Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director and founder of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the country's first and largest Iraq Veterans group, announced on Friday that IAVA has made available a web site giving the results of their analysis of who in Congress truly backs up their words on supporting the troops.
"Sure, politicians say they support the troops. But whose votes back up their rhetoric, and who's just wearing an American flag lapel pin?" asked Rieckhoff in a Huffington Post column last week. "Now there's an easy way to know for sure. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Action Fund has tallied up every Congressional vote cast on troops' and veterans' issues for the last five years. We've crunched the numbers, and given every legislator a letter grade - the IAVA Congressional Rating."
It is a wonderful idea to be sure and IAVA is certainly the organization to do it. So I thought I would go out over the weekend and do some crunching of my own to document what I think we already know about who in Congress really sticks up for the military and who are merely support-the-troops hypocrites.
I cover the Senate so I decided to do my digging there and what I found will not surprise anyone. IAVA analyzed 155 Senate votes that have taken place since September 11, 2001 and, to calculate their ratings, looked at "…each piece of legislation that affected troops, veterans or military families." IAVA then matched each Senator's votes with the organization's own view of what constitutes true support for active troops, Veterans and their families.
IAVA assigned an 'A' through 'F' grade using the scale at left showing the percentage of time each Senator has indeed supported troops and Veterans. As someone who has watched Senate Republicans vote time and time again against legislation that would benefit military families, the results did not shock me in the slightest.
No Senator in either party was given an A grade by IAVA. Thirteen Senators received a rating of A- and all of those were Democrats. A total of 23 Senators were given a B+ rating and 22 of those were Democrats as well. The other was Independent James Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats.
Cutting to the chase -- and, perhaps more than anything I've seen in recent years, truly defining the difference between the two parties -- is that the worst grade received by a Senate Democrat was higher than the best grade granted a Republican. GOP-lite Ben Nelson (D-NE) received the lowest grade of any Democrat with a B- while Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) managed a C grade from IAVA.
And, when I averaged the scores of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses by assigning the numeric midpoint of the letter grade received by each Senator, which party truly supports the troops was made remarkably clear: The 44 Democrats and Jeffords had an average military-support grade of B+, while the 55 Republicans, who beat their chests with disgusting regularity about how strong they are on military issues, averaged a pathetic D.
And how about the guys Americans will be voting on in two weeks? Republican Senator Mike DeWine -- you know, he's the guy who starts one of his campaign's television ads with "While they're fighting for us abroad, he's fighting for them at home" -- came in with a D+. His opponent, Democrat Sherrod Brown, was given a B rating for his military votes in the House, despite DeWine's bogus claim in an October 1 Meet the Press debate that Brown "has voted against funding for the military when it really counted."
Let's look at some of the other GOP stalwarts trying to keep their Senate seats this year by telling voters how much they fight for military families. George Allen (R-VA), Conrad Burns (R-MT) and James Talent (R-MO) couldn't manage to get over a D+. John Ensign (R-NV), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were all rated a lowly D- by the largest group dedicated to the troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, of those Republican Senators, only Burns has actually served in the military himself.
And here's more stunning hypocrisy: In May, 2006, while giving a speech at the Nevada Republican Convention, Mr. D-minus himself, John Ensign, said "Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy -- let me tell you, I say this without reservation -- they have hurt our military" and, of Kennedy, Ensign once said "Every time Ted Kennedy gets up and speaks (against the war) he undermines our troops."
Pelosi and Kennedy both received a B+ rating from IAVA.
This is an incredibly interesting and enlightening resource and everyone who is really interested in finding out who is supporting our men and women in uniform with action and not just words, should pay a visit. You can go here to see a list showing how each of the 100 Senators scored -- and you'll even find out which Republicans were given a failing grade of F by IAVA.
While assigning a simple letter grade to the choices being made by elected officials may seem to oversimplify the matter, these ratings are the result of exhaustive research and IAVA Executive Director Rieckhoff makes clear that these are serious decisions, where there's no room for fake patriotism or posturing.
"Politicians' choices in Washington have a real human cost: Troops on the streets of Iraq with inadequate body armor. Veterans waitlisted for treatment at the VA. Military widows facing cuts in their survivor benefits," wrote Rieckhoff last week. "There is no excuse for a low score."