Senator John McCain’s campaign fairs poorly in CNNPolitics.com‘s story, “GOP strategist: Democrats outmaneuver GOP over GI Bill.” The legislation, which McCain opposed, provides for a modest expansion in benefits for veterans with three years of post 9-11 service.
McCain argued that the bill would reduce military retention by 16 percent and discourage service members from becoming noncommissioned officers. However, GOP strategist and former Mike Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins reportedly said of McCain’s opposition to the bill, which last week passed the U.S. Senate by a hefty 75-22 margin:
I think John McCain has been outmaneuvered…Sometimes in politics, there are intellectual issues and emotional issues…John McCain is going against veterans groups; he is going against a constituency that should be his. … But I think he is on the wrong side of this issue.
As for the political fallout, CNN quotes Rollins:
A lot of Republicans are voting for this, and I think to a certain extent as it moves forward there will be more and more. There will be tremendous pressure from veterans groups past and present and I think you will see a lot of bipartisan support for this as well…Intellectually, John McCain may be right, the president may be right. Emotionally, you are on the wrong side, you can never win an emotional battle in an intellectual argument.
While the occasionally insightful Rollins may have a point about intelllectual arguments rarely winning emotional battles (ala Drew Westen), I have doubts that McCain is on very solid intellectual ground with his argument about the bill hurting military “retention rates” by 16 percent. It just sounds a little too precise. Can any study accurately predict what military personnel will decide to do out of context? If our trained soldiers perceive a real threat to national security, would we really lose 16 percent? With respect to Iraq, on the other hand, we ought to be scaling back a lot more than 16 percent of those soldiers who put in three very tough years, anyway. It seems a lame excuse for opposing a bill that would help America’s veterans.
McCain has tried to distract attention from the issue by bashing Obama for not having served in the military. As for veteran status as a pivotal factor, Rollins points out that “George Bush’s father was a war hero lost the veterans’ vote to Bill Clinton…Same way with Bob Dole, a war hero lost the vote.”
In other words, military service is a significant plus for any political candidate. But it does not necessarily protect a candidate from the consequences of exercizing poor judgment on major issues, especially at a time when the candidate’s political party is having its own very serious problem with “retention rates.”
McCain has an alternative veterans’ benefits bill that would base education benefits on a sliding scale according to an individual’s years of service, and some version of it may eventually pass. His opposition to a military benefits bill supported by 75 Senators nonetheless puts him squarely in league with the out-of-touch Bush-Cheney ideologues who have a tight fist for vets, while squandering billions of taxpayer dollars on military contractors of questionable integrity to prolong a horrific military quagmire, with no end in sight. “Hey, I’m a vet” and even a war hero narrative may have less political resonance in such a context.