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Friday, May 23, 2008

McCain, Obama and the GI Bill

Barack Obama and John McCain took time out from criticizing each other's stance on foreign policy to take shots at each other on a proposed new GI Bill. Barack Obama supports a new GI Bill that extends benefits that is being proposed by fellow Democrat, Jim Webb. John McCain is opposed to Webb's bill and has introduced his own version. Obama took the first swipe.

I respect sen. John McCain's service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the President in his opposition to this GI bill.

I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the President more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

McCain wasted no time in responding. In a detailed speech, McCain told of his and his family's long history of dedicated military service. He showed righteous indignation that Obama, who didn't serve, would question his own dedication to the fighting men and women of America. Finally, he got to substantive portion of the debate.

The most important difference between our two approaches is that Senator Webb offers veterans who served one enlistment the same benefits as those offered veterans who have re-enlisted several times. Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all veterans, but increases those benefits according to the veteran's length of service. I think it is important to do that because, otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment. At a time when the United States military is fighting in two wars, and as we finally are beginning the long overdue and very urgent necessity of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, one study estimates that Senator Webb's bill will reduce retention rates by 16%.

"Most worrying to me, is that by hurting retention we will reduce the numbers of men and women who we train to become the backbone of all the services, the noncommissioned officer. In my life, I have learned more from noncommissioned officers I have known and served with than anyone else outside my family. And in combat, no one is more important to their soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, and to the officers who command them, than the sergeant and petty officer. They are very hard to replace. Encouraging people not to choose to become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly. As I said, the office of President, which I am seeking, is a great honor, indeed, but it imposes serious responsibilities. How faithfully the President discharges those responsibilities will determine whether he or she deserves the honor. I can only tell you I intend to deserve the honor if I am fo rtunate to receive it, even if it means I must take politically unpopular positions at times and disagree with people for whom I have the highest respect and affection.

Essentially, McCain is concerned that this new GI Bill gives the same benefits to those that served for three years as those that serve much longer. McCain has created a bill that gives step up benefits for time served beyond three years. In McCain's estimation, this would encourage military personnel to retire early and not to re enlist. He even cited a study that said that Webb's plan would reduce re enlistment rates by 16%.

Upon hearing McCain's response, Barack Obama then said this,

I am proud to stand with Senator Webb and a bipartisan coalition to give our veterans the support and opportunity they deserve. It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign used this issue to launch yet another lengthy personal, political attack instead of debating an honest policy difference. He should know that this is not about John McCain or Barack Obama - it's about giving our veterans a real chance to afford four years of college without harming retention. Senator Webb's bipartisan bill will do this, and the bill that John McCain supports would not. These endless diatribes and schoolyard taunts from the McCain campaign do nothing to advance the debate about what matters to the American people,

Now, I have looked for a fuller explanation by Barack Obama than this but so far I haven't found it. This response says absolutely nothing about the policy concern that McCain has with the Webb GI Bill.

If this is it on the matter by Barack Obama, then he has once again made a strategical political error. First, he will have a hard time convincing Americans that he is more sympathetic to the concerns of our military than John McCain. Picking a fight with McCain on these sorts of issues exhibits not only foolishness but frankly hubris. Did Barack Obama really think that picking a fight related to the welfare of combat veterans was one he could win against John McCain?

I don't know, however I do know that as it stands now we have two competing ideas. Barack Obama offers vague reference in which he tries to nail as many buzz words as he can. He is backing a "bi partisan proposal" and that proposal will provide "much needed benefits to our fine veterans". Now, some people may in fact be swayed by standard boiler plate rhetoric.

On the other hand, anyone that investigates the matter will see that this comes down to substantive debate. John McCain believes that it is counter productive to offer the same benefits to every veteran no matter the length of their enlistment. Barack Obama offers no thoughts on this problem.

Now, if the debate on the GI Bill ends here, then Barack Obama's campaign had better begin to the some serious political soul searching. Ever since the Wright fiasco was first brought to light, the campaign has made one misstep after another they have then made another one picking this fight. Barack Obama is not going to win a debate on which candidate is more sympathetic to the wishes of veterans if he can't answer basic substantive concerns raised by John McCain. He is at a huge natural disadvantage already since McCain's military background is heoric and his own is non existent. If he thinks he will win this debate with nothing but vague boiler plate rhetoric, he is in for a big surprise.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing out this article.

This is exactly what I had read on this issue. However, all the media wrote different things the next day. Most media only reported McCain saying about his military history, but omitted the part he talked of the differences in the two bills. Media portrait McCain as the tempered guy scolding back at Obama without reasons backing him.
All the news I read made Obama the winner of this issue.

mike volpe said...

The media is going to report Obama the winner on every issue. That is frankly beside the point. The folks aren't so much swayed by the analysis of the media, but rather what the media focuses on. If Obama really wants to fight McCain on the turf of war veterans, then that is a huge political mistake in my opinion.