09/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bikers May Love McCain But Veterans Do Not

If you follow the general storyline put forth by a mainstream media star-struck by a war hero, or simply observe the reception John McCain often receives at rallies held at veteran's organizations, it's very easy to accept and believe that all veterans everywhere practically worship John McCain. I've noticed this especially true of people who do not have a military background -- they often confuse enthusiastic support for McCain's SERVICE as support for his RECORD.

Troops cheer the man, the story goes, therefore they must want to vote for him. Veterans get teary-eyed and salute the flag when he appears, therefore they must be McCain supporters.

McCain's a war hero; he's got the military vote sewn up. Obama didn't serve, so he can kiss the military good-bye.

I have read this assumption in op-ed after op-ed, in blogpost after blogpost, even in commentary posted on blogs. It was especially glaring after Gen. Wesley Clark tangled with Bob Shieffer on CBS's, "Face the Nation," and Shieffer expressed dismay that, because Clark was critical of McCain's position on such things as the new G.I. Bill, that he was "denigrating McCain's service."

My husband, brother, father, brother-in-law are all Vietnam vets, and another brother-in-law recently retired at the rank of brigadier general of the U.S. Army special forces. (My dad retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of Master Gunnery Sgt.) My step-dad was retired Air Force and my sister did a hitch in the Air Force.

My son did two Marine Corps combat deployments to Iraq, (including the grueling Battle of Fallujah in Nov. of '04); my nephew did three combat deployments to Iraq with the Marines, and another nephew recently returned from a 15-month Iraq combat tour with an army Stryker Brigade -- part of Bush's troop escalation last year. Yet another nephew has done one deployment to Afghanistan with army special forces and is currently deployed in another part of the world.

For the first three years of the war, we had five Mills family members on active duty, and until my nephew's return from Iraq last month, we had a close Mills family member deployed to Iraq every year since it began in 2003 -- sometimes two at once.

I have spoken out against the Iraq war from the beginning and started blogging on it during my son's second deployment to Iraq, with his full support. Though I don't get paid for it, I've made it pretty much my full-time job, writing about "the troops" and the effects of repeat deployments on their health, sanity, and family life, and trying to end this godforsaken war.

I am often surprised at how little the civilian world truly understands the military mind. After virtually an entire generation at peace (not counting the Gulf War, which ended practically before it began), there are people in their 20's and 30's who have no concept of military life beyond what they see in the movies or on the news.

For one thing, military types don't all march in lockstep anywhere except on the drill field. Some are conservative, some liberal, some in-between, and some don't care either way -- pretty much like the rest of us.

Military men and women everywhere appreciate courage under fire, period. I'd say that most all active-duty military and veterans greatly admire John McCain's service and the sacrifices he made as a POW. So if he comes to speak to them, they are going to leap to their feet and applaud him, cheer him, and listen respectfully to him speak. They might even try and get a photograph with him.

They are not, however, all going to vote for him.

For one thing, every single Iraq vet with whom I have spoken tells me that the one thing they want in a new president is an end to the war. Period. Whichever candidate comes closest to pledging to end that war, that is who has their support. And right now, that's Obama.

Even during the primaries, no other candidate, with the exception of Ron Paul, received as many active-duty campaign donations as Barack Obama. Paul, you may recall, also wanted to end the war.

Now, there are some active-duty and veterans who support McCain, of course, and would like to see him elected, and will vote for him and donate to his campaign.

But not nearly as many as you might think.

As Jon Soltz at VoteVets pointed out once: There is a difference between supporting a veteran's service and supporting his Senate voting record. And a large majority of veterans DO NOT support McCain's record.

But don't take it from me. Let's start by reviewing percentage-point ratings given by veterans groups of both presidential candidates, based on a minimum of 14 senatorial votes cast on issues ranging from additional inpatient and outpatient care of veterans to safety equipment for the troops deployed to Iraq to increased funds for improvements to veterans' health care facilities.

(It should be noted that the most junior senator, Barack Obama, was not in the senate yet during some of the votes counted, and yet still scored higher than McCain on veteran's issues.)

Disabled American Veterans

Key Votes--McCain 28%
Key Votes--Obama 92%

Vietnam Veterans of America

Key Votes--McCain 37%
Key Votes--Obama 92%

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Overall Grade: McCain D
Overall Grade: Obama B

My thanks to T Partier, who posted this at Talking Points MemoMarch 26 of this year

More damning is a piece put together by, "Senator McCain's Real Record on the War in Iraq," on February 8, 2008.

This is a compilation of quotes given by McCain over the course of the war in which he not only insists that it will be over quickly, but praises Bush and Rumsfeld for the fine job they're doing, and quotes year after year after year in which he insists things like, "We're going to win this thing or lose this thing within the next several months." (November 2006)

It's fascinating reading, in light of his recent reversals from maintaining that our troops can remain in Iraq a hundred years or more to his sounds-better-to-voters idea that the war will be "won" by 2013--just in time for his reelection. (Sounds suspiciously like Richard Nixon's promise that he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam by the end of his first term.) -- even though he's quoted on September 16, 2007, saying that "I believe to set a date for withdrawal is to set a date for surrender."

In other words, if a Democrat pulls out troops, it's SURRENDER. If McCain pulls out troops, it's VICTORY.

Got it?

But what caught my attention about the VoteVets piece -- is that, not only did McCain vote against adequate rest time for troops who've served multiple 15-month deployments, but that he was one of only 13 senators who voted AGAINST adding $430 million for inpatient and outpatient care for veterans.

Even as he has consistently voted to prolong this war year after year after year at tens of billions of dollars every week, putting unimaginable strain on the troops, who are returning with terrible injuries that require all kinds of care, including traumatic brain injury -- the war's "signature injury" -- which has overtaxed a system completely unprepared to handle the overload of patients from a prolonged war... even so, he begrudges them a measly $430 million bucks, which would be about one day of war-costs.

The most thorough analysis of McCain's war and veteran's votes that I've found so far was posted at DailyKos on February 28 of this year.

Along with voting against adequate troop rest or any end to the war whatsoever, McCain also

** voted against an amendment that would provide $20 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) for health care facilities.

** voted against $430 million (mentioned above) for outpatient care and treatment of veterans

** voted against increasing veterans' medical services funding by $1.5 billion

** voted against creating a reserve fund to allow for an increase in veterans' medical care by eliminating abusive tax loopholes

** voted to TABLE an amendment by Senator Dodd that called for an additional $322 million for safety equipment for forces in Iraq and to reduce the amount provided for reconstruction in Iraq by that same amount

** urged other senators to TABLE a vote (which never passed) to provide more than $1 billion for National Guard and Reserve quipment in Iraq related to SHORTAGES in helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests

** voted against increasing the amount available for medical care for veterans by $650 million

And of course, even though an overwhelming majority of senators approved Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel's landmark update of the G.I. Bill, John McCain not only opposed it, but he also refused to cast a vote at all. He was one of only three senators who did not vote that day. (One of the others was Ted Kennedy, who'd just got out of the hospital after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.)

McCain's excuse? Fund-raiser.

Attitudes of troops toward the Iraq war has most notably been cataloged in a powerful survey taken by the Center for a New American Security of 3,400 active-duty officers from all branches of the military service, and published in the March/April of '08 issue of Foreign Policy.

Here are a few quotes:

These officers see a military apparatus severely strained by the grinding demands of war. Sixty percent say the U.S. military is weaker today than it was five years ago. Asked why, more than half cite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pace of troop deployments those conflicts require. More than half the officers say the military is weaker than it was either 10 or 15 years ago. But asked whether "the demands of the war in Iraq have broken the U.S. military," 56 percent of the officers say they disagree. That is not to say, however, that they are without concern. Nearly 90 percent say that they believe the demands of the war in Iraq have "stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.

A full 80 percent of the officers surveyed did not think that the U.S. was in a position right now to handle another war. When they were asked to rate their confidence in the U.S. presidency on a scale of one to ten, the officers gave Bush a rating of 5.5 -- higher than the civilian world rates him but hardly a ringing endorsement.

One of the biggest misperceptions I've seen of civilians toward military is that they assume that military-types are always gung-ho for war.

I can tell you right now that the only troops I've ever seen "gung-ho" are young teenagers on their first deployments who have not yet been asked to fight. I have never, ever spoken to a combat vet who WANTS to go to war or wants to return to fight. Yes, there are some, but the vast majority, those who know the true costs of war first-hand, have no desire to glamorize it.

The survey bears that out. In spite of the fact that Republicans love to paint Barack Obama's emphasis on diplomacy as well as political solutions over military as weak or soft or inexperienced or naive, the truth is that, quote:

Nearly three quarters of the officers say the United States must improve its intelligence capabilities--the highest percentage of any of the choices offered. Active-duty officers and those who have retired within the past year give a much higher priority to nonmilitary tools, including more robust diplomacy, developing a force of deployable civilian experts, and increasing foreign-aid programs.

Again -- in line with Obama's positions -- military officers surveyed repeated that modern warfare is, by its very nature, guerilla warfare and cannot be won by conventional warfare methods. Time and again those surveyed emphasized the importance of increasing our special forces, who are trained in a much different kind of skill-set than the average infantry troop.

Special forces troops go into a hot situation in groups of no more than a dozen. They are usually bearded and dressed in local garb. At least one of them speaks the language fluently and the rest have a rudimentary grasp of it. It is their job to get close to the power-broker of the area, be it a warlord, sheik, or gang leader -- and broker a trade of some kind that will, essentially, rat out the true terrorists.

This has been done successfully with regular ground troops in the Anbar province of Iraq, and is very similar to what SF does all the time. My brother-in-law did much of this kind of brokering with Bosnian warlords, and before he retired, was flown into Afghanistan to repeat the success he'd known in the Balkans.

Repeated deployments have damn near ruined the junior officer corps of the military, with even a historic high of 58 percent of West Point officers quitting the military as soon as their commitment ends, rather than staying to make a career of it.

In other surveys, military families have also soured on the Iraq war an want it to end -- something like 60 percent of them.

These are all issues that concern the military. Do they leap to their feet and cheer a man who held up under five years of enemy torture in a war? Absolutely.

But do they vote for him?

It depends upon how well they know his record. Those who understand that he has voted against veteran's issues far more frequently than for them, will not vote for him.

Cheer for him? Yes.

Vote for Barack Obama?