While Virginia Senator Jim Webb is quickly becoming well-trained in the art of downplaying his vice-presidential chances, that hasn't stopped him from making a series of recent high-profile appearances. Last night, he appeared on The Daily Show, talking up the hopeful prospects of the G.I. Bill he has helped shepherd through the Senate. The post-war lives of our soldiers has been something of a pet cause for Stewart, who was recently honored with an award for his effort to lend levity and comfort to our wounded soldiers.
Webb briefly ran down the battle that the supporters of the G.I. Bill have had with the administration, expressing mild surprise that the bill has become a flashpoint of political controversy. "I didn't want this to be a political issue," Webb admitted. To which Stewart retorted, "I do!" Webb obliged by saying:
You know, my thoughts about John [McCain] were, he is fine voting for 600 billion dollars to send these people off. The least we can do is give them at a chance at a first class future. Not only that, the tax payers of America paid for every penny of John McCain's education and they paid for every penny of my education. We both went to the Naval Academy. And the least we can do is to give these people a first class shot at the future.
Webb didn't say much about his shot in the Veepstakes, demurring, as always. Stewart built a case for the office by explaining, "It's an easy job. All you have to do is think about who you want to shoot in the face."
STEWART: How are you? Welcome to the show. The book is called A Time To Fight: Reclaiming A Fair And Just America. Sir, I had no idea that you, you are a Trotskyite.
STEWART: Fighting to reclaim a fair and just America, sir. No, that is not the American way. I won't have it. It's a free market, sir.
WEBB: I think that...there were a few Trotskyites who got us involved in the iraq war.
STEWART: That's an interesting point.
WEBB: Thinking you can, you know, you can export your foreign policy at the point of a gun - we don't do that in this country.
STEWART: Nicely done, sir. Well parried, well parried. Let me ask you...I really wanted to talk to you about...the book has your prescription for what we can do, but you sponsored a new G.I. Bill, basically saying serve in the army three years and we will pay for you to go to the best state college in your area. We'll fund that. And, some people - and I find this very hard to believe but maybe you can shed light on it - said that's not a good idea.
WEBB: I thought this would be really not a political controversial thing at all. I had started thinking about it before I even ever decided to run for office that we keep saying this is the next greatest generation. We see everything that they have done since 9/11. We ought to give them the same opportunity for a first class future that we gave the people from World War II. So I designed this bill basically said if you serve in the military, you should get your tuition paid for, your books bought, and a monthly stipend just like the people from World War II. There were some people, we took a 16-month to get this...
STEWART: How is that even possible? This is an organization, our Congress, that passed changing the name French fry to Freedom fry. This is a group that literally, they will take to the floor of the Senate and say, "I proclaim this University of Florida day." What was the argument against... didn't some people say it was too generous.
WEBB: The administration opposed this. I found that surprising as someone who spent five years in the pentagon, one as a marine and four as a defense official. They were saying that it would, A. be too costly, B. would be difficult to administer, and C. might affect retention of the people who were in.
STEWART: When they said that, can you say to them you know what else is sort of like that? A war. I mean, can you say? Do they not respond?
WEBB: That's pretty much what I tried to put on the table. We worked hard to get people from both sides of the aisle to come on board this. We got 58 co-sponsors in the Senate, 11 of them Republicans. we tried to take the politics completely out of it. But the administration, you know, dug in its heels. Now we have 75 votes in this supplemental appropriations bill.
STEWART: Even if he vetos, you can override that.
WEBB: We're hopeful. It will depend on the House percentage in the House but I think we have a pretty good situation out of it. Finally get this done
STEWART: Senator McCain which surprises me because you guys are really in some respects flip sides of the same coin, guys that served in Vietnam, have done an awful lot for the country. Really surprised to see him not literally jump on your back and go, let me put my name on that!
WEBB: I was surprised too. honestly. I didn't want this to be a political issue.
STEWART: I do! I like it. How can it not be?
WEBB: You know, my thoughts about John were, he is fine voting for 600 billion dollars to send these people off. The least we can do is give them at a chance at a first class future. Not only that, the tax payers of America paid for every penny of John McCain's education and they paid for every penny of my education. We both went to the Naval Academy. And the least we can do is to give these people a first class shot at the future. ( cheers and applause )
STEWART: And I have yet to figure out why. I haven't heard a good reason. They're applauding using their tax money. I think it's one of those things that is almost universal is this idea. It's almost like they're saying if we're not going to be able to improve their army experience or armed forces experience, let's make coming home crappier. Otherwise, who joins... who says I'll only have to fight two tours in Iraq and then I'll get to go to University of Wisconsin.
WEBB: There's a big concern in the administration and with John McCain and some of the others about the career force. There are ways to help the career force. But what they should focus on is that 70% of the Marine Corps and 75% of the Army get out at or before the end of their first enlistment. They're not a career force. These are the people we've been focusing on in the Walter Reed scandal. You know, there are readjustment difficulties. We want them to have the right opportunity even though they haven't saved for a career. We're going to get it done. I'm very, very optimistic.
STEWART: What about also this idea that we have Blackwater and these other groups that get paid an enormous amount of money to do the same job as our Army just without those, you know, rules. Is there any way that they can get some of that maybe and take some of that money because these guys, the stress we're putting on this group, you know, has been enormous.
WEBB: There's a whole chapter in this book about contractors and how that affects not only the budget side, not only accountability side which you mentioned but what does that do to us and the way we define citizen soldiery in this country that we now have in Iraq more contractors than we do military people doing things that military people historically have done, and yet with very little accountability and costing a whole lot of money. We need to get our arms around it.
STEWART: It's been a wild fight. Are you going to be the vice president, do you know? ( cheers and applause ) Does anybody know?
WEBB: After watching your introductory segment I'm not so sure.
STEWART: Come on! It's an easy job. All you have to do is think about who you want to shoot in the face. It's easy! A Time To Fight is on the book shelves now. Senator Jim Webb.