John McCain has showed himself to be a welter of contradictions, but nowhere is this more apparent – and troubling – in how he repeatedly invokes his prisoner of war past to validate his righteousness while at the same time selling out today's veterans.
This sell-out has taken several forms: Voting against increased funding for health care and education benefits, being absent for key votes on veterans' issues, and working to undercut the progress the Veterans Administration has made in meeting veterans' needs by pushing to privatizing its services.
McCain's rationalizations are very much like the Bush administration's own: Giving soldiers their due by enhancing educational and other benefits under a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate last week will encourage them to leave a military it has done so much to break, so lets force them to remain enlisted as long as possible if they can't afford to attend an expensive four-year college until they have "earned" the right to do so on the government's dime. (Ten Republican senators broke with Bush and McCain to give the bill a veto-proof margin.)As if that isn't coldly calculating enough, let's treat the men and women who return home from Iraq and Afghanistan with problems not as humans who have sacrificed but like so many cost centers whose care should be downsized and outsourced to the lowest bidder, very often politically-connected administration cronies.
McCain's contradiction is rather delicious insofar that it is another test of his fealty to Mr. Twenty Three Percent, who is both his albatross and link to the withered right-wing Republican base. In this instance he's going with the prez and ruined an otherwise perfectly good Memorial Day (Observed) speech to rationalize why he is again selling out veterans who must fight anew to get decent physical and mental health care and educational and job opportunities.
There is an epidemic of suicides among these veterans and the shocking possibility that more will die by their own hands than did on the battlefield.
As it is, about 1,000 veterans try to take their lives each month by the VA's own admission and upwards of 300,000 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other major forms of depression, but McCain doesn't seem to notice.
I will not try to plumb McCain's emotional depths. There is no question that he suffered greatly during five-plus years in a North Vietnamese POW camp.
But there must be some explanation for the disconnect between his own experience and the experiences of today's vets. Why else would he not only not take the lead in advocating for them but instead put obstacles in their way?
McCain supporters expressed outrage when it was suggested earlier this month in a New York Times Magazine article that he did not experience the disillusionment of soldiers like John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb because he was locked away in the Hanoi Hilton for most of the war. The catharsis that these senators experienced on the battlefield and afterwards over the fundamental wrongness of the Vietnam War rather logically led them to oppose a war that McCain so slavishly embraces.
When McCain returned home he got a White House reception (small photo) and received the best care money could buy because he had been a POW and was the son and grandson of celebrated Navy admirals. (In fact, his father was my commanding officer during the war.)
There were specialists to help McCain heal his physical wounds and confront his mental demons. There were no long waits for care, no inadequate and shabbily maintained facilities or bureaucrats who saw his disabilities as detrimental to their bottom line. And there was never any question that he would be get a great job and otherwise make a soft landing in the civilian world.
Could it be that for all his experience John McCain has only the most tangential ties to today's veterans and that selling them out is less a conscious choice than yet another example of where the presumptive Republican nominee is out of touch?