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Congressman Charlie Rangel’s No H8-er

Manhattan Congressman Charlie Rangel may be (but definitely is) a tax cheat. But he’s no hater.

The congressman yesterday announced that he’s joining 25 other members of Congress in their support for the NoH8 campaign, a “global art protest project” in opposition to California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.

Oh, and of the 26 lawmakers involved in the campaign — according to Rangel’s office — not a single one is a Republican (although, Cindy and Meghan McCain — the wife and daughter of Senator John McCain — have lent their faces to the project).

]

“I believe that hatred of any kind has no place in America. I’m proud to
participate in a campaign that promotes the progress that our country
has made over the past few years with regard to the rights of the LGBT
community, Rangel says. “This is a wonderful way to support their
struggle for equality and to discourage discrimination based on who
people love.”

If you’re unfamiliar with NoH8, it’s described as “a photographic silent protest that feature subjects with duct tape over
their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Proposition 8
and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8″ painted on one
cheek in protest.”

The project was dreamed up by photographer Adam
Bouska and Jeff Parshley, and initially just included the faces of
everyday Californians. It quickly grew to include politicians, members
of the military, and celebrities.

So far, the campaign boasts more than 20,000 faces.

Rangel’s support was in honor of National Coming Out Day, which has been observed every October 11, since 1988.

“To witness the LGBT community gain the rights that they always deserved
has a way of teaching us what the great Coretta Scott King once
exclaimed: ‘Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really
won; you earn it and win it in every generation.'”

Below is the list of members of Congress who’ve signed on to the campaign — again, not a single Republican.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Lucille
Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep Michael Capuano
(D-MA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Jim McGovern (D- MA), Rep. John
Yarmuth (D-KY), Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. Sam
Farr (D-CA), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep.
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
(D-TX), , Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
(D-FL), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Raúl
Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep.
Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Rep. Susan A. Davis
(D-CA). Previously posing for NOH8 were Adam Schiff (D-CA), Dennis
Kucinich (D-OH), William Keating (D-MA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Earl
Blumenauer (D-OR), Nicki Tsongas (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn
Woolsey (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

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Tea Party Nut Wants To Recall John McCain Because He Doesn’t Think Huma Abedin Is A Terrorist

As you may have heard, failed GOP presidential candidate/Minnesota Congresswoman/fagala-phobic madwoman Michele Bachmann has launched a McCarthy-esque witch hunt into several Muslim employees of the federal government whom she decided could potentially be working as spies for Islamist terrorist groups.

One of the targets of Bachmann’s bat-shittery is Huma Abedin — a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife of shamed former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner — who happens to be Muslim.

Last week, just to get it on the record that Bachmann’s a lunatic and that Abedin’s not a terrorist, Arizona Senator John McCain gave a lengthy speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of Abedin’s patriotism, and criticizing Bachmann’s being a fear-mongering nutjob.

Now, because McCain doesn’t think that being Muslim necessarily means Abedin is a terrorist, a group of Tea Party sand-billies in McCain’s home state is trying to get him booted from office.

Before we go any further on how crazy/par-for-the-course for Arizona this is (we lived there for seven years — trust us, we know), a little more on the gentlewoman from Minnesota…

In June, Bachmann sought the help of inspectors general in the State, Homeland Security, Defense and Justice Departments, asking them to investigate “policies and activities that appear to be the result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bachmann later noted on a radio show that “It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

When asked by fellow Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison to provide “a full accounting of the sources you used to make the serious allegations against the individuals and organizations in your letters,” Bachmann provided precisely jack shit.

From Salon:

As evidence, she pointed to Abedin’s late father, Professor Syed Z. Abedin, and a 2002 Brigham Young University Law Review article about his work. Bachmann points to a passage saying Abedin founded an organization that received the “quiet but active support” of the the former director of the Muslim World League, an international NGO that was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe in the 1970s through 1990s. So, to connect Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood, you have to go through her dead father, to the organization he founded, to a man who allegedly supported it, to the organization that man used to lead, to Europe in the 1970s and 1990s, and finally to the Brotherhood.

So, because Bachmann claims Abedin’s a terrorist for no apparent reason, and McCain spoke out about it (in a speech you can read in its entirety below), the far-right-wingers in Sand Land want him booted from office.

As first reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, Wes Harris, the founder and chairman of the Original North Phoenix Tea Party, says McCain is an “embarrassment” and should be recalled. He goes on to say that it’s impossible for a Muslim to be loyal to the U.S. because their faith in Islam comes before everything else (Note: Harris did not respond to our request for comment. A spokesman for the Tea Party did get back to us, though, and we told him we wanted to speak with Harris. We’re yet to hear back).

“Have you ever read the Quran? I suggest you do so, because anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country, and that’s a fact,” Harris says in an email to the Times. “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. If they are Muslim they have to follow the Quran. That’s their religion and that’s their doctrine.”

Because of their allegiance to Islam, Harris says Muslims should not be allowed to serve at the State Department.

“Is [Abedin] a Muslim? Is she an active Muslim?” Harris asks. “I rest my case. That’s all she needs to be.”

This is Wes Harris...and his airplane.
This is Wes Harris…and his airplane.

Harris concludes his (ahem) eloquent email with “Go to hell, Senator, it’s time for you to take your final dirt nap” (and if you were wondering why the Tea Party often is seen as a group of knuckle-dragging hillbillies, there it is).

For context, the hatred of McCain amongst Arizona’s far-right is nothing new. He is loathed by Conservatives in the state because he’s sided with Democrats in the past and is perceived to be soft on Arizona’s issue-Du-jour: immigration. There’s also a current recall craze in the Grand Canyon State after voters ousted former State Senate President Russell Pearce, the man behind Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, in a recall election last year, outraging his Conservative supporters like Harris.

In any event, a few things are clear: Huma Abedin’s not a terrorist, John McCain’s not getting recalled, and Arizona Republicans continue to make themselves the laughing stock of the entire country.

See McCain’s entire speech in support of Abedin below:

“Mr. President: Rarely do I come to the floor of this institution to discuss particular individuals. But I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person’s character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness. It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defense of Huma Abedin.

“Over the past decade, I have had the pleasure of coming to know Huma during her long and dedicated service to Hillary Rodham Clinton, both in the United States Senate and now in the Department of State. I know Huma to be an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government, who has devoted countless days of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves and looking after its most precious interests. That she has done so while maintaining her characteristic decency, warmth, and good humor is a testament to her ability to bear even the most arduous duties with poise and confidence.

“Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.

“Recently, it has been alleged that Huma, a Muslim American, is part of a nefarious conspiracy to harm the United States by unduly influencing U.S. foreign policy at the Department of State in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist causes. On June 13, five members of Congress wrote to the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State, demanding that he begin an investigation into the possibility that Huma and other American officials are using their influence to promote the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood within the U.S. government. The information offered to support these serious allegations is based on a report, ‘The Muslim Brotherhood in America,’ produced by the Center for Security Policy.

“To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.

“The letter alleges that three members of Huma’s family are ‘connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.’ Never mind that one of those individuals, Huma’s father, passed away two decades ago. The letter and the report offer not one instance of an action, a decision, or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department that would lend credence to the charge that she is promoting anti-American activities within our government. Nor does either document offer any evidence of a direct impact that Huma may have had on one of the U.S. policies with which the authors of the letter and the producers of the report find fault. These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma’s family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way. These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now.

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

“Our reputations, our character, are the only things we leave behind when we depart this earth, and unjust attacks that malign the good name of a decent and honorable person is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans.

“Some years ago, I had the pleasure, along with my friend, the Senator from South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham, of traveling overseas with our colleague, then-Senator Hillary Clinton. By her side, as always, was Huma, and I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand her hard work and dedicated service on behalf of the former Senator from New York – a service that continues to this day at the Department of State, and bears with it significant personal sacrifice for Huma.

“I have every confidence in Huma’s loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well. All Americans owe Huma a debt of gratitude for her many years of superior public service. I hope these ugly and unfortunate attacks on her can be immediately brought to an end and put behind us before any further damage is done to a woman, an American, of genuine patriotism and love of country.”

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New York Dems: Hey, Mitt Romney, Tell Us About Your Offshore Bank Accounts!

New York Democrats are welcoming GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to the Empire State by kvetching about his failure to disclose a “sufficient”number of tax returns during his bid for the White House. Specifically, lefties are interested in a few offshore bank accounts the former Massachusetts governor’s failed to mention.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning to call on Romney to turn over the documents — as the majority of presidential candidates, including his father — have done in the past.

So, why is it the job of local New York pols to get the goods on Romney? Well, “because we’re the smartest and best looking,” Quinn joked.

After reporters enjoyed a brief “umm…OK. But really — why the hell is this your job” moment, the three local Democrats sheepishly admitted that they were recruited by the Democratic National Committee to bash Romney as he traveled across New york raising money.

Regardless, let’s talk secret Swiss bank accounts…

According to an article published last week by the Associated Press, Romney has heavily invested in foreign tax havens like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland. According to the AP, Romney’s finances are “deeply entangled” with Bain Capital’s investment funds in the Cayman Islands, and he had a Swiss bank account until just last year. He also owns a “mysterious” corporation in Bermuda, which Quinn and friends point out that he failed to disclose until he released just one year of tax returns.

“Come clean — come clean about your investments and release a
sufficient number of tax returns to the American people,” Quinn says.

How many is a “sufficient number,” you ask? “It ain’t one,” Quinn says after a hearty chortle..

All three Dems agreed that 12 years of tax returns would match the
number released by President Obama, and would probably suffice.

When asked what Romney might be hiding, Quinn was quick to say “we’re not saying he’s done anything illegal.”

That, of course, was only after Quinn vehemently declared that “until governor Romney releases more years of his tax returns we will
never know if he set up a shell corporation in Bermuda to avoid paying
federal taxes.”

Romney, as the Dems note, turned over 23 years of taxes to
Senator John McCain when the 2008 GOP presidential nominee vetted him
to be a potential running mate.

In any event, there’s one way for Romney to get his critics to shut
their yaps about his seemingly shady finances: turn over the stupid tax
returns.

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Mitt Romney: Can Anything Short Of An “Act Of God” Keep Him From Becoming The GOP Nominee For President?

As we noted yesterday, Super Tuesday came and went and there’s still no shoo-in for the Republican nominee for president.

However, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gained a bit of an edge in his quest to become the GOP’s chosen one — enough of an edge that members of his campaign reportedly made the bold prediction that only an “act of god” could derail his campaign (get the details here).

As the saying goes, though, there’s always a dead hooker, or a live boy…

Not to mention, Arizona Senator John McCain stopped him in his tracks four years ago, which proves anything is possible.

Romney, however, has been thoroughly vetted over the course of two presidential campaigns at this point, so it appears the chances of any hookers or children crawling out of his closet are unlikely.

Still, his right-wing opponents continue to wage on — both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich pledge to keep on keepin’ on, despite the tables having turned ever so slightly in Romney’s favor.

Oh, yeah — Ron Paul still seems to think he’s got a shot, too.

The prediction made by the Romney faithful is, without question, a bit on the cocky side — but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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HUMP DAY

Last year, 13 lucky and, er, creative New Yorkers were chosen to compete in the first-ever New York Air Sex World Championships. The winner was Urshur, whose routine included picking up an imaginary prostitute and doing it responsibly (he had an air condom) in his imaginary car. Tonight, cheer on this year’s contestants, who are competing to move on to the regionals. Costumes and props are encouraged (a John McCain doll, a can of Crisco, and a cucumber have all been used in the past), but no nudity is allowed. Comedian Chris Trew hosts.

Sat., Oct. 9, 9 p.m., 2010

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John McCain and Sarah Palin: Together Forever, Again

The supposed definition of insanity is when people do the same things over again, and expect different results.

On that note, John McCain and Sarah Palin are campaigning together again. This time, it’s for McCain’s reelection for his Senate seat. Previously: Sarah Palin sinks John McCain’s presidential campaign.

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Free Will Astrology: January 7 through 13

ARIES [March 21–April 19] During his time in the Senate, former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain has been a strong advocate for Native Americans. As chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, he co-sponsored seven bills in support of Indian rights. And yet Native Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama, who has no such track record. When asked why, Native American author Sherman Alexie said that unlike most other groups, Indians don’t vote merely for their own narrow self-interest, but rather for the benefit of all. They felt Obama would be the best president for America. That’s the standard I urge you to use in the coming weeks, Aries. Stretch yourself as you work hard for the greater good—not just your own.

TAURUS [April 20–May 20] Hope “is not the conviction that something will turn out well,” wrote Czech writer and politician Václav Havel, “but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” That’s the kind of hope I suggest you invoke during your current adventures, Taurus. Be hungrier for meaning than for any specific outcome. If you do that, ironically, the outcome is more likely to be one you feel pretty good about.

GEMINI [May 21–June 20] Describing my writing, one critic said that I was “like a mutant love-child of Anaïs Nin and Jack Kerouac.” This is also an apt description of the spirit you should bring to life in the coming weeks. So be like the memoirist Anaïs Nin: a collector of secrets, a connoisseur of intimacy, a fiercely sensitive alchemist who knows her own inner terrain better than anyone else knows their own. And also be like the novelist Jack Kerouac: a freewheeling, fast-talking, wide-open traveler in quest of the spirit as it makes its wild plunge into matter.

CANCER [June 21–July 22] In giving the Nobel Prize for literature to French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the award committee praised him as an “explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.” I suggest you consider doing some of that kind of exploring yourself in 2009, Cancerian. According to my reading of the astrological omens, you will generate rich benefits for yourself by learning from people and influences that are beneath the notice of the mainstream, whether they’re outside the box, off the grid, under the radar, or immune to the taint of the collective delusions.

LEO [July 23–August 22] “Obstacles are a natural part of life, just as boulders are a natural part of the course of a river,” notes the book I Ching. “The river does not complain because there are boulders in its path.” I’d go so far as to say that the river gets a sensual thrill as it glides over the irregular shapes and hard skin of the rocks. It looks forward to the friction, exults in the intimate touch, loves the drama of the interaction. Sound like a pleasure you’d like to cultivate, Leo? It’s an excellent time to try it.

VIRGO [August 23–September 22] Until last August, Nigerian religious leader Mohammed Bello Abubakar had 86 wives. Then an Islamic council ordered him to divorce all but four of them. He was reluctant at first—many of his 170 children were from the wives he’d have to separate from—but since the alternative was punishment by death, he ultimately agreed. From the standpoint of your own evolution, Virgo, 2009 will be an excellent time to cull the excess and chaos from your love life. If you’re single, narrow your focus to a couple of fantasies rather than a wide variety. If you’re in a committed relationship that’s worth working on, swear off any possibility of cheating or escaping. In either case, perform an exorcism of all the ghosts that might threaten to distort your long-term romantic future.

LIBRA [September 23–October 22] “It takes a lot of time to be a genius,” said author Gertrude Stein. “You have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” I agree with her, which is why I have high hopes that you’re going to tap into more of your dormant genius soon. The cosmic rhythms are nudging you to enjoy a time of slack, and I think there’s a good chance you’ll agree to that.

SCORPIO [October 23–November 21] Willa Cather said that if you’re an artist and want to steadily get better at your craft, you need to continually refine your approach to telling the truth. I’m here to invite you to adopt that strategy in 2009, whether you’re an artist or simply a person who wants to live your life artfully. The coming months will be one of the best times ever for you to penetrate to the heart of the truths you aspire to live by and become highly skilled at expressing them in every little thing you do.

SAGITTARIUS [November 22–December 21] When gasoline prices soared last year, a Christian group called Pray at the Pump organized vigils at gas stations, where they prayed for God’s intervention. Inspired by their work, I have asked my team of non-denominational Prayer Warriors to gather in your behalf. Every evening for the next 10 days, they will be calling on their connections with the Divine Wow to help you Sagittarians come up with smart and practical long-term plans for your financial well-being. On your end, you can supercharge their efforts by doing the appropriate research and meditation.

CAPRICORN [December 22–January 19] Please don’t wear a T-shirt that says what I saw on the canary-yellow T-shirt of a Japanese tourist at JFK airport: “Sorry, I’m a loser.” I also beg you not to read Ethan Trex’s book Faking It: How to Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself. It’s very important, in my astrological opinion, that you not demean or underestimate yourself in the coming days. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you have a sacred duty to exalt your beauty and exult in your talents. Now go read Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and periodically murmur the first line all week long: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.”

AQUARIUS [January 20–February 18] While loitering on a sidewalk outside a nightclub in San Francisco on a September night back in 1994, I found the cover of a booklet lying in the gutter. Written by Marilena Silbey and Paul Ramana Das, it was called How to Survive Passionate Intimacy With a Dreamy Partner While Making a Fortune on the Path to Enlightenment. Unfortunately, the rest of the text was missing. Over the years, I’ve tried to hunt down a copy of the whole thing, hungry for its wisdom, but have never had any success. I’m hoping that maybe you will consider writing your own version of the subject in the coming year, Aquarius. With the luck I expect you to have, you might actually be up to the task.

PISCES [February 19–March 20] Now and then, you may be able to whip up a wonderful breakthrough in the blink of an eye. But more often, it’s the case that beauty and truth and love and justice emerge in their full glory only over the course of a painstaking, step-by-step, trial-and-error process. “All that I made before the age of 65 is not worth counting,” wrote renowned Japanese painter Hokusai. “At 73, I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. At 90, I will enter into the secret of things. At 110, everything—every dot, every dash—will live.” At this juncture in your personal evolution, Pisces, it’s a perfect time to re-commit yourself to your lifelong work.

Homework: Send me a list of your top five New Year’s resolutions. Go to RealAstrology.com, and click on “E-mail Rob.”

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How Obama’s Hopesters Took Ohio

Lorain, Ohio—The kind of hope Barack Obama promised to deliver was nowhere craved more deeply on Election Day than in this battered old manufacturing city on the shores of Lake Erie.

Hope got scores of local residents up before dawn to bounce over rutted streets that haven’t been repaved in decades. Hope had them standing all day outside of polling sites at schools forced to lay off 300 staff members last month for lack of funds. Hope sent them scurrying back and forth across town, picking up voters in need of a lift. It sent them past the mammoth, mile-long steel mills by the Black River, mills that once offered their own brand of hope, employing more than 13,000 workers at gritty but solid jobs with benefits and pensions. Barely a tenth that many jobs remain.

Hope got retired auto worker Joe Gonzalez, 59, over to his church, Sacred Heart Chapel on Pearl Avenue, before sunup to pilot a van to pick up stranded voters. Gonzalez put in 30 years at the vast Ford auto plant on Lake Road, alongside 15,000 other workers, turning out Falcons, Thunderbirds, and Econolines, often at a breakneck clip of more than 50 an hour. The speed didn’t help. The plant was shut in 2005, taking $2.2 million in city tax revenues with it, according to the local Morning Journal, which tabulates plant closings the way other dailies list obituaries.

“I came out of the Army in 1967, went to apply at Ford on Wednesday, got called to work on Thursday,” Gonzalez said, sipping coffee under a basketball hoop in the church’s hall. “Once, they had so many workers at the plants that some people pitched tents because there wasn’t enough housing around.”

That’s no longer a problem. There are 1,000 foreclosures in the city of Lorain, officials say. Many of the homes belong to laid-off auto workers forced to walk away. The vacancies are a green light for scavengers, who rip out the copper piping, rendering the homes uninhabitable. Even some of the fancy new condos built along the river on the site where George Steinbrenner’s huge American Ship Building plant operated, until he closed it in 1983, have been seized by lenders.

Broadway, the city’s main strip, is neat and tidy, with stylish late-19th-century buildings. But it’s like a movie set. Most stores and offices are empty. There’s a lovely waterside park, built with federal funds, that’s dedicated to Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize–winning writer who was born here, and the Underground Railroad, which offered runaway slaves a last stop before freedom in Canada on the far side of the lake.

But the most riveting sight there is the open drawbridge over the mouth of the Black River, where Route 6 links the east side of town to the rest of Lorain. Built to let the huge freighters pass through on their way to deliver ore to the steel plants, it’s been stuck open since June. Its big arms stand 50 feet high in the air facing the Great Lake, as though the city were offering to surrender. State officials say that it’s a computer problem and they’re working on it. Still, it’s too late for the Dairy Queen on East Erie Avenue, a town favorite that closed last month after 33 years because customers couldn’t get there.

The way Gonzalez and several hundred other Lorain residents figured it, the 2008 election was their last best chance to respond to these insults, to register their voices with the political powers-that-be, and to keep their own hopes alive. They would do it by turning out as many voters as possible, a show of force to be ignored at any politician’s peril.

Obama was the big draw at the top of the ticket—the former community organizer inspiring a new wave of organizing. But their own platform was strictly nonpartisan. They made their slogan, “Reclaim Lorain,” and issued a manifesto calling for neighborhood revitalization and anti-crime initiatives. Starting in 2006, they began the grunt work of rallying their neighbors. They put their slogan on lawn signs and on bright orange T-shirts that they wore as they tramped up and down the cracked sidewalks of the poorest city wards in the months leading up to Election Day.

Leading the effort is Laura Rios, a Lorain native and mother of three, who decided to start organizing when she was laid off after 15 years as a marketing director at a nearby manufacturing firm. “It gave me the first chance in a long time to take a look at what was happening in my community. I’d be driving around, and it was like, ‘Wow, when did that building get boarded up empty?’ “

Another nasty nudge came when drug dealers moved into a rented home next door. “I live in a quiet neighborhood. It was a real wake-up call about what was going on.”

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Rios received training from the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Saul Alinsky–inspired advocacy group that helped create Brooklyn’s famed low-cost Nehemiah homes. IAF dispatched Jonathan Lange, a former textile workers organizer, from Baltimore. “We know that the most effective way to get people out to vote,” said Lange, “is face-to-face meetings with people like themselves, who love their town and also want change.”

Lorain’s population is about 70,000. Whites—a polyglot mix of ethnics drawn to the mills—are in the majority and hold most local offices. Blacks are 16 percent; Latinos, 21 percent. A fifth of the city’s residents fall below the poverty line. There’s a large Puerto Rican population, thanks to a recruiting drive that U.S. Steel conducted on the island in the 1950s. Both of Rios’s grandfathers came to Lorain that way: “They were looking for men who could work long hours in very hot conditions—like working in sugarcane fields, which is what my grandfathers did.”

At the group’s first meetings, Rios said, people talked about the good old days. “People had a nostalgic view of what Lorain used to be—that it had jobs, movie theaters, restaurants. People were going through a grieving process for their loss of that city, like mourning a lost loved one.”

Christina Futchko, a Lorain native who taught public school for 13 years and helped organize Reclaim Lorain, remembers visiting her grandmother who worked on Broadway at Ted Jacobs, the town’s largest apparel shop. “It wasn’t Fifth Avenue, but you could buy a nice dress there. I couldn’t believe it when it closed.”

Gloria Nieto, a soft-spoken mother of five, got involved through her pastor at Sacred Heart, Father Bill Thaden, who urged parishioners to speak out about local conditions. “When I grew up, we had everything,” Nieto said, whose father and three brothers worked in the steel mills. “We never had to worry about crime. I just feel like, if we don’t fight back, this city is going to disappear.”

Obama came to Lorain in February during the Ohio primary to visit National Gypsum, a plant where Nieto’s husband worked hauling wallboard. “It was supposed to be just the media and the workers, but I wanted to go so badly and I got in,” she said. She listened as the ex-organizer preached about creating “green” jobs and ending tax breaks to corporations that shift work overseas. A few weeks after Obama’s visit, company officials closed the plant, laying off 58 workers.

Four years ago, on election night, I stood in the rain a few miles away in East Cleveland—another of Ohio’s poorest cities—watching a different group of church-based organizers work their hearts out to get voters to the polls. The rain fell in dismal buckets day and night, but people still turned out in droves in an overwhelmingly Democratic city with a history of underwhelming turnout. The grim weather matched the mood after early returns showed Bush winning Ohio and its critical electoral votes. The day was made brighter only by echoes of the cheers that were raised at the polls every time a young man in full hip-hop regalia showed up to cast his first proud vote.

Election Day 2008 saw Ohio bathed in warm sunshine. Reclaim Lorain dispatched some 100 local volunteers—along with three dozen energetic students from nearby Oberlin College—to its base of operations at Sacred Heart Chapel and to a dozen polling places around the city. Their marching orders, in addition to turning out the vote, were to assist those whose residence or identity was challenged. “We don’t want to see people forced to vote by provisional ballots,” Rios instructed her troops. “They usually don’t get counted until days after the election.”

Outside the polling place, at General Johnnie Wilson Middle School on the city’s west side, a first-time voter named Diraus Wagner Jr. asked for help after being told he wasn’t registered. A volunteer in an orange T-shirt called the church office, where someone typed Wagner’s name into a voter database. A van was dispatched to pick up Wagner and take him to the right polling place.

“I just know the one thing I’m going to do today is vote,” Wagner insisted. “I’m out of a job, and even the temp agencies are cutting back on hours. I’m hoping a lot of people make the right decision today for a president who’s going to bring change.”

Beside him, Kenny Gordon, 59, a big man with a graying beard wearing a Cleveland Browns cap stood in the parking lot holding a large “Obama–Biden” sign. He said he’d been dispatched by his local chapter of the steelworkers’ union. “I’m in the mills 40 years. I swore I’d never be there as long as my father; he did 42. But I’m getting there.” After high school, Gordon worked for awhile at Steinbrenner’s shipyards before switching to steel. “Back then, you could quit one job and get another that afternoon. There were 7,500 men in my mill when I started. All the closings have taken their toll. Jesus, there are so many empty homes now. One day, I’m watching TV, and it shows these people down in Texas living under a bridge. I look, and it’s one of my old neighbors. I couldn’t believe it. He told me he was going to get a job down there in oil because he heard it was busy. He ends up living under a bridge.”

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Gordon said he’d been following the presidential polls closely. “I think it’s Obama. I just feel good. McCain is just an extension of Bush. We can’t keep going that way. It has to change.”

Lorain voted better than 2 to 1 in 2004 for John Kerry. But many polling sites showed turnouts of 50 percent and less. Efforts by Obama’s campaign and Reclaim Lorain helped increase city registrations by 25 percent, officials said. Final tallies of early and absentee votes from this year’s election are still under way, but preliminary results show a sharp drop in Republican votes, with dramatic spikes in Democratic votes at the city’s poorer precincts. On Election Day, the big question was whether Lorain’s many white Democrats would cancel out that surge by refusing to back an African-American candidate.

There were many surprises. Richard Schuler, a 63-year-old white man who owns a paint-contracting business, talked nothing like McCain’s Joe the Plumber. “I am happy to see there’s an intelligent candidate stepping up to run,” he said after casting his ballot at St. Cyril & Methodius Church. “I like his speeches, like what he has to say, how he handles himself. I voted for Bush the first time, then changed my mind. I felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. Let’s just hope it can get turned around now.”

A few minutes later, a pair of young white men in work clothes emerged from the polling site and jumped into a mud-spattered Jeep Cherokee. “I did Obama,” said Jason Hilton, 25, a laborer. “I wasn’t even registered. Someone gave me a form at the racetrack, I filled it out, and here I am. Hell, I could’ve watched those debates till 2 a.m. Obama cleaned McCain’s clock every time.” His pal, Chris Hartman, 22, an auto mechanic, nodded. “If we had another 9/11, I think McCain would freak out—have a heart attack, drop dead—and then we’d have her for president.”

On Lorain’s southeast side in front of Southview High School, a pair of middle-aged white men stood outside the polls talking about bowhunting season. One man, who gave his name only as Steve, wore tattered camouflage pants and a bandanna around his head. The other had on a rumpled gas-station attendant’s shirt bearing the name “Bill.” Both looked like sure bets to have one of those “NO-bama” stickers—sported on cars around the state—on their bumpers. Wrong again. “I thought about McCain for awhile,” said the man named Bill. “People said Obama was from the Middle East and has Arab blood. But I changed my mind. Obama’s more the right man.”

“I’ve got 14 guns, and if I thought he was going to take away one of them, I’d be against him,” said Steve, a construction worker. “But I sorted everything out. We’ve had eight years of getting porked by this Bush, and that’s enough. I want the guy who’s going to do right by working people.”

For that matter, not every minority voter matched the Obama profile. Luis Rosario, 34, wore gold studs in his ear and an African-style necklace to the polls. “We don’t need someone with no experience in the White House,” said Rosario, an ex-Marine who’s spent five years as a correctional officer at Lorain Correctional Institution, a state prison in nearby Grafton. “We don’t need Kuwait, places like that, trying to test us.”

It was a day that tested many stereotypes. One of the leaders of Reclaim Lorain is a middle-aged black woman from Louisiana named Jo Ann Charleston, who is pastor of a local house of worship called New Birth Church. On Election Day, Charleston worked as a roving troubleshooter at the polls, helping voters and volunteers alike figure out how to cope with poll judges intent on handing out provisional ballots at the first sign of trouble.

In between answering voters’ questions, Charleston filled in the rest of her remarkable résumé. If Lorain’s problems are mired in its rust-belt past, Charleston stands for its hopes for a different future. An engineer with double degrees in divinity and chemistry, Charleston has worked for NASA for 30 years, where she helped design a battery that the agency plans to use in the next moon launch. She’s received numerous awards for her work, including being named one of the agency’s top five women employees. These days, she heads NASA’s educational-outreach efforts, coaching high school students into becoming scientists: “We’ve got a shortage of students pursuing math and science,” she said. “There’s no reason we can’t turn out a new generation of scientists right here in Lorain.”

[

She turned to speak to an older white man wearing plaid pants—another likely McCain–Palin voter. He’d been told he was at the wrong polling site. Charleston made a call on her cell phone. “You’re in the right place, just the wrong precinct,” she told him, directing him to the proper table. “Everyone’s vote should count,” she said as he shuffled back into the polling site.

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Richard Belzer, Ice-T Jack Up the Election

Ah, those talking heads—the TV yabberers, not the guys singing about buildings and food. We’ve grown a little tired of hearing from the political world’s institutional pundits over this long election cycle—there’s only so much Roland Martin or Bay Buchanan a concerned citizenry can take. To freshen things up, we decided to open our pages and let a number of notable cultural figures offer their own observations on the 2008 contest. Below, their insights, dreads, and underwear fascinations.

RICHARD BELZER

It’s not hype to say that this is the most important American election in history. I’m saying that because FDR was already in office when the Second World War started. And Lincoln was established before the Civil War began.

Not only is there no incumbent or vice-presidential candidate on the ballot this time, this election has boiled down to “Who are we? What is America?”

I don’t think most people understand how dangerous it would be to elect the Republican ticket in 2008. I believe McCain is a genuinely dangerous person. And his age is not the point. I know people in their eighties who are very sharp. My concerns about McCain are that he was tortured for five years during the Vietnam War, which isn’t necessarily ennobling.

Think about his inability to raise his arms above his head. Keep that in mind for someone with such oversized pride and ego, who is so enamored of himself. The fact that he can’t comb his own hair—he must be seething with so much anger for his inability to do the most basic acts. It’s an anger that underscores everything he does. And it’s an anger, in particular, for people who question his judgment.

As for Obama, here’s the community organizer, Harvard Law student, freshman senator, who dares to run for president against the incredibly imposing Clinton machine, which was considered the most powerful, the most well-connected in modern political history. Hillary Clinton thought she was going to stride right into the White House. Both Hillary and McCain are flabbergasted at this young man who spoiled their runs. And Obama hasn’t just beat these old political machines; he’s done it while redefining how candidates raise money—through small donations, not from fat cats.

Every black kid in America will be one inch taller the day after Obama is elected. The rest of the world will see that we’re not the warmongers they think we are. They’ll see that we’re not the racists they think we are. And in the Arab world, this will help heal the scars of Abu Ghraib.

There will be a sigh of relief from both our friends and our enemies.

Richard Belzer appears on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and has recently written the novel I Am Not a Cop! He will be performing at Comix on Saturday, November 1.

STEW

An Obama presidency will be the quake that unearths the kind of overt, white-hot racism in both the media and the populace that liberals and conservatives have been telling us doesn’t exist anymore, but that black people have known all along was still alive and well.

How many white candidates for president do you remember inspiring such white Christian-extremist fervor as that which resulted in jeers of “Off with his head”? And while whisper campaigns are clearly necessary in a tired old white guy’s efforts against a charismatic young man with a squeaky-clean past, who but reflexively racist imbeciles could believe that if this guy were a closet Jihadi, we wouldn’t know it already?

Being based in Berlin affords me the luxury of not having to live my life caught up in the media swirl of this campaign. But even in Europe, I can’t escape BBC interviews with good old boys from my home state of California describing Obama as being “the wrong color” or “just not the kind of guy I could trust with this country.” I pity the naive among us who are not ready for the Return of the Redneck—otherwise known as Joe Six-Pack. People who grew up thinking race relations in this country were no more problematic than an episode of The Real World are going to get a dose of reality that will make television look like fiction again.

Stew won both Tony and Obie awards earlier this year for his rock musical Passing Strange.

JAIME HERNANDEZ

Barack Obama looks like the English teacher in high school that everybody thought was “cool” but who I never had because I never even got close to those college-prep courses.

Sarah Palin looks like the person that moves into a cool, old Craftsman fixer-upper in a lower-class ethnic neighborhood and starts a neighborhood association and pressures the people who have lived there for years to put the correct windows on their homes.

Joe Biden looks like the actor who plays a politician in a movie.

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John McCain looks like the old guy in a ’50s science-fiction B-movie who gets strangled by the alien monster.

Jaime Hernandez’s new graphic novel is The Education of Hopey Glass.

BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY. For me, one of the most powerful—as well as the least discussed—images of the recent presidential campaign was the moment Sarah Palin introduced herself to Joe Biden at the vice-presidential debate. Everyone noticed her style. Her smile. Her handsome, form-fitting black suit. Her disarming simplicity when greeting her opponent. What few people saw—or what they saw without seeing, or what they feigned to not see, or what they are sure they didn’t see although they couldn’t help noticing—was Sarah Palin’s panties.

Absolutely. For an instant, all we could see, to our shock—under the sexy, curve-hugging, fashionable skirt of this ex–beauty queen—was the panty line of her granny panties, a line so clear we could practically trace the elastic through the thin fabric as it crossed her derriere and hips. Modern women who wear this kind of skirt are generally quite careful, making sure nothing interrupts the impeccable line of their silhouette. But Sarah Palin is not a modern woman. The message she conveyed at that instant was that she is definitely not one of those modern, stylish, naughty women who pay attention to this sort of detail. Perhaps there are indeed women who wear panties and panty hose. Perhaps there are even women—get thee behind me, Satan!—who do not wear panties at all! Well, she does. And she wants everyone to know she wears the real thing, granny panties in heavy cotton. She wants us to know that she wears the old-fashioned kind, made in Alaska, sex-proof, comfortable, not in the least sexy, Republican underwear.

Those Democratic sluts are really sans culottes (literally, “without panties”), in the historical French sense, meaning “liberal” or “revolutionary.” Not Palin. No way. Her motto: “Re-pub-li-can.” And definitely “Cu-lot-tée” (literally, “wearing panties” and also “cheeky”). This ostensible “cheekiness” was in itself the summary of her entire platform.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy’s new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, was published by Random House last month.

WILLIAM GIBSON

Three new things I’ve greatly enjoyed this election season:

1. The increased limberness and muscularity of the American left’s Internet presence. Much improved since 2004. Josh and Kos, in particular: awesome. And, of course, it only kicks ass to the exact extent that it’s nonhierarchical, which doesn’t work nearly as well if your ideology is fundamentally top-down authoritarian.

2. Snap polls immediately following the debates. Cuts out that awful three-day period of gaseous spin and counter-spin while ponderous douche-nozzles decide what we thought. A clear winner by the next afternoon, latest. Smells like democracy. Love it.

3. Watching the debates on cable while surfing live bloggers and comment threads on my laptop. The debates make me anxious, so hunkering down in a giddy virtual crowd of like-minded individuals is perfect for me. And informative. And not infrequently hilarious.

William Gibson’s most recent novel is Spook Country.

DARCEY STEINKE

In mid October, my 12-year-old daughter, Abbie, and I took the train down to Philadelphia to canvass for Obama. Near the end of the day, we approached a house with an older woman holding back a barking pit bull. When we asked if she was registered to vote, she nodded, and when we further asked whom she was leaning toward, she said it was none of our damn business. Sitting on the couch in back of her was a man yelling expletives into a cell phone. A young woman came out of the house and walked to the front of the porch.

“I want to vote for whoever helps poor people,” she said.

“He’s a Muslim,” the man in the back yelled out, “and he was friends with the guys that took down the Twin Towers.”

The girl rolled her eyes at us.

“I’m trying to save money and GET MY OWN place,” she said pointedly. “I just want to know the truth.”

We assured her that Obama is neither a terrorist nor a Muslim. As the old lady came out again with the barking dog, we told the girl about our candidate’s plans to help the poor. Her face as she listened was open and hopeful. The girl took our brochures. When I think about this election, rather than the two candidates’ faces, I think of that girl. How brave it was for her to come to the porch railing and how important it is that the things we were telling her about Obama’s vision turn out to be true.

Darcey Steinke’s most recent book is the memoir Easter Everywhere.

NELLIE MCKAY

I wish factory farms were being discussed more. Someone like Governor Palin, it’s very easy for environmentalists and activists to rally against her because she goes out and kills her own moose and shoots wolves from planes—these very obvious barbarities. But you don’t hear Obama coming out against the Chicago stockyards. Our entrenched and accepted cruelty toward animals, just because they’re what we eat—that should be an issue. And the environmental catastrophe of the factory farms, their pollution of water, air, and soil. And the treatment of the workers, many of whom are minorities or women or illegal immigrants who aren’t allowed such basic rights as bathroom breaks. The meat and dairy industry is rife with need for reform. We have to get rid of factory farms—you have pigs in crates where they can’t turn around or chickens packed in cages the size of a record-album cover. I think California’s Proposition 2, which legislates against factory farms, will pass, by a large margin. That would be fantastic—it’s about time.

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Nellie McKay’s new album is titled Obligatory Villagers. She performs December 2 at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

ICE-T

In our house—Coco and myself—we intentionally took separate candidates to start the election season.

I picked Hillary, and she picked Barack Obama. We knew we weren’t going to vote for McCain, let’s start off with that. He reminded us too much of Bush, and I just didn’t feel a connection with him. (And I haven’t voted before. I registered to vote for the first time for this election.)

I picked Hillary because I liked Bill Clinton. And as it went, I listened carefully, and Hillary and Obama were very alike on the issues. When I started to go away from her was that time when it turned out she lied about being shot at. . . . I didn’t think you should be lying about that kind of thing while you’re running for president.

In the streets, we have a saying: You don’t need to make a lie to kick it. So Barack started to win me over. But I’ve stayed back in this election. I’m usually out there, but I saw what happened to Jeremiah. And I have that whole “Cop Killer” thing of my own that people love to use against me. I knew the kind of game they’re playing. I saw what happened when rappers said something.

So some of us are, like, “Flavor, go put on a suit. This is real right now.”

I was talking to some street cats the other day—they were wearing Barack T-shirts. That was surprising. I asked them about it. They said, “Ice, we don’t want to hustle.” They wouldn’t be voting for someone because they want more crime.

To me, the election was really Hillary running against Obama. I don’t think McCain was ever really in it. And Palin? If there was a book on how not to run for president, she should write it. I mean, you have to have some level of intelligence to run the country. Well, wait a minute. I guess Bush proved that wasn’t actually true.

I don’t know why anyone would want to be president, especially considering what condition the country is in. But if Barack wants it, more power to him.

I travel all over the world—it’s a good look. It’s a good look. It would give the United States a rebirth. And overseas, we could use it.

Ice-T appears on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

RICHARD FOREMAN

When I first saw Obama at the beginning of the campaign—and I did tell people this—I said: “You know, I look at Obama and I think, ‘This is going to sound crazy, and I’m not against him, but he seems like the Antichrist.’ ” He’s so good, and yet there’s a certain masklike quality to his presence. If you read that kind of literature, he fulfills the characteristics of the Antichrist. The Antichrist is someone who will gather lots of people around him, like Obama at the beginning attracting these huge crowds to his rallies, with his message about the future. Now, I say this with great trepidation, because, please, let’s elect him.

Avant-garde theater director Richard Foreman’s last production was Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland. He received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1995.

VIK MUNIZ

This has been a disastrous presidency. I can’t stand it anymore. It’s amazing the reversal of values that have occurred during this administration.

I came here from Brazil 26 years ago. We were under a military dictatorship in Brazil—there was a lack of freedom, of civil liberties. You were subject to the whim of the government. There was a lack of economic vision for the future. When I came here, I was so glad that I was making money, that the money was protected in the bank, that if I worked hard, I could become somebody.

[

I am at the point today where I think that if we’re going to have more years like the last eight, I’m going to leave. Because the country that I left 26 years ago now makes a lot more sense than the country that I’m living in right now. It’s very confusing, to ever think that this was going to happen. Brazil, when I left, was not a country respected by others, because of the dictatorship, and the United States was a beacon of freedom—it was highly respected. And in eight years we’ve become some of the most hated people in the world because of our foreign policy. It’s like in Superman when you have bizarre Superman. Everything’s upside-down.

Artist Vik Muniz’s show “Verso” recently ran at Sikkema Jenkins gallery.

SARAH JONES

Nothing gets your head thinking about these things like landing at George Bush Airport in Houston from Ronald Reagan Airport in Virginia, which I did recently.

I know Palin is the low-hanging fruit. I can’t help but think of her and her nomination as the moment that we cratered as women, as a country, at multiple levels. I’m thinking of her also because I ran the Chicago Marathon this year, my first marathon. It was awesome. I couldn’t help thinking, even though it was 83 degrees and my time wasn’t what I hoped it would be—I couldn’t help thinking about everyone who told me that Sarah Palin runs a marathon in under four hours. It really bothered me! I hadn’t broken the four-hour mark.

And then I remembered that this is a woman who has to be in really good shape for, among other things, the Rapture. She’s gotta be prepared for that. And then it dawned on me that this person, this stuff of fiction, is actually going to be on the ballot.

Sarah Jones won both Tony and Obie awards for her one-woman show Bridge and Tunnel.

SUSAN CHOI

I think about the election all the time; it almost feels like a disorder. I’m having such a raw and emotional relationship with this election that I feel as if I have to protect myself from terrible traumas that might lie just ahead. I’m preemptively sick to my stomach about some terrible thing that might happen. That seems very grim, because at the same time I’m also elated all the time. It’s been like love, this election. Being in love, being afraid that the loved one is going to be taken from you. Feeling elation and dread, which is what being in love is about.

Which isn’t to say that I’m in love with any particular candidate, but the emotional stakes are so high that I’ve been kind of a mess and often feel like I have to pull away for my own good—not watch the news, not read anything for a day or two. The month of September was a very black month for me, where after Palin’s selection I almost felt like an abuse victim. I thought, I just can’t let them hurt me again—I couldn’t engage with the news. And then as the poll numbers turned around, I began to feel that I could wade in, very carefully.

Susan Choi’s most recent novel is A Person of Interest.

JAMES HANNAHAM

One of the great guilty pleasures of this political season has been watching conservative pundits jump, one after the other, off the sinking radical Republican ship like desperate little rats.

I say “guilty” only because journalists don’t like to watch other journalists lose their jobs or flounder uncomfortably—we’ve all been there; the schadenfreude factor runs fairly shallow. But what a delight to see curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens—who earlier this year compared Obama’s denouncement of Jeremiah Wright to “selling out his grandmother”—endorse the Illinois senator, not so much out of enthusiasm for Obama but horror at McCain’s “increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical,” and his “deceiving and unscrupulous” running mate, Sarah Palin.

It’s a thrill to have watched proud conservative Andrew Sullivan peel away the layers of his identity over the last few years to become a barebacking Daddy-bear Democrat-lover who posts anti-Palin parodies on his blog. And the star atop the tree was Christopher Buckley, whose late father must have turned into Pinwheel Billy from spinning in his grave when sonny-boy declared his intent to vote for Obama and got sacked from The National Review. Were his parents alive, Buckley fretted, “They’d cut off my allowance.” Aww.

None of these Anglophile creeps seem less than humiliated at their leap across party lines—to vote for a Negro, no less! But it’s truly a joy to see these guys doing what Democrats have done for years—vote against a Republican rather than for a candidate they wholeheartedly endorse.

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James Hannaham is a staff writer at Salon; his novel God Says No will be published in 2009 by McSweeney’s Books.

RICHARD HELL

I am a fatalist who votes anyway. Obama makes me happy, despite his flattening out of himself for wider electioneering purposes. To my mind, speeches such as the Philadelphia race speech earn him the benefit of the doubt.

As far as odd or unexpected moments in the campaigns, two come to mind for me. The first was how, during the primaries, the initial response expressed by many African-Americans interviewed about Obama was fear that he would be murdered. That hadn’t occurred to me, and it was chilling to realize what a rational thought it was, given what we know about America.

The other occurred when I recently saw regularly scheduled campaign ads in breaks during a television show. The ads seemed unreal; they seemed fictional. They made the room I was in—and everything in it, including me—feel as if it existed in a movie. The whole election process is so removed and contrived that it only exists as plot development, theater. It’s all ridiculous and depressing.

Richard Hell’s most recent book is the novel Godlike. He’s currently writing an autobiography.

EILEEN MYLES

GWEN IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

JOE BIDEN: No.

SARAH PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage, and my answer is the same as his, and it is that I do not.

Looking back on the campaign, I am particularly intrigued by this political marriage. On TV, the vice-presidential candidates have issued (with grins all around) the idea that for now, today, tonight, it’s OK that gay people don’t have full civil rights. That’s it in a nutshell, folks. They both also say all this blah-blah-blah about how the Constitution protects us, but nobody really wants that. With only a civil union, I can’t file joint federal taxes, and I can’t help my partner get citizenship, and in most states, I’m limited in my gift-giving—and I can’t make decisions about her health, either, except in the state our union is in. That’s a lot to not have.

Why am I being held at bay? Why now? I mean, if you think about it, women used to have a lot fewer rights in marriage before they changed the law. Maybe those changes are what ruined marriage. And we’d just ruin it a little bit more. Pretty soon, nobody’d want it. Let the kids have it. Maybe we should just cut it up into little pieces and feed it to the world. No one’s going to notice. For a while.

Eileen Myles’s most recent book of poetry is Sorry, Tree.

DOROTHY ALLISON

For me, the issue is, who can do the job—not the job of being president but the job of cleaning up after Bush and Cheney. The work that must be done to clean up the mess left after eight years of anti-government government is enormous, and as a lifelong Democrat, I am appalled that once again it will take a Democrat to repair Republican excess. 

I genuinely believe that Barack Obama is the best person to take on that challenge—though he is, from my perspective, quite conservative—fiscally, socially. He is not, for example, what I wish he was—a strong defender of gay and lesbian rights—or even an advocate against what I fear is a frankly dangerous trend toward rolling back those laws and institutions established by feminist advocacy over the last two decades.

Do not mistake me. I am a radical feminist with strong socialist tendencies and a conviction that this nation has long neglected its poor and disenfranchised. I am exactly the kind of person the Republicans and John McCain demonize—the kind of person they accuse Barack Obama of being.

Dorothy Allison is the author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller.

MAC WELLMAN

The Folly of Fighting Wars Against Countries Who Have Done Us No Harm: McCain, among others, claims we lost the Vietnam War. But what harm has Vietnam inflicted on anyone, with the exception of Cambodia in 1979 (perhaps, in retrospect, an act of considerable merit)? So the question is: If no harm came of ceasing hostilities against another country Who Did Us No Harm, what can be the danger of once more ceasing hostilities against Iraq, another country Who Did Us No Harm, up to our invasion? Who is the real defeatist? John McCain and the Neo-cons at the White House, who apparently only want lost wars. These subversives are dangerous and un-American, in my view. They are traitors and should be treated accordingly.

Mac Wellman’s most recent play is 1965UU.

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Vets Vs. McCain

In the last few minutes of the first presidential debate, on September 26, John McCain made a statement that probably blew past most economy-obsessed Americans but stopped a lot of military veterans short.

Barack Obama had just remarked that he is approached all the time by Iraq War veterans who say they can’t get help for post-traumatic stress disorder from the overwhelmed veterans’ administration, something Obama vows to improve. When it was his turn to reply, McCain seemed incensed that Obama would dare intrude on his turf as perhaps America’s most famous injured war vet.

“I know the veterans, and I know them well,” he said, his voice shaky with emotion. “And I know that they know that I’ll take care of them. And I’ve been proud of their support and of their recognition of my service to the veterans. And I love them, and I’ll take care of them. And they know that I’ll take care of them.”

But he hasn’t. McCain has had 25 years in Congress to help veterans, yet about all he’s done is talk about his own experiences as a prisoner of war—and push our country to go to war again.

Veterans’ groups are finally speaking out about their frustration with McCain, who rides on his reputation as a war veteran at the same time he has compiled a long record of opposing legislation benefiting vets.

McCain’s campaign did not return a call for comment about his work on behalf of veterans, both regarding his voting record and his constituent services operations. The last time John McCain was in his adopted home state of Arizona to meet with veterans—this summer—he went to downtown Phoenix to court potential voters at the annual conference of the American Legion, the nation’s largest and most prestigious veterans’ organization.

During taped questions, McCain was asked about veterans’ benefits. He began by telling Legion members about a 1789 quote from George Washington he carries with him to town hall meetings, reciting the line from memory: “The willingness of young Americans to serve their country at a time of war is directly related to the treatment the country accords to those who’ve served in previous wars.”

No wonder military recruitment is down.

According to a consortium of vets’ groups that compiles its own “wish list” budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs each year, the number of veterans seeking help increased 29 percent between 2006 and 2007. Yet funding hasn’t increased to meet that. The Independent Budget consortium, a group made up of representatives of more than a dozen veterans’ organizations, says veterans are shorted out of billions of dollars in services each year.

In the second presidential debate, McCain said that he supports a spending freeze that excludes veterans—but the truth is that McCain has voted against funding for health care and other services for veterans for years.

McCain didn’t support a measure that would have closed tax loopholes to fund improvements at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., though he surely must have wished he had when he saw the headlines last year, documenting the deplorable conditions at that hospital. He has voted against help for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. He has voted against programs to provide housing to low-income and special-needs veterans. He did not support the latest GI Bill.

Brandon Friedman is a former Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; he’s now vice chairman of a national veterans’ support group called Vote Vets, an organization devoted to electing veterans—with one notable exception—to public office.

Friedman calls McCain’s statements in support of vets “a slap in the face.” He says: “Coming from a guy who’s kept us stuck in Iraq at the expense of the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan—and who opposed the new GI Bill—[such comments don’t] carry much weight. Those are empty words. John McCain is all talk when it comes to supporting veterans, and his voting record shows it.”

Historically, it’s been difficult for anyone to question McCain’s status as a patriot. Or, because he was tortured in North Vietnam, to challenge him on anything at all.

Even his most vicious detractors can’t take away the fact that John McCain suffered for his country. But there’s also no denying that McCain, unlike most of his fellow vets, didn’t need a government safety net when he returned home from the Hanoi Hilton.

His grandfather was a Navy admiral. His father was the commander of U.S. Naval forces in Europe and, later, the Pacific during the Vietnam War. John III landed softly in the arms of a well-to-do family and, later, his even wealthier second wife. John McCain never needed to line up at the VA to see a doctor; he’s had the finest medical care money can buy. He never needed help to pay the rent or find a job.

McCain arrived in Arizona in the early 1980s with his POW story and money from his beer-heiress second wife. He took advantage of both to get elected to Congress and has used his military record to get ahead ever since. Although McCain himself has stated in the past that military service isn’t a job requirement for commander in chief, his own time in the Navy—particularly as a POW—has served as the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

He skated for years on his military record, but now his record in Congress on veterans’ benefits has caught up with him. That started in earnest last year, with the scandal at Walter Reed.

McCain actually stood up and took the blame, that time.

“I will take responsibility for being a member of the Armed Services Committee and not knowing about it and not doing anything about it,” McCain told The New York Times in March 2007, adding, “I apologize for my failure” to act, and “I should be held accountable.”

He should. As an Army hospital, rather than a VA facility, Walter Reed actually falls under the purview of his Armed Services Committee, rather than Veterans Affairs.

And yet, McCain voted against a 2006 Senate measure that would have closed tax loopholes for the very wealthy to devote $1 billion to failing veterans’-health facilities, including Walter Reed.

After McCain stood up at the first presidential debate and pledged his undying love for the nation’s veterans, quiet complaints about his lack of support for veterans got a lot louder.

Until the 2008 presidential race, the only veterans really harping about McCain were from a group called Vietnam Veterans Against McCain, and you only need to visit their website, vietnamveteransagainstmccain.com, to see how fringe its members and their complaints can be. They’ve called McCain the Manchurian Candidate and disparaged the senator for ignoring their efforts to find missing POWs in Vietnam. McCain has never been particularly patient with them, either—he famously made the mother of one missing POW cry at a congressional hearing in the early 1990s, and engaged in heated arguments with others. They will never forgive him for voting to normalize relations with Vietnam.

But the new round of complaints is a different story. It’s not only about a difference of opinion over how the war in Iraq is being handled, though that’s part of it. It’s a story about how the soldiers are treated once they come home.

Vote Vets’ Brandon Friedman has documented and circulated dozens of instances since 1987 in which the senator has voted against what adds up to billions of dollars in funding for veterans for health care, counseling, and other benefits. McCain has voted to outsource VA jobs held by blue-collar veterans and supports privatizing health care for veterans—very unpopular positions among many vets.

More famously, he actively opposed the most recent GI Bill, stating that its education benefits were so generous that he worried it would encourage military personnel to leave the service. Even his conservative colleague and ally, John Warner, the Republican senator from Virginia, supported the bill, but McCain wouldn’t budge; he didn’t bother to show up for the final vote.

When Barack Obama criticized his vote on the GI Bill, McCain responded with a press conference, in which he said: “I believe that I have earned the right to speak out on veterans’ issues. As a matter of fact, I’ve received the highest award from literally every veterans’ organization in America.”

While it’s true that veterans’ groups have honored McCain for his service in Vietnam, few, if any, are praising him for his service to veterans while in Congress, particularly in the past several years. Most vet special-interest groups decline to officially take sides (even Vote Vets hasn’t made a presidential endorsement).

Vote Vets is among many veterans’ groups to note the discrepancy between John McCain’s talk and his actions.

In both 2006 and 2007-08, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a “D” for his record on key congressional votes.

The Disabled American Veterans scored him at 20 percent in 2006; 25 percent in 2005; and 50 percent in 2004.

And the Retired Enlisted Association gave him a 0 in 2006 and a rating of 18 percent in 2004.

These are all the most recent rankings released by the groups.

Another vets’ organization, Veterans for Common Sense, posted this comment on its website earlier this year: “John McCain is yet another Republican former military veteran who likes to talk a big game when it comes to having the support of the military. Yet, time and time again, he has gone out of his way to vote against the needs of those who are serving in our military. If he can’t even see his way to actually do what the troops want, or what the veterans need, and he doesn’t have the support of veterans, then how can he be a credible commander in chief?”

The special-interest groups aren’t the only ones taking notes on McCain’s voting record.

John Adams retired last year as an Army brigadier general. His last assignment was as deputy U.S. military representative to NATO in Brussels. The first thing he did when he moved to Tucson was sign up as the head of Arizona Veterans for Obama.

Adams is onto McCain too.

“It’s really disingenuous for him to say that he has taken care of veterans in any way. His voting record shows that he hasn’t.”

And then there’s Don Johnson.

Johnson, 40, is a veteran of the first Gulf War. He took a bullet in the leg and has been up and down on his luck ever since. He’s currently sleeping in the overflow lot at the downtown shelter, spending days at the Arid Club, which holds meetings of 12-step programs.

When asked to talk about his feelings about McCain, Johnson did his homework. Not only did he go to the library to research the senator’s voting record, he took it upon himself to conduct an unofficial survey of his fellow homeless veterans, including a Vietnam vet named Nick, who hasn’t voted in 20 years but registered this time so he can vote against McCain.

As for Johnson, he wrote a poem to express his feelings:

An officer and a gentleman,

A liar,

A politician,

Standing on a soapbox,

Crying, I’m a POW and a Vet.

But you haven’t done anything for us yet.

You claim Stars and Stripes, freedom for all,

Unless you are homeless, have suffered a fall.

Why must you lie for political gain?

Do you have an answer, Mr. McCain?

In August, a Gallup poll showed McCain well ahead of Obama among vets (mainly, the pollsters said, because McCain is a Republican). But also in August, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Obama had received about $74,000 in political contributions from active military personnel, compared with McCain’s $16,000.

If nothing else, John McCain’s voting record on veterans’ issues is truly a stunning example of hypocrisy, coming from a guy who owes his fame to his celebrity status as a former POW.

In an effort to rehabilitate himself after the Keating Five scandal and show he wanted to stop government overspending, McCain made Arizona a sacrificial lamb, refusing to request or support any earmarked spending. Every year, millions of dollars are appropriated to specific projects in individual states. Some boondoggles, to be sure, but also some good programs, including many for veterans. Citizens Against Government Waste, which has made McCain its poster boy, publishes a list every year of earmarks, programs the group and McCain dismiss as pork.

There are no projects marked “Arizona” in the list of veterans-related “pork” that Citizens Against Government Waste has listed for the past several years, but there are dozens of programs in other states designed to help veterans.

For 2008 alone, the list included:

• $277,000 to train veterans to be teachers in Pensacola, Florida

• $196,000 for a computer lab for disabled veterans in Providence, Rhode Island

• $196,000 for renovation, construction, and build-out for a low-income veterans’ housing program in southeastern Massachusetts

• $147,000 for construction of affordable housing for homeless veterans in San Diego

• $196,000 for housing homeless veterans with special needs in Denver

McCain voted against it all, just to make a point.

Point taken. The saying goes: “Hate the war, love the warrior.” In McCain’s case, it almost seems reversed.

John Adams, of Arizona Veterans for Obama, recalls that in the second presidential debate, McCain called for a spending freeze on just about everything but veterans’ services. “His record belies the fact that he would promote veterans’ affairs expenditures,” Adams says. “John McCain’s record shows that he has been untrustworthy.”

About McCain’s love for the war, his celebrated support of the troop surge in Iraq when so many others shunned the idea, Adams says: “We ought not to fight wars unless we have to. The lesson of the surge is not that we’ve been able to limit violence. . . . It’s that we’ve been able to delay our withdrawal by another two years.”

The surge that McCain has backed, Adams adds, has cost the United States $10 billion a month and at least another 600 lives.

In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, published in 1999 as his first presidential bid went into full swing, McCain admitted that he received better treatment than his fellow Hanoi Hilton prisoners, because of his father’s status at the time as a Naval commander. Not that prison camp was a walk in the park for McCain; to the contrary, to this day you can see the scars of war as he makes his way across a stage to speak.

But McCain doesn’t dwell in his books on how much his life was different from the lives of his fellow soldiers—after the war.

McCain endured painful physical therapy in his quest to fly again, but he didn’t have trouble getting treatment. His biggest career challenge was persuading his military bosses to allow him to study at the War College; as he wrote, he pulled strings with now-Senator Warner, his father’s old friend as secretary of the Navy, when he was told his military rank didn’t qualify him for the placement he wanted.

McCain had come home in 1973. By 1980, after a prestigious stint as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate, he’d met a much younger and richer woman, Cindy Lou Hensley; ended his first marriage to Carol McCain, who had herself been gravely injured in a car accident while he was in Vietnam; and taken off for his new home, Arizona.

He’d also given up the military for a career in politics.

He was pretty much a one-note wonder in a crowded campaign in 1982 for the congressional seat being vacated by John Rhodes.

“Thanks to my prisoner of war experience, I had a good first story to sell,” he and Mark Salter wrote in a later memoir, Worth the Fighting For, published in 2002.

The story was a good one, but McCain didn’t ingratiate himself to all the veterans he met. Harry Seggie, who spent time in a World War II prison camp while in the Army, remembers encountering the future presidential contender at the local Disabled American Veterans club, shortly after McCain arrived in Arizona. He was there the day McCain stopped by to sign up for the club.

“I didn’t have too long of a conversation with him; just spoke to him, this and that,” Seggie says, recalling it was clear McCain was there to run for Congress. McCain made a definite impression on the vets that day. Seggie, for one, didn’t care for him: “He seemed like a foul-mouth to me.”

McCain emerged from a crowded Republican Party to take the congressional seat he’d come to Arizona to claim. From the start, McCain toed the GOP line—even if it meant crossing his fellow vets. In 1983, he was the featured speaker at the state Disabled American Veterans convention. Before he spoke, the DAV’s state commander took the stage to sharply criticize the Reagan administration’s lack of support for veterans’ benefits, despite campaign promises to the contrary.

Instead of standing up for veterans’ benefits, McCain rose to defend Reagan.

Larry Morris, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Arizona off and on since the early 1980s, remembers attending another meeting, this time at the Phoenix Vet Center in 1984. McCain was there, too. The topic: suing the government and chemical companies over the use of Agent Orange. Morris recalls that McCain was not in favor of the national class-action suit that, ultimately, was filed and settled many years later for more than $100 million.

“He stood up and voiced his opinion,” Morris says. “His opinion was that it was unpatriotic to sue the government.”

Morris continues: “There was a lot of booing and hissing, and I think it was at that point that the suggestion was made that Congressman McCain leave.”

Like John McCain, Larry Morris comes from a military family. His father was an Army sergeant, his mother an Army nurse. Morris remembers living in Germany just after World War II, seeing what remained of the concentration camps. The image stuck with him forever, he says, but that’s not why he joined the Navy on his 17th birthday. He did it because, as the eldest, he was already working to help support his seven siblings. As a Native American, Morris’s father had been unable to rise above his low-paying rank.

Morris landed in San Diego after two tours in Vietnam, with shrapnel in his arm (he says the wound was never was officially treated, that a medic dumped some iodine on it and dressed it). Parasites from his Navy days irritate his digestive system to this day, and he has a constant ringing in his ears that doctors speculate was caused by a 40-pound brick that fell on his neck and shoulder, knocking him to a lower deck on the ship on which he was stationed.

Morris was released from the Navy 45 days early after complaining of nightmares. There was no treatment offered at the time for post-traumatic stress disorder; the doctor just gave him some tranquilizers. He still has nightmares, more than 40 years later.

After some false starts over the years, Morris tried in earnest in 2004 to get better health care from the VA. He visited McCain’s Tempe office but was told that without a Purple Heart, nothing could be done. Like many Vietnam vets, Morris doesn’t have his medical records from Vietnam. He has other medals but no Purple Heart.

McCain’s office could have written a letter or made a phone call, but all Morris got was a list of addresses.

Ultimately, he says: “I did better on my own, just writing letters to the secretary of the Navy.”

It’s taken years, but where Morris’s low-priority status once forced him to wait up to six months for a doctor’s appointment at the VA, he’s now at the top of the list. The tiny apartment he shares with his wife, Deirdre, in Surprise is stacked with boxes of letters and other records from his VA battles.

Larry Morris wasn’t at the American Legion convention this summer, but he probably would have appreciated the irony of a statement McCain made there about veterans’ benefits. When asked about the backlog of unresolved benefits cases at the VA (like Morris’s), McCain called it a “national disgrace” and replied that maybe it’s unfair that the burden of proof to receive government benefits is on the vet.

Instead of the vet’s having to prove he’s disabled, McCain said: “Maybe sometimes we oughta have a more balanced situation where the government has to prove that they’re not. You see my point?”

Andrew Vera isn’t surprised that it’s hard for a vet like Morris to get by. He says it’s even harder for soldiers who served more recently.

Vera, 29, grew up in south Phoenix. He enlisted in the Navy shortly after 9/11, knowing the country was going to war. He was in Iraq for the invasion in 2003, assigned to the highest-level triage unit in the Middle East. There was no burn unit anywhere in the region, he says, so his unit created a makeshift one.

It was Vera’s job to track patients. “I saw most of the initial injuries,” he says, including those of Lori Piestewa, an Army soldier from Tuba City, the first Native-American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.

He wrote down information about each casualty by hand, because there was no other method; eventually, he built a database.

Vera slept in his gas mask and boots for weeks. He completed two tours in Iraq, leaving the Navy in 2005 and returning home to Phoenix.

It’s not a good place to be a veteran, he says.

“Phoenix is a scary place. It’s not a military town, and a lot of guys come out here—there aren’t a lot of jobs out here. It’s warm, but Phoenix and Arizona, there isn’t a structure for these guys, for young veterans to be caught and effectively spoken to and get help. And I guess for a lot of young guys, they’re not going to get help.”

Vera did—eventually.

At first, he didn’t know he needed it. Family and friends pointed out his behavior: Vera was drinking heavily. He switched jobs often and found himself in confrontations with co-workers. He couldn’t communicate; he wasn’t socializing.

He approached Senator John McCain’s local office for help, with no luck.

Vera is careful not to bash his fellow vet—at least, not too much.

“John McCain, his staff has really tried to be a source of information and a source of assistance, but I think that, over the past five or six years, his office has become overwhelmed,” he says. “There’s a case overload. Clearly, running for president is what his priority is now.”

So Vera went to Congressman Ed Pastor’s office, instead. (He’d worked for Pastor, a Democrat, previously, doing constituent services.) And although Vera’s a smart, well-connected guy, it still took him 10 months to qualify for benefits from the Veterans Administration, which diagnosed him with a full-blown case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In the military, they tell you what to do and they give you the services because they want a fit force,” Vera says.

Once he got home, he adds, things changed. He’s now a member of Vote Vets.

Things changed drastically for Brian Callan when he came home, too.

Callan, a veteran of the first Gulf War, was shot by police in the parking lot of a Toyota dealership in Phoenix in 2001. It was obviously a suicide; Callan egged on the cops.

He had been diagnosed with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and his family felt strongly that he didn’t get adequate services from the VA; an examination by the Voice‘s sister paper, Phoenix New Times, of medical records and a comparison to recommended treatment protocol confirmed that.

Callan’s mother, Jerri Glover, who now lives in New Mexico, recalls that Brian was a big fan of John McCain. He wrote the senator letters on random topics such as the collapse of Enron. Two months after his death, Glover approached the senator’s local Veterans Affairs staffer, Tom McCanna, and asked him to help her get the information she needed to file a tort claim against the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix. The family felt strongly that poor medical treatment led to Callan’s behavior and ultimate death.

She still has a copy of the typewritten letter she sent to McCanna, dated November 14, 2002. After she didn’t hear from McCain’s office, she put a sticky note on the letter: “McCanna never followed thru—did not receive forms.”

The mother tried the local Veterans Administration office, with no luck. Finally, a friend of Brian’s spent hours on the Internet and found the forms. The claim was denied.

Glover was disappointed, and not, she says, because she wanted the money for herself.

“I really wanted to sue the shit out of the government and then start up a clinic to help the PTSD vets,” Glover says. “That was my whole idea. I did not want other guys to suffer like Brian did, in not getting any help.”

She’s quick to add that later, when she couldn’t get the Navy to release Callan’s medical records, McCain’s office finally expedited the request. But what the Navy finally sent was a mess, with pages missing and out of order, barely usable.

“When I received them, it was a farce.”

“They can spend a billion a week on a war, but they can’t spend whatever it takes to heal the [people] they’ve ruined?” Glover says.

“It just makes you lose faith,” she adds. “I just thought that his office would help represent his constituent who was so loyal to McCain. And to his country.”

John McCain’s treatment of his constituents is best described as benign neglect. For years, many Arizonans have referred to their senior senator as “the senator from Washington, D.C.” He’s more interested in the national platform than the home trenches.

But it’s on the national stage where McCain’s performance on behalf of veterans has been the most disappointing to his fellow veterans.

Since 1987, McCain has voted against dozens of measures designed to assist veterans. Most recently, he skipped the vote on the Webb-Hagel 21st Century GI Bill, which funds higher education for post-9/11 veterans, with a sliding payment scale depending on length of duty and disabilities sustained.

Alfredo Gutierrez was a longtime McCain fan; the two met when McCain first arrived in Arizona, and although they’re on opposite sides of the aisle, the former majority leader of the Arizona State Senate always spoke highly of McCain—mainly because both men served in Vietnam.

But Gutierrez is furious with McCain over his voting record, particularly on the GI bill.

“I came back from the Army and if it wasn’t for the GI bill, I surely wouldn’t have made it through college. The only way I got started and I ran for office was because I could afford a house because of the GI bill,” Gutierrez says.

“So this guy who has built a whole political career on his status as a veteran and a POW, he’ll vote to send the guys to war,” he continues, “but he won’t vote for the GI bill. That’s pretty amazing. It’s stunning stuff to me. It’s the height of hypocrisy.”

And, he adds, it goes beyond the GI Bill. “His voting record is abysmal.”

Here are just a few examples of pro-veteran legislation that didn’t get McCain’s support:

• January 2008—McCain didn’t vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, which included an increase in basic monthly pay for active military by 3.5 percent and permitted vets who are 100 percent disabled to get both retirement and disability pay.

• October 2007—He didn’t vote on another version of the Defense Authorization Act, which included billions of dollars in veterans’ health-services funding.

• February 2006—He voted against the amendment proposed by Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, which would have appropriated the aforementioned $1 billion for hospital improvements at places like Walter Reed, and also included $14 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration for Compensation and Pensions for 2006–2010, and $6.9 billion for the VA for medical care for 2006–2010.

• November 2005—He voted against an amendment that would have provided $500 million each year from 2006 to 2010 for “readjustment counseling, related mental health services, and treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder.”

• October 2005—McCain voted against an amendment that would have required that funding for the VA health administration be increased each year to adjust for inflation and the number of veterans served.

• March 2004—He voted against closing tax loopholes to create a reserve fund to allow for an increase in medical care for veterans by $1.8 billion.

Perhaps McCain simply considers his votes against veterans another sign of his maverick status. It’s a classic case of his personal brand of political chutzpah, because every politician knows sucking up to the vets is a foolproof way to curry favor.

During the Keating Five hearings, McCain’s then-Arizona Senate colleague and fellow Keating Fiver, Democrat Dennis DeConcini, actually called an Arizona veteran to testify on his behalf, describing all the help DeConcini’s office had given him over the years as an example of positive work on behalf of a constituent.

That’s not McCain’s style, particularly post–Keating Five. He’s abandoned constituent services for the national stage, and you could call it principled if not for his backpedaling. This isn’t a guy who’s shown the veterans a lot of love, despite what he says.

And, really, the whole scenario has given McCain an Achilles’ heel.

Far be it for anyone who hasn’t been through what he’s been through to question the senator’s patriotism. But in this case, he’s running up against people with similar biographies who are questioning him, particularly his loyalty to them.

Like Constantine O’Neill. He spent 22 months in a German prison camp during World War II. At 88, O’Neill is admittedly very emotional, and a lifelong Democrat. He made headlines recently in Arizona for lambasting a Republican congressman, John Shadegg, after Shadegg used the O’Neill’s image in a campaign ad.

“McCain is, as far as I’m concerned, a jackass. He’s not for the veterans. He never has been for the veterans [in] legislation that he’s gone for . . . I would not recommend him for anything to anybody.”

When O’Neill is questioned, though, it’s not so much that McCain has voted against veterans, or not supported O’Neill in particular efforts, or even that the senator’s a Republican. It’s that McCain hasn’t come calling. For years, O’Neill says, the national POW group he belongs to has invited McCain to speak at its annual convention.

“He never does,” the other former POW says. “He’s too busy.”