Monday, August 11, 2008

The ‘Veterans’ Vote’ is far from locked up

Steve Benen, The Carpetbagger Report: A couple of months ago, Time magazine posed the question: “Does McCain Have a Vets Problem?” The question hardly fits into the existing media narrative — John McCain is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He shouldn’t, the argument goes, have any trouble winning over the support of other veterans.
But the narrative is incomplete, to put it mildly. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D for his record of voting against veterans (Obama got a B+), while the Disabled Veterans of America gave McCain a 20% vote rating. The Vietnam Veterans of America compiled a list of key votes, and found McCain voted against the group’s position 15 times and with the group eight times. (Obama, in contrast, voted with the VVA 12 times, and against it only once.)
With that in mind, when McCain went to Las Vegas over the weekend to speak to the Disabled American Veterans, perhaps it shouldn’t have been too big a surprise that the presumptive Republican nominee received lukewarm support.
Sen. John McCain, speaking to disabled veterans Saturday in Las Vegas, attacked his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, for his foreign policy record, while also proposing a program that would allow veterans to acquire health care at private hospitals and not just through the Veterans Affairs Department.
The veterans, at Bally’s for their national convention, gave him a tepid reception, especially considering McCain’s life story. The Arizona senator was a Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, tortured and held as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years.
The Las Vegas Sun interviewed 14 veterans after McCain’s speech, only one identified himself as a certain McCain voter. Devoting most of his remarks to attacking Obama apparently didn’t help.
Retired Marine Duke Hendershot, a double amputee who served in Vietnam, supported McCain’s 2000 campaign, but is undecided now. “John just isn’t the same as he used to be. He’s not his own man,” Hendershot said. “A lot of that has to do with how he’s wanted this job so bad for so long that he’s tied himself to President Bush.” Hendershot added, “[McCain] should have been talking about veterans issues, not his opponent.”
Obama, in contrast, appeared via video, did not attack McCain, and focused exclusively on veterans’ issues.
Given McCain’s “tepid” reception, perhaps it makes sense the VA isn’t helping out when it comes to veterans’ voter registration. Susan Bysiewicz, the secretary of state for Connecticut, had this item in the NYT today.
What is the secretary of Veterans Affairs thinking? On May 5, the department led by James B. Peake issued a directive that bans nonpartisan voter registration drives at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans. As a result, too many of our most patriotic American citizens — our injured and ill military veterans — may not be able to vote this November. […]
[F]ederal legislation shouldn’t be needed for the Department of Veterans Affairs to lift the ban on voter registration drives by state and local election officials and nonpartisan groups.
The federal government should be doing everything it can to support our nation’s veterans who have served us so courageously. There can be no justification for any barrier that impedes the ability of veterans to participate in democracy’s most fundamental act, the vote.

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