As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cornering The Market On Bipartisanship

Shorter John McSame: the key is to trap the troops:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, seemed to give a thumbs down to bipartisan legislation that would greatly expand educational benefits for members of the military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan under the GI Bill.

McCain indicated he would offer some sort of alternative to the legislation to address concerns that expanding the GI Bill could lead more members of the military to get out of the service [...]

Officials in charge of Pentagon personnel worry that a more generous and expansive GI Bill would create an incentive for troops to get out of the military and go to college.

And while that might be great for the individual troop, it could be bad for the military, which is already under stress after more than five years fighting two wars.

On his campaign plane this afternoon, McCain said he and allies in the Senate are working on an alternative to the bill, but would only support something that included incentives to stay in the military.

"We are working on proposals of our own  I'm a consistent supporter of educational benefits for the men and women of the military," McCain said. "I want to make sure that we have incentives for people to remain in the military as well as for people to join the military. ... I've talked a lot about veterans' health care, so we'll continue to talk about those issues and how to care for vets. I know I can do that, having been one."

This sets up the false choice that we can either give troops the educational benefits they deserve or have a military that isn't broken. Quite a few people enter the military for the educational benefits anyway, so an expanded GI Bill would help on the recruitment side, which is just as important as retention. Second, McCain's proposal is premised on the idea that you should make it virtually impossible to leave the military, forcing the economically disadvantaged to re-up. Republican policies have already made civilian life a struggle for the lower and middle classes; this is a proposal to break the trust of promising aid in exchange for national service. It's a symbiotic relationship that made this nation the most prosperous on Earth in the 1950s.

The way to repair the broken military is by leaving Iraq, not by holding current troops hostage by lessening their prospects in civilian life, or bribing mercenaries in foreign countries to sign up. And education benefits is not some sort of handout like welfare.

"We owe them something," Flavin said of his comrades. "They've given life, limb, everything there is to give. The people who bore the most pain and suffering are the people who could use these benefits."

McCain's figuring that he's going to need more soldiers for all those wars he's planning to start while in office. A military that makes good on its promises and is only used when absolutely necessary, after all, wouldn't be in Iraq. But what this shows, in the final analysis, is that the only "bipartisan" solutions that matter to McCain are his own solutions.

Two sources (neither at Common Cause) who spoke on condition of anonymity told me about McCain's attempts to remove former president of Common Cause, Chellie Pingree, from her job. Common Cause, a non-partisan group devoted to open government, was in some ways the field operative for McCain-Feingold in the Senate. But soon, according to my sources, Pingree saw that this regulatory scheme was too full of loopholes; in particular, she realized that it would lead to too much confusion about what various sorts of organizations could do or not do.

Like many others at the time, Pingree concluded that straightforward public financing was the answer. This wasn't what McCain wanted to hear. In an effort to remove Pingree, McCain's operatives made phone calls to Common Cause board members, funders, and anyone else they thought they could persuade or intimidate. McCain's efforts failed, but they showed that he was willing to attack an ally the moment her judgment veered away from his own [...]

One point to add to Cliff's account is that the line that McCain's agents took in trying to oust Pingree was that she had hurt the organization's "bipartisan credibility." Yet what constituted a loss of bipartisan credibility? It was McCain alone. If McCain was happy with the organization, they could call themselves bipartisan; if he turned on them because they didn't follow his agenda, they lost their bipartisan cover, because even if there were other Republicans who supported reform, he occupied the entire space. This was a staggering amount of power for one politician to have over an organization that was meant to be a watchdog on politics, and McCain used that power ruthlessly.

This is where I lost my admiration for McCain. And as I've watched McCain's modus operandi on other issues, such as the torture legislation, I've continued to see echoes of the Common Cause episode: Corner the market on bipartisanship. Move to claim the position of bipartisan intermediary, and then use that position ruthlessly to serve his own purposes or sell out his allies, because they are dependent on the reality or perception of bipartisanship. As a study in the art of exercising power, it's quite impressive. Until people see through it.

This works when you have a power center and are in demand. It's less effective when you're running a partisan campaign. Those bipartisan allies on military issues won't be bullied into supporting his vision of the GI Bill. Bipartisan allies on the environment know that McCain is shamelessly pandering to voters by calling for a gas tax holiday that would increase driving and greenhouse gas emissions. Bipartisan allies on campaign finance reform won't look kindly upon his campaign manager making the rounds of top lobbyists in DC. McCain's perception as a bipartisan leader will fade with these continued policy shifts, and he will morph into the picture of the current figurehead of the Republican Party.

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