Monday, June 11, 2007

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Stump for Vets in Iowa

Two of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton, descended upon Iowa over Memorial Day weekend, crossing the state and pitching their support for Veterans. Although Sen. Joe Biden’s presence registered on Iowa’s political radar, in lieu of addressing veterans’ issues, he spent most of his time on the stump defending his support of the Iraq War supplemental funding bill. On the Republican side, there were no sightings of presidential hopefuls stumping for veterans in Iowa.

John Edwards’s campaign has become ubiquitous in Iowa and this weekend was no exception. Edwards unveiled his “Sacred Contract with Our Military and Veterans Community” and made this the focal point of his most recent Iowa tour:

“I believe in a sacred contract between our country and America’s veterans and military families. We must stand by those who stand by us. When our service men and women sacrifice so much to defend our freedom and secure peace around the world, we have a moral obligation to take care of them and their families.”

In a press release, Edwards provided an overview of the three cornerstones of his end of the contract, focusing on guaranteeing quality health care for veterans, supporting military families, and providing education and economic opportunities for civilian life.

While stumping for veterans in Oelwien, Edwards told a crowd at the Dancing Lion, “"We have a sacred responsibility to the men and women in Iraq. Every troop should be evaluated when they return to see what they want to do and make sure they can do it.”

One thing missing from Edwards’s stump speeches in Iowa, at least explicitly, was his “Support the Troops./Stop the War” campaign, which was scheduled to officially launch Memorial Day Weekend. The campaign’s intent was to reclaim patriotism by making the distinction between supporting the troops, while simultaneously criticizing the Iraq War and calling for its end, an act of patriotism. A large part of the reason Edwards may have stepped back from his call for Americans to “get vocal” and “get active” in opposing the Iraq War on Memorial Day is the criticisms targeted at his campaign on behalf of veterans groups:

Paul Morin, national commander of the American Legion, posted an open letter of the group’s website blasting Edwards for what Morin says is an inappropriate political calculation that “blatantly violated the sanctity of this most special day…Revolting is a kind word for it,” Morin wrote. “It’s as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone.”

For some veterans, Memorial Day is considered sacred and should not be politicized, whether explicitly or implicitly. This holds true for Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), who said his group is also planning to pen an open letter denouncing Edwards’s call to protest:

“Memorial Day is a solemn occasion to remember the service and sacrifice of more than 1 million American servicemen and -women who gave their lives to create our nation, to save our union, and to help free the world from tyranny. It is not a time to call people to protest the war under the guise of supporting the troops.”

Other veterans and their family members, however, said they support what Edwards is suggesting, saying the best way to honor the troops is to protest the war.

Ironically, Hillary took the stump in Iowa to defend her decision to vote ‘no’ on the Iraq War supplemental spending bill. Either way she votes, Hillary appears to be ensnared in a “catch-22” campaign quagmire. When not defending her vote, Hillary argued for increased spending on veterans’ health care, in particular soldiers suffering from severe head and brain trauma caused by roadside bombs:

"Many of them were coming back with a new problem, called traumatic brain injury. It could be up to 10 percent of all those who have been deployed."

After last week’s campaign memo leak suggesting the notion of bypassing Iowa in during the Democratic caucuses, Hillary reassured Iowans she’s still “In to Win”:

"I'm going to spend so much time in Iowa I'm going to be able to caucus for myself.”

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