THE BLOG
06/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain: "Happy Memorial Day. Now Get Back to Iraq."

An "In Case You Missed It" is a press release issued by a campaign to highlight a favorable news article or editorial that they want every journalist in the country to read. Yesterday -- the day before Memorial Day, in time to make the papers on Memorial Day itself -- John McCain's campaign issued an "In Case You Missed It" emphasizing his position on veterans' benefits.

So, in case you missed it, McCain's position is that contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he believes that some things -- a college education, for example -- actually ARE too good for our vets.

It's not news that McCain and Bush opposed the new G.I. Bill that passed the Senate last Thursday largely because they were afraid its generous veterans' benefits -- especially its promise of in-state college tuition to anyone who completes a full three-year tour of duty -- would tempt soldiers to go to college instead of re-enlisting. McCain, who apparently has little faith that our servicemen and -women might re-up out of loyalty to their units and commitment to their mission, favors a sliding scale that would deny veterans a full ride until they had completed several tours, as if three years in Iraq or Afghanistan isn't enough sacrifice for a lifetime. It's wiser, in McCain's view, to keep America's warriors financially dependent, just in case their loyalty, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice get ground down by years of exhaustion, fear, and separation from family. As Chuck Colson told Nixon, "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

In an earlier press release, and again in his Memorial Day address at the New Mexico Veterans' Memorial, McCain bragged about how his grandfather "came home from [WWII] exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day." He considers that a good thing. Apparently he expects our servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan to do the same.

But at first, McCain and his apologists also suggested that there's more to McCain's position than the "college is bad for retention" explanation. According to McCain -- who skipped the Senate vote on the most important veterans' benefits legislation in fifty years in favor of attending a high-roller campaign fundraiser in California -- there are complexities to the new G.I. Bill that Obama, who McCain said "has less than zero understanding" of the issue even though he serves on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, could never understand. McCain didn't, however, explain what Obama failed to understand.

Then yesterday comes a thoroughly vetted, carefully planned, not-by-accident, no-takebacks McCain campaign press release that abandons all pretense at spin and admits, flat out, that it's actually not complicated at all: McCain voted against the best veterans' benefits legislation in fifty years because it's too generous to our troops. That's it. We need to keep our soldiers broke enough, and their futures uncertain enough, that they can't afford to quit the military until John McCain says it's OK to leave Iraq.

Here's how McCain's press release -- shotgunned electronically to every political news outlet in the country in time for Memorial Day -- begins:

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The New York Post On Senator Obama's "GI Posturing"

"For a good illustration of just how vulnerable Barack Obama apparently feels on national security, look no farther than the fight he picked with John McCain on the Senate floor last week. ... McCain, of course, has his reasons -- most significantly, the fear that the measure would encourage battle-toughened soldiers and Marines not to re-enlist at a time when their skills are most needed. Not that this matters to Democrats in general -- and Obama in particular -- for whom veterans' compensation forms an all-too-convenient smokescreen to cover their utter lack of substantive ideas when it comes to the thing our troops care about the most. That's to say: victory." -- The New York Post

When an "In Case You Missed It" like this appears in my inbox, I look for three things: the political spin the campaign puts on the story; the source (what newspaper or blog does the campaign consider authoritative and important?); and what parts of the original article the campaign considers most important (in this case, the bold-font headline and top quoted above):

1. The Politics: "I'm a Straight-Talking Patriot for Shafting Our Troops. You and 74 Other Senators Are Dangerously Naive Hacks for Disagreeing."

McCain repeats the conservative Post editors' accusation that Obama considers "veterans' compensation ... fair game for a cheap political attack." But McCain himself -- who, if he felt attacked, could have raised a point of personal privilege and defended himself immediately on the Senate floor if he'd bothered to show up -- isn't above taking cheap political shots himself. In another press release last Thursday, he wrote:

"It is typical [and] ... offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of.... Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge.... 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."

In all, McCain spent 967 words blasting Obama -- all in response to 41 words Obama spoke on the Senate floor:

"I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans."

That's it; that's all Obama said. You can decide for yourself which one, McCain or Obama, is using the issue of veterans' benefits to make a cheap political attack.

2. The Source: Scraping the Bottom of the Journalistic Barrel

The essence of a "In Case You Missed It" is to direct the nation's top political journalists' attention to an important opinion piece that they might otherwise overlook. What reputable, authoritative publication does John McCain want every other political reporter to pay attention to this Memorial Day? The New York Post, a tabloid-format rag owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns Fox News.

The Post is best known for its sensational headlines and infamous "page six" celebrity gossip; the best (worst?) thing that can be said about it is that, unlike England's "The Sun" (a sister tabloid which Murdoch also owns), the Post doesn't have topless "page three girls" (warning: NSFW) in every issue.

So I've gotta ask: The Post? Really? There are roughly 1,500 daily newspapers in America; McCain couldn't find one more reputable than the Post to validate his position that it's patriotic to deny college tuition to American veterans? (Answer: probably not.) To cite the Post as an example of important, serious political writing is just a couple inkblots shy of saying, "Hey! I've received the endorsement of the alien from The Weekly World News!" The message McCain is really sending is, "Attention troops: a gossip rag owned by a hyperconservative Australian billionaire who does big business with China and enjoys meddling in American politics agrees with me that you don't deserve to go to college yet. Happy Memorial Day." McCain's press wranglers - who apparently believe America's political journalists are so inattentive, unaware or naive that they aren't familiar with what the Post really is - should be embarrassed.

3. The Content: "No Kidding, I Actually Believe Our Veterans Haven't Done Enough for Our Country Yet.

Finally, there's the actual content of the press release. The Post's editorial itself admits that "partisan calculation isn't the whole story: The measure's co-sponsors, Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), are both Vietnam vets themselves." And it admits that despite Bush and McCain's opposition, the G.I. Bill passed the Senate with huge bipartisan support, 75-22; to say that Obama is ignorant, naive and careless with national security for supporting it is to say that 25 Senate Republicans are ignorant, naive and careless as well. To their credit, McCain's people included the full text of the editorial -- including those details -- in the body of the press release. But they didn't put it in the bold headline, which is what most journalists, scanning the small screens of their Blackberries, will notice first.

What's more interesting, though, is that even the press release's hand-picked headline makes McCain look bad. The McCain campaign itself chose which quotes to put in the header of their press release -- and they chose to emphasize, in bold, up top, that McCain opposes the bill because it "would encourage battle-toughened soldiers and Marines not to re-enlist."

Or, more succinctly: John McCain is afraid that if we give our soldiers a future, they may seize it.

McCain's great at paying lip service to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. In his rambling, self-aggrandizing press release attacking Obama last Thursday he wrote disingenuously:

"I feel ... that we owe veterans the respect and generosity of a great nation because no matter how generously we show our gratitude it will never compensate them fully for all the sacrifices they have borne on our behalf."

But when it comes to actually showing our veterans "respect and generosity" -- when it comes to "compensating them fully for all the sacrifices they have borne" -- his real position, reflected in his (non)vote in the Senate last week and his well-thought-out press releases, add an inhumane and unpatriotic qualification:

"I feel ... that we owe veterans the respect and generosity of a great nation -- but not yet."

Support the troops, but not so much that they can afford to move on with their lives once their service is done. Nothing's too good for our troops, except that when we get down to it, some things actually are too good for our troops.

And then call Obama a hack for pointing that out.

Happy Memorial Day, from John McCain. Now get your ass back to Iraq.