Sen. Barack Obama took to the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday over a GI Bill co-sponsored by Vietnam veterans Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Ne). What followed was an in-your-face indication of the kind of dirty campaign Obama faces from Sen. John McCain, the GOP's presumptive nominee.
The Senate passed a $165 billion bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it includes the $51 billion GI Bill which expands education benefits for veterans. The bill passed 70 to 26 (25 Republicans, 48 Democrats and 2 independents) and will go before the House for final approval after the Memorial Day holiday.
The bill does not have the support of the White House, and it's expected that President Bush will veto it. And it is not supported by McCain, who was not present for the vote yesterday because he was out stumping in California. In opposing the measure, McCain is at odds with almost all of the major veterans' rights groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and VoteVets.org. Given his status as a Vietnam vet and decorated war hero, it's truly unbelievable how he could oppose increasing veterans' benefits. But crazy things happen in an election year.
Speaking to his Senate colleagues, Obama criticized McCain for not supporting the measure:
"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 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."
In response, McCain issue a terse, angry, confrontational and ad hominem, off-message statement attacking Obama's patriotism and lack of military service, a theme you can bet is going to be his mantra for the next five months:
"I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And 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....Perhaps, if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully. But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election."
Nice framing job, John. It's more of the same Rovian tactics we've come to know and hate these past eight years. Don't support the Iraq war, you say? Well then you must be against the troops. This sort of convoluted nuancing is straight out of Karl Rove's playbook. What McCain was essentially saying Thursday was, "you're against my vote? Then you're attacking my patriotism and military record." Additionally, the suggestion that Obama has no right to criticize McCain, or worse, discuss the merits of a veterans' benefits bill because he himself never served in the military, is both preposterous and offensive. Does McCain need to be a trucker in order to discuss and vote on a transportation bill? Does he need to be personally insolvent in order to discuss and vote on a bankruptcy bill? Does need to have been molested as a child in order to discuss and vote on a bill protecting children from predators? His logic is ridiculous.
And what about the shameless hypocrisy in McCain's fiery diatribe? Has he forgotten his blind, unconditional support these past five years of major war-mongering hawks like Bush, Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle, who never served a day in the armed forces yet took it upon themselves to send 4000 U.S. troops to die in battle?
McCain's temper is legendary, and he's famous for flying off the handle at the drop of a hat. Certainly, his vitriolic reaction to Obama's very respectful comments was overly dramatic and highly overblown. Obama did not impugn McCain's integrity or military service. He went out of his way to recognize McCain's patriotism, something his petulant opponent chose to attack instead. What Obama criticized concerned McCain's position on this bill and his lack of support for it, not his personal character or service to his country. Might McCain be just a tad too sensitive? Defensive? Insecure? Angry? To use McCain's own words...If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election.
McCain is quickly showing his true colors, despite for years presenting himself as above the fray of dirty politics. He offers himself as a candidate who wishes to run a more respectful, honest campaign, yet his actions of the past few weeks--including the incendiary remarks about Obama and Hamas and Iran appeasement--demonstrate that McCain's number one strategy is to lie to and deceive Americans over the issue of Obama's patriotism, or lack thereof. That Obama is a weak-kneed liberal who hates his country, hates the military, and who is the favorite-son of terrorist groups and the rogue nations who sponsor them. It's clear that McCain has no problem whatsoever saying whatever he feels he needs to say to attack Obama's character and patriotism in order to win in November.
This is just the start. It's going to get real ugly as November gets closer.
On another note, we could use your help at The The Adrienne Shelly Foundation. We are a tax-exempt, non-profit organization dedicated in my wife's honor to help carry out her spirit and passion, with the goal of assisting women filmmakers. Adrienne was brutally killed in NYC on November 1, 2006. Through the Foundation, her commitment to filmmaking lives on. We've established scholarships, grants, finishing funds and living stipends at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts/Kanbar Institute of Film; Columbia University; American Film Institute; Women in Film; the Independent Feature Project; the Nantucket Film Festival; and the Sundance Institute. We're very pleased to announce that one of last year's grant recipients, Cynthia Wade, just won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for "Freeheld." We are proud of Cynthia and to have supported this film. Your generous contribution will go a long way towards helping us continue to achieve our very important mission.