND BUSH WAS INCHARGE!!!
SO FUCK YOU mr "ANNONOMOUS" WHY should any soldier go back! AND THE FACT IS MOST DO! AND MOST AMERICANS("fake" young republicans sitting at bars mouthing off) WON"T EVER GO TO THESE WARS, much less military!(I kick their drunk asses every chance i get, so don't worry!)I lost my left foot, suffer from PTSD...LETS GET TO POINT, MY DAD(101st Airborne/501st NAZI KILLER, said long ago " Military has always shit on GI's especially VA!(then came Vietnam VA! pure disgrace! WHERE WERE REPUBLICANS!)
HERE's Big points! THE VA MUST let you KNOW what records they need BEFORE they DENY your claim!not legal to wait a year/deny you, then tell you you have no EVIDENCE!
(like they did to me. Hell, I was on morphine when somebody helped me with claim, so did not send COMBAT AIR MEDAL, Valor MEDAL with all they needed to know facts! SO, NOW i was thrown into 2 to 3 year APPEAL process!(NO help $$)Also READ THEY CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT against VA! I learaned THAT VA SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME I COULD RETAIN A ATTORNEY, after my choice of "De Novo" appeal! LAST POINT McCAIN is SCUM, chicken-SHIT NO VOTE on biggest INCREASE of VA in 77 years, and this bill also bugeted for 65,000 more ARMY, 23,000 more IF YOU THINK this war shit is over soon, good luck, and ASK FOR THE FAIR HONORABLE TRUE AMERICAN WAY:THE DRAFT! send those gutless REPUBLICANS...Sgt Jeff Galvan!!

Jacob said...

nice post

defendusa said...

I think I have posted here once or twice...Your perspective is indeed refreshing. One thing that disturbs me is that Obama will be all about slashing the military and whatever budgets are already in place for that. How will that effect your friends who choose the Service as a career, or the ones that come back with injuries that require long-term or permanent care? What about lack of equipment and upgrading? During the Clinton years the military was cut and things left undone. The peacetime dividend was squandered into lack of preparedness for a war in two theaters.
As a veteran myself, I can understand the frustration with McCain's lack of support on the GI Bill. McCain doesn't vote for any bill that are laden with pork. That being said, I seriously believe the way the report card is tabulated and described is flawed.
So far, with Obama's potential cabinet choices, we don't have change, rather alot of Clinton repeats. I suspect it doesn't bode well for those continuing to serve and what could happen. said...

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Patty Peyton said...

Right on, right on!!

As daughter, wife, and mother of service members, I assumed John McCain was pro-military by virtue of his service and sacrifice in Vietnam.

But, because I tend to jump into whatever I'm interested in with both feet I downloaded his voting record the first time he ran for President. Pages and pages and pages of it.

I was gob-smacked. I HAD to be misunderstanding what I was reading and for a while I researched bill by bill until it was clear he's not the friend of the military I'd thought he was.

When the election was over I kept all that information just in case McCain tried it again.

A long time ago I learned it's what people do, not what they say that's important. It's a lesson that's served me well.

Great work Dude, keep it up.