John McCain made a campaign appearance on ABC's chatfest The View this morning, and answered a range of questions from his support of the Iraq War "surge" and his own admissions of not being well educated on the economy. One of the key concerns, left largely unanswered after two days of testimony from General David Petraeus, was whether our troop commitment in Iraq was reaching a breaking point. McCain expressed concern, up to a point, saying that the stress on the military was a serious matter but that "the only thing worse than an overstressed military is a defeated one."
That led The View's Joy Behar to ask if McCain would bring back the draft:
BEHAR: Are you going to push for a draft?
MCCAIN: No, I don't think so, Joy. I think our all-volunteer force works. I think we have the best-trained, best-equipped, bravest --
BEHAR: But if we have enough, why do they have to keep going back and back?
MCCAIN: We have to expand the military and provide more inducements for them to serve. There are a certain number joining out of patriotism, thank God. And then there are others that turn 18 or 19 or 20 or 21, and they look at their options. And one of the things we ought to do is provide them with significant educational benefits in return for serving.
The problem, of course, with his espousal of "educational benefits" as a means of inducing military service, is that is does not square with his record. McCain has had ample opportunity to align himself with the bipartisan effort to update the G.I. Bill, led by his fellow Senators Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb, but, months after Hagel and Webb began their effort, McCain has, perplexingly, withheld his support. According to Sam Stein, there may be a reason why:
The real hang-up for McCain may be the fact that the Bush administration has resisted the legislation. White House officials say that giving soldiers such an strong incentive to leave the armed forces would result in low retention rates. Soldiers sign up and -- after two years -- leave the army in droves to get their free education.
It's clear that McCain supports educational incentives, so the only logical reason for his reticence is that he wants to support the President. That's odd, considering how much time he has devoted to clarifying his desire to break from the mistakes of the Bush administration. It's no wonder, then, that Behar took the floor to question McCain as to whether he could really promise anything other than an extension of the Bush presidency.
BEHAR: Anyway, here is my question because I've been reading all about you...and I don't like George Bush as a president. I think he was one of the worst presidents we have ever had. Please don't applaud. Let me just get through this question. I want to know, since you are for his tax cuts for the wealthy, that you are for staying in Iraq, that you are against Roe v. Wade, therefore Supreme Court justices may overturn women's rights and, that in fact, you hired Karl Rove as one of your campaign advisors, which is like hiring Mike Tyson to be your bodyguard. How are you different from George Bush?
MCCAIN: First of all, we have not hired Karl Rove.
BEHAR: But he's hanging.
MCCAIN: I've spoken to him once in the last year or so, first of all. Second of all, I respect President Bush and we have a friendly relationship. There are issues that we've disagreed on, the conduct of the war for four years, spending, climate change. There's a list of issues that we have open and honest disagreements, keeping within the overall philosophy of less government is better government, lower taxes, strong national defense, etc., etc.
McCain cited his environmental policies as an example of where he broke with Bush, and his immigration policy as an instance where he and the President agree. He never did manage to re-assure Behar on the matter of his judicial appointments and women's rights.