Thursday, May 22, 2008


“I take a back seat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans,” Mr. McCain said. “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

This was in response to Sen. Obama's criticism of Sen. McCain due to his opposition to the new GI Bill. When Obama learned McCain opposed the New GI Bill he said:
“I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.”

And thus Sen. McCain's response, above.

Given that when Sen. Obama turned 18 there was no draft and, like today, we had an all-volunteer military, my first of two questions is this:

Is there anything wrong, in a time of an all-volunteer military, with Sen. Obama - like the vast majority of Americans - not choosing to enlist?

If there is something wrong with that, why does that just apply to Sen. Obama and not to the vast majority of American citizens who have not volunteered to serve since the draft ended in 1973? Of course it would apply to all of them too. Sen. McCain just insulted the majority of the American voting public, implying that they did wrong when, just like Sen. Obama, they did not voluntarily enlist in the military.

And if a citizen is not doing wrong if they don't enlist, how is Sen. McCain's response in any way relevant to the debate over the New GI Bill - a bill designed to help those who DID volunteer, in a time of war, to serve in the military? Why does Sen. Obama's not enlisting - like 98% of his peers and all young men since then - mean that Sen. McCain is right to oppose this New GI Bill to help those who have served since 9/11? Of course the answer is IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE NEW GI BILL.

Most people don't voluntarily enlist. I chose to do so, and I am glad I did so, but I never thought less of my fellow citizens who did not want to join the Army. I never thought they were second-class citizens or that they lacked patriotism. Apparently Sen. McCain does.

So on to my second question, with a quick fact for those who don't know me: I am a US Army infantry veteran who enlisted, served as a rifleman, drill sergeant, and commissioned infantry officer. I am proud of my service.

I don't know why my second question should only come from veterans, but it seems important to Sen. McCain. So here it is, Senator McCain: from someone who did choose to serve in uniform:

Why is Sen. McCain opposed to providing the same opportunity and recognition to this generation of combat veterans as our nation provided for our World War Two veterans?

It seems to me that this generation of veterans deserves it - especially since they are ALL volunteers, and this generation of soldiers has seen more combat - MUCH MORE - than did the generation of soldiers who fought World War Two.

This is not (or should not be) a conservative/liberal question, a red state/blue state question. This should be about whether this new GI Bill is something today's new veterans deserve.

I think they deserve it. Why don't you, Senator McCain?

FYI I am not speaking out of self-interest. I am not a veteran who will benefit from this new GI Bill - I was out of the military and a civilian attending law school on 9/11, and Sen. Webb's new GI Bill only benefits those veterans who have served in wartime since 9/11 - thus not me.


Andy said...


I think you're missing something here. McCain supports a revamped GI Bill but he sees problems with this particular bill. I do know he tried to get the bill amended and was ultimately unsuccessful. Some of McCain's criticisms of the bill are valid, in my opinion, and I have criticisms of my own. Despite that, this bill is better than nothing.

So I think your characterization that McCain doesn't believe military deserves this bill is an unfair one.

J.D. said...


Thanks. I appreciate that Sen. McCain prefers a bill that offers less in benefits. But he did not explain why he prefers a bill with less benefits. Instead he brought up the fact that he served in he military and Obama did not.

Given that I served in the military, I do not understand two things:

1) why Sen. McCain prefers a bill that provides less for our troops than the New GI Bill sponsored by Sen. Webb, AND

2) Why John McCain thinks that the fact he chose a military career and Obama did not is relevant to which bill is better?

Does Sen. McCain prefer some sort of Starship Troopers type of government, where only veterans have the right to question him? And if he regards the troops as highly as he claims, why doesn't he want to support the bill with more benefits for them?

Perhaps there are valid reasons to oppose the New GI Bill - one I have heard is that it might discourage re-enlistment.

Now think about that: because the New GI Bill provides more opportunities for education, it might encourage soldiers to leave the service at the end of their enlistment rather than re-enlisting. IS THAT A VALID REASON - we should provide LESS opportunity so that soldiers feel they don't have as much chance for success in civilian life, and thus they are more likely to stay in the Army?

I hope you can understand why such thinking infuriates me. How about encouraging others to do their part?

I guess I just don't understand his supposed "regard" for our troops.

Publius said...

Before I jump on and call McCain an idiot, I'm going to challenge Andy to let us all in on what he believes to be valid criticisms. How about it, Andy?

Realistically, what I see driving McCain's opposition to this bill is exactly what he and his alter ego Bush are saying: that it will hurt retention. That war-lovers such as Bush and McCain would oppose anything that might make some young people serving in an era of questionable wars think twice about re-upping isn't much of a revelation, IMO.

If you really think about it, Bush has been blessed by the demographic makeup of the Army's enlisted force and the steps the Army has taken to meet recruiting numbers. In contrast to my day, when junior enlisted people with spouse and kids weren't exactly considered attractive recruitment fodder, they're now targeted.

We've all seen the heart-tugging articles about the single mom with three kids, the 40-something guy with a family at home, and all of the rest. The reality is that a single 21-22 year old—with a short history of HS and the Army—who gets out after one hitch essentially has his whole life ahead of him. Not so with the 30-something who has an established family. Reality with him/her is that he/she has already sampled the civilian job market for several years and, for whatever reason, has rejected it. That, plus the family obligations makes this soldier prime bait to re-up.

Picture yourself as that 30-something GI with a couple of kids facing that re-up decision. You're smart and you're well-trained at a military speciality, but you don't have a college education in an era where that's fast becoming the only viable route to a decent middle or upper-middle-class life. Currently, because there is no way in the world you can afford college on your own, you're going to have much trepidation about making that great leap into the civilian world. Reality is that sergeants now do better financially than many of the kids they went to HS with, so you know you're not going to strike it rich out there. You might well be inclined to sign up again, even if you have any number of reservations about doing so.

Enter the Webb bill. Oh, my goodness, you all of a sudden may have a real choice. Maybe you can parlay that innate ability to fix anything into becoming a mechanical engineer. Or that wizardry with computers into an EE or CS degree.

The Webb bill might go a long way towards leveling the playing field by expanding the horizons of military personnel. Which is why those with the Pax Americana dream and the Wilsonian ambitions won't support it. After all, one can't conquer the world if one doesn't have the troops.

Actually, now I think about it, McCain was an idiot long before he opposed this particular bill.

Andy said...

Well, I won't speak for McCain, but I will share my criticisms.

First, I do think the benefits are great - well worth the cost to the taxpayer and overall I'm happy with the new GI Bill.

However, it seems aimed squarely at first-termers. I would rather have seen full benefits after five or six years and perhaps 1/2 or 3/4 benefits after three years. This is also one of McCain's criticisms.

Also completely missing is any increase in benefits for tuition assistance and the other programs available while on active duty. Publius, your notional 30yo NCO with two kids would probably be better served by enabling him/her to get their education while in the service so he/she can get a job immediately upon leaving the service. Then the GI Bill could be used at a later date for continuing ed, job-specific training, retraining in a new field, or a graduate degree.

Taken together, these two aspects of the bill I think will hurt retention since the benefits are only available once you leave the service and are available after only three years. I think we'll see a lot of people joining solely for the education benefits. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I worry about unintended consequences and I remember a lot of the Navy slugs I worked with in the early 90's were only in for the benefits and were minimal performers.

In short, I would have preferred a GI Bill that provided more benefit for longer service, one that addressed the problems of education while in the service and one that provides incentives for the best and brightest to stay in instead of get out. Another nice idea would have been to provide a kicker in benefits for joining the reserve after getting off of active duty, but I guess you can't have everything.

J.D. said...

andy, thanks for your comments.

I think some of your points can and should be incorporated into law, but I am not sure I agree with you about delaying benefits in exchange for longer service.

You are right that under the New GI Bill sponsored by Sen. Webb (and supported by Obama, opposed by McCain) first-termers get the benefits, but that does not mean career soldiers get LESS, just that they haven't used them yet.

There is no need - and no good reason - to deny opportunities to soldiers in the hope the soldier chooses to re-enlist. By reducing benefits for what you call "first-termers" you are suggesting they haven't earned and do not deserve full benefits yet. With respect, sir, after over a decade of service I sacrificed much, much less, and faced much, much less danger, than an infantry soldier who has served a "mere" three years since 9/11 - they may have done one or possibly two combat tours of a year or more, and may have been stop-lossed to boot. The longest deployment I ever served was one year, to South Korea, and I wasn't shot at there and heck, we had flush toilets and hot water. No, I think the first-termers today, many of whom have served for over a year in combat - not just in a combat zone, but in combat - have earned such benefits. I got back more from the Army than I ever put into the Army, but I don't think the same can be said for today's young soldiers who serve in wartime. They deserve full benefits, I think, even if they are mere "first-termers."

As for career soldiers, they have chosen a military career. They don't need a program to help them to obtain a career - they have one already. And if they change their mind, they can use the benefits afforded to all, including first-termers - or they can use it after they retire if they decide to stay for 20 or more (assuming they survive and are not disabled by injury). This GI Bill is designed to help those who have served since 9/11 obtain greater success in civilian life, and WHEN they use those benefits is up to them, but the benefits should not be reduced for "first-termers" as Sen. McCain wants.

As far as people joining "just for the benefits" - Andy, there are a lot of jobs in the military, and as long as you meet the standard you are productive. If they don't meet the standard, they don't get the benefits. If the "slugs" you speak of did not meet the standards, the problem was in not chaptering them out. And if they met the standard, even if you considered them "slugs," and obtained an honorable discharge for doing so, then they deserve it. Especially in the Army and Marines, where even "slugs" have to endure danger, privation, and all manner of things that it is hard for civilians - or military personnel who have not experienced it - to understand or comprehend. If they get an honorable discharge, even if they were not superstars, then they have earned their benefits and I thank them for their service to our republic.

If the New GI Bill helps attract people "just for the benefits" that is no problem as long as they meet the standards. And I knew a LOT of people that joined, in large part, for the benefits - and many of them (most in fact) turned out to be great soldiers. One's motivation for enlisting is not nearly as important as one's performance - and I knew people who joined for all the "wrong" reasons who became excellent infantrymen for all the right reasons - for what they learned after enlisting. I know my commitment and dedication to duty was much stronger a year after I graduated the infantry school than it was at the time I signed my enlistment contract. I became a soldier, but I wasn't one before then even after I had signed up.

If the New GI Bill attracts some people "just for the benefits" then that will help the Army meet its recruiting needs, hopefully without reducing the standard, which is what is happening now without it. I would rather have somebody who meets the standard but joined for the "wrong" reasons than somebody who does NOT - or would not have but for the fact those standards were lowered - even if they joined for the "right" reasons.

Thanks for your comments Andy, and many of your points I am total agreement with, just not your point about first-termers.

In case I have not made it clear enough, if you support Obama, Hillary, McCain, any other candidate, or none, you are welcome here. I wear my political leanings on my sleeve and do not deny them, but truth is more important to me, and open and honest and civil debate is critical to the survival of our republic regardless of whether you are "red" or "blue." We are one nation even on election day, and this is a place to discuss all points of view with respect.

Andy said...


You make some good points with regard to first-termers especially those actively fighting in the current conflicts and it's hard to argue combat veterans don't deserve full benefits. Point taken.

basilbeast said...

A story that McCain might think about, since he knows so much more than Sen. Obama, who knows "less than zero".

These Memorial Days seem to get more difficult each year.


Anonymous said...

Can anyone point to a straight-up point-by-point comparison of benefits for the WWII GI Bill, the Vietnam Era vets, and the two bills under consideration now?

I've been googling up a storm and have not been able to find anything like that. One would think that such a comparison table would be the jumping-off point for discussion of this topic.

I'm a Vietnam Era vet, and I recall quite a bit of complaining about the decrease in benefits relative to the WWII GI Bill.

I only used two of those benefits; the first was a VHA loan for our first house, which made a great difference in the lives of myself and my wife.

The other was for a very small bite at the educational benefits. At the time, many companies, and the VA, let you double dip and pick up cash from both. So you could actually make money by taking classes.

I took one course, in accounting. Alas, all I learned there is that "bored to tears" is not just a figure of speech.



(I wish I could use my 'almost drafted' persona here, but Google/Blogger seems to forget who I am ever three days.)