Yesterday afternoon, the news that John McCain, at a town hall meeting, had agreed that he was amenable to reinstating the draft blasted into my inbox. Naturally, it piqued my interest, so I thought I'd check it out for myself. Throughout the blogosphere, the quote was being reported thusly:
QUESTIONER: If we don't re-enact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of Hell.
MCCAIN: Ma'am let me say that I don't disagree with anything you have said, and thank you.
Of course, seeing the draft tied to McCain's nonsensical "Gates Of Hell" rhetoric was enough to set my teeth on edge. Military service is a serious matter for those who volunteer for the job and their families - the fact that McCain would ask for more sacrifice to support his rivetingly unserious approach to the War on Terror, is something of an insult.
But, in the interest in being thorough, I watched the available video, and realized that the claim that McCain had agreed to draft Americans to journey to the netherworld was entirely without foundation. Here's the full question:
QUESTIONER: Yes, Senator McCain, I truly hope you get the opportunity to chase bin Laden right to the Gates of Hell and push him in, as you stated on your forum. I do have a question, though.
The disabled veterans, especially in this state, have horrible conditions. Their medical is substandard. They drive four hours one-way to Albuquerque for a simple doctor's appointment, which is often canceled. Our VA hospital is dirty, it's understaffed, it's running on maximum overload. The prescription medications are ten years behind standard medical care. We have 700 claims stacked up at the VA office in Albuquerque. Some of them are ten and seven years old, waiting to be processed. And in the meantime, these people are homeless.
My son is an officer in the Air Force, I'm a vet, and I was raised in a military family. And I think it's a sorry state of affairs. When we have illegal aliens having a Medicaid card that can access specialists, top physicians, the best medical, and our vets can't even get to a doctor. And these are the people that we tied yellow ribbons for and Bush patted on the back. If we don't re-enact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of Hell.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I want to point this site briefly provided a link to this post, intimating that McCain had agreed on draft reinstatement. It was subsequently removed.]
That whole second paragraph is what's at stake in this exchange -- the indisputable meat of this particular question. The bit about the draft? Just a rhetorical flourish on the part of the questioner, who is clearly trying to build a case for the quick and deliberate correction of the deplorable conditions our veterans suffer when their service is over and forgotten by all except family members, like this one. And when McCain says, "Ma'am, I don't disagree with anything you just said," it's a real stretch to suggest that he really only means that he agrees with the last sentence of this question. In fact, he has committed himself to an agreement in toto with the questioner's remarks.
Marc Ambinder, whose overall assessment of this aligns with mine, suggests that this is a case of "Liberals...having a conniption." I think Ambinder is overstating it just a bit. This is really a case of McCain's opponents grabbing at the lowest hanging fruit -- putting a "McCain agrees with the draft" meme out there because it's the most shocking thing that can be mined from this exchange, if we agree to ignore the bulk of it. Ambinder notes that McCain has presented himself as opposed to the draft. ThinkProgress defend themselves here, noting that McCain has, in fact, brought up the possibility of reinstating the draft at other times, in a different context.
But there is plenty in this exchange to have a conniption about nevertheless! Do illegal immigrants really jump the line on health care in the zero-sum manner the questioner describes? It may be the case, but it has the sniff of xenophobic urban legend to me. More importantly, though, does McCain's record make his total agreement with the questioner credible? Remember, McCain had ample opportunity to do something positive for veterans by supporting the recently-passed G.I. Bill, but he instead opposed it up until its passage became inevitable, at which time, he started taking credit for it.
And right there is ample meat for pushback in highlighting just how irresponsible and fatuous McCain has been on the issues of veterans' affairs. It's far better to base a disputation of McCain's ability to lead on his actual words and deeds, than on the ones stuffed into his mouth for shocking effect.