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Dem Vets Slam McCain Before Speech to Veterans Group « The Washington Independent

Even before Sen. John McCain begins his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national conference on Monday, Democrats dispatched several veterans to argue that McCain has turned his back on servicemen and women. In a media conference call on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.) began by questioning the common Republican framing of security issues:

There’s a great myth that the Republican Party has propagated that they’re good for defense, better for defense than the Democratic Party, and that they’re good for veterans. And in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. We have suffered eight years of significant under-funding and under-focus from this administration.

That is actually a myth in decline, as former Obama adviser and Harvard professor Samantha Power explains in a new essay in The New York Review of Books. After detailing the Bush administration’s failings, she reports that

Poll data show that voters [are now beginning to] question Republicans’ reliability on national security. On Election Day in 2004 exit polls showed that a majority of voters (49–44 percent) believed that the war in Iraq had made the country less safe. Yet those same exit polls gave Bush an 18 percent edge in handling national security. Between 2003 and 2006, the Republicans had as high as a 30 point advantage over Democrats on the question of which party could best deal with Iraq. But in the summer of 2006… the Democrats were given their first lead in handling Iraq —a three-point edge. This has since been expanded to double digits—an advantage that helps explain the Democrats’ strong showing in the 2006 midterm elections. On handling international terrorism, too, the substantial Republican lead had dwindled by 2006; last year, for the first time, a majority of Americans (47–42 percent) said that the Democratic Party would do a better job protecting the country from security threats. President Bush did Republicans a disservice by wrongly conflating the invasion of Iraq and the "war on terror." The setbacks in Iraq have undermined public perceptions of Republicans’ performance in combating terrorism more generally.

These foreign-policy fundamentals are key. The public’s sense that the GOP was "for the troops" and better on security stemmed from an assessment of their foreign-policy performance — or even "toughness" — and not from their domestic spending on veterans. The Democrats’ emphasis on veterans’ health care and education, including the GI Bill, which McCain initially opposed, was notable. It is unlikely, however, to alter public views on which party is strong on defense and good for the troops.

RELATED: The DNC posted the audio of the entire media conference call here. These calls are not always released, but they provide voters with a more thorough sense of how the campaigns and party committees push their messages and provide surrogate interviews to the press.

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