Staying non-partisan in a political world.
October 11th, 2010 by MOTHAX
ART II Section 2. The American Legion shall be absolutely nonpolitical and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles nor for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking office or preferment. I’m going to start this post in a way you should never start a post: by telling you what it ISN’T! First off, this post is not an attempt to kick the VFW while they are down, or to disparage its PAC endorsements. I’m going to give a cursory look at the situation, and then analyze the internal tension that VFW has between the main organization and its Political Action Committee. Then I am going to show why that won’t happen with The American Legion (TAL). Additionally, I’ve noted in the comments sections of various blogs people taking swipes at TAL saying (essentially) that we “do the same damn thing.” I want to address some of those chestnuts so that we can be on record regarding the issue. This all started last week with a rather incendiary post from my good friend Mr. Wolf of Blackfive who was rather perturbed to glance over the list of endorsements issued by the VFW-PAC (which you can read here.) From Wolf’s post:
Last night, we received an interesting email from Bev Perlson, who heads the Band of Mothers group. She's got an awesome email list that is good for keeping up on what's going on around the country. What was so disturbing was the email listed someone we all know- LTC(r) Allen West, and how the VFW, of all people, THE VEE-EFF-FRICKING-W, was ENDORSING HIS OPPONENT. You read that right. His opponent? Democrat Ron Klein. WHO HAS NEVER SERVED IN UNIFORM. You read THAT right, too. People, I've been pissed before. Mad, even. Upset. But this? THIS is treasonous to me. For a 'so called' veterans organization to pick a NON-SERVING, NON-VETERAN over one of the MOST PROMISING veterans running in politics is heinous. Disturbing. And shows just how far off-track the VFW has become. As you may recall, when I returned from Iraq one of the first things I did was join VFW and Legion as 'life members'. Now, it seems, the time has come to rip, burn, and toss my Lifetime Membership for the VFW. I feel like they have completely left us at the station here.My occasional co-blogger and always good friend Jonn Lilyea at This Ain’t Hell was equally perturbed to get the email from Ms. Perlson, and after noting some of the endorsements opined:
So I have to ask, as a life member of the VFW, who the Hell is running that place over there? I remember the VFW wasn’t all that concerned about the Homeland Security estimate that veterans are a threat to our national security and now I see this. Me, personally, I wouldn’t endorse Alcee Hastings, the impeached judge, for town drunk…so what the hell is the VFWPAC thinking?It’s interesting the way things move through the internet. One day no one is discussing it, and the next EVERYBODY is talking about it. Almost every person who commented on those posts was mad, and those who called the VFW got an answering machine, which didn’t make them all that much happier. Now, it is important to note that the VFW, and the VFW PAC are two entities. Here is how the VFW PAC is billed:
According to Federal Law [sic], the Veterans of Foreign Wars cannot legally endorse candidates. To overcome the legal challenges of influencing on Capitol Hill, the organization established a Political Action Committee— a separate, nonpartisan organization charged with the single task of working in Congress to support candidates who share our views about key veterans’ military and defense issues. The VFW-PAC is established to promote and facilitate the accumulation and distribution of voluntary contributions from employees and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its subordinate units, (Posts, Districts, County Councils, Departments, Ladies Auxiliary and Military Order of the Cooties) for the support of various candidates for election to federal office in the United States. The established endorsement criteria not withstanding, no Presidential candidate will be endorsed by the VFW-PAC Board of Directors. The VFW-PAC is dedicated to the support of candidates who have taken responsibile [sic] positions on issues involving national defense and legislation pertaining to our nation's veterans.Anyway, the endorsement kerfuffle got even more interesting later in the week, as first the Department of Florida, and then the National Headquarters of VFW, both issued statements largely antagonistic to the PAC. From the HQ alert:
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Oct. 8, 2010 - The national line officers of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are at odds with the VFW Political Action Committee (PAC), calling the methodology process used by the PAC “seriously flawed at best this year and in immediate need of extensive review,” in the wake of the recent congressional endorsements made by the committee. “Even though the law requires that VFW-PAC be a separate organization, the acronym ‘VFW’ is attached to the committee and the natural assumption is that the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is somehow making the endorsement decisions. Nothing could be further from the truth, but perception is reality,” said National Commander Richard Eubank. “Obviously, an organization's political positions have to reflect the opinions of its members. But those opinions can't be perceived as ‘off the wall,’ and the methodology used this year to grade candidates obviously is skewed in favor of the incumbent. That isn’t fair, and it actually subverts the democratic process.” Because of the controversy surrounding the endorsements, VFW line officers have decided to bring the question of continued existence of the PAC to the floor during the 112th VFW national convention in August. (2011)Again, I am not bringing this up to bash the VFW. In fact, we work with them all the time on stuff, most recently when many of their brown-cappers appeared outside the Supreme Court building in support of Al Snyder in his case against Westboro. I used to be a member of VFW when I was in Virginia, and the vast majority of my friends are dual members. A rising tide lifts all boats, and something like this will (alas) probably lower them as well. Veterans’ involvement and advocacy isn’t generally a zero sum game: you can belong to many groups, as I do. The inherent problem here was obviously the PAC. I loathe PACs. I particularly hate them in the context of veterans’ issues. It just brings confusion to a place where none need truly exist. Vets For Freedom endorses 10 candidates for Congress who support the War on Terrorism*, and Vote Vets endorses 10 who oppose. So, who supports troops more? Is it the former 10, or the latter 10? I have an answer to that, but that is because I am part of an informed electorate. My answer almost certainly differs from many others. My answer is an opinion, and yours should be as well, one made after looking at the totality of the positions of the candidates in your area. *(It should be noted that I was a VFF Founder, although I am no longer active, so caveat emptor.) And that is why scorecards also annoy the hell out of me. Last year IAVA did a scorecard, and I thought it was positively dreadful, just as I thought the VFF one was equally horrid. One vote IAVA had on their scorecard was on something that IAVA billed as “Funding Veterans’ Health Care, 2008.” It wasn’t actually titled that, but nonetheless, the sole vote against that bill was Senator DeMint of South Carolina, and I have a close friend who works for that senator, so I asked him to look it up for me. Turns out his opposition wasn’t to funding Veterans Health Care, but rather to a $4 Billion earmark in that bill that would create a park in Beverly Hills, as he made clear in his statement at the time:
This is an appalling earmark that takes $4 Billion dollars which should be used to care for the brave men and women who fought for our country and turns it over to build a park for Beverley Hills 90210. We should all be able to agree that a community with an average household income of $125,000 has a sufficient tax base to build a park and doesn’t need a $4 Billion hand out from the federal government. The men and women who wore America’s uniform need the money a lot more than the men and women who wear Prada. [Sen Demint's link on this is no longer active.]Anyway, I bring this all up because of various commenters who assert various things about The American Legion. Let me address each of those comments in turn: 1) "The American Legion does the same thing." This one lacks specificity to know exactly what is meant, but I know we don’t do a scorecard. In fact, a resolution from this past National Convention calling for one failed to get the needed majority. It is simply too difficult to adequately score veterans votes. Where one Congressman might vote against the VA Appropriations Bill because it is too expensive, another might vote against it because it doesn’t provide enough money. Do you score a “no” vote equally then? Is a member of Congress who disagrees on the funding because it is too much the same as one who disagree because it is not enough? While Congress does “Yea” and “Nay” votes, it’s not always clear from either exactly why the person voted that way. 2) "The American Legion endorses candidates too." This is just untrue. We never have, and we never will, and the Constitution of the American Legion is pretty clear on this one:
ART II Section 2. The American Legion shall be absolutely nonpolitical and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles nor for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking office or preferment.In addressing this post, I was forwarded the sage words of advice from our Past National Adjutant, Mr. Spanogle, who told my boss that he should look at the remarks of a man from Maine made during the early 1920’s with regard to this issue. When Mr. Spanogle suggests something like that, it is generally worth your time, and so within minutes of arriving at work this morning I made the trek up to our library where our Librarian quickly located the colloquy in question. It actually is even more interesting that I had anticipated. I hope you will forgive me for this side trip from our major topic, but I found it interesting. Rather than disrupt the flow of this post and my enumerations of various Urban Legends with regards to politics and The American Legion, I am moving the historical underpinnings to the end. I encourage you to read it, as the comments there are just as apropos in 2010 as they were in 1920. 3) "Look at this picture; see, I told you they endorse people." This is a specific one that I am still looking into. We know it is Chesterfield Post 408 in Indiana, and I have an email into the Department Adjutant. So, why am I bringing it up? Because my email is at the top of this page, if you see something that you think violates what I am saying, by all means send it to me. If, as I suspect, these signs are both on private property, and the Legion has no control over the candidate’s sign, I will tell you. If, on the other hand, this is on post property, and insinuates endorsement, I will make sure the National Judge Advocate is alerted; and I will bug him until I have an answer for you. If there is something that violates our Constitution and/or Bylaws, we will take steps to quickly correct it. You have my promise on that. 4) "The American Legion is too [right/left] wing. They even [supported/opposed] Obamacare." This one is shocking in its prevalence. I’m regularly accused of being either a full-blooded acolyte of the vast right-wing conspiracy, or a mouthpiece of the Obama Administration. And last week I got an email saying we were (at various times) either in favor or neutral on Obamacare, while another emailer lamented that we opposed Obamacare. Let me address each. The American Legion has around 2.5 million members. If you lined them up based on their political philosophies, it would run the gamut. I know Legionnaires who served in Republican gubernatorial administrations, some who served in Democratic ones, and some who served under Independents. In fact, I know one Legionnaire who served as a cabinet official under a Dem Governor, a GOP one, and a third-party governor. We just aren’t that easy to pigeonhole. Do we support efforts to curb illegal immigration? Absolutely. Do we support legal immigration and volunteer on Naturalization classes? Again, absolutely. Then again, do we also support the largest existing government health-care provider in the VA? Again, absolutely. Now, the first is largely associated with a GOP goal, the second is largely non-partisan, and the third is associated with the Democrats. We are more like a smorgasbord than a Chinese lunch buffet. If you don’t like one position or resolution we have, just move on to the next one. We have positions that run the gamut because they represent the views of a disperse membership. The only thing that all of our positions have in common is that they were deemed relevant and germane to the Organization, and were passed by our National Executive Committee or at the National Convention. As for Obamacare….I tried to explain it all in this post here, but let’s give it one more shot. The American Legion neither opposed nor supported Obamacare, as I think the statement from National Commander Hill at the time reads if you look at it.
“I have been assured personally by the President, Secretary of Defense, VA Secretary, Speaker of the House, Majority Leaders, and numerous other Senators and Representatives – as has National Commander David Rehbein before me – that nothing in the national health care reform legislation will change current DoD and VA health care eligibility or practices,” said The American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill concerning the outcome of the health care vote on Sunday. “As late as 9 pm last evening, I was on the telephone with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and we spoke candidly about The American Legion’s concerns. Based on that conversation, the transcripts of hearings, assurances from the President and Secretary themselves, I am 100 percent confident that Congress will act responsibly as regards the nation’s veterans and their families,” Hill said. […] While the entire health care reform legislative package is extremely controversial and contentious, The American Legion has taken a position on one aspect only: maintaining the autonomy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense’s health care delivery systems. “It is going to be a long, drawn out legislative process, but America’s veterans can rest assured that their benefits will be protected. That I personally guarantee,” said Hill.I actually went a little further in my two posts on the subject. In the first one I stated that:
TRICARE and NAF are not certain to be approved under the existing bill about to be signed. Now, why is this? They’ve been working on these bills for in excess of a year, and this is the first we are hearing of it? Well, no, actually, Representative Buyer has been talking about the effects for quite a while, but no one really listened. This is not really to praise Representative Buyer as much as it is to say that no one on the Hill seems to be listening to anyone. Think back on all the important bills that Congress has passed in its days. The Civil Rights Acts, Medicare creation, some of the New Deal Bills. How many of them had one party voting exclusively one way, and the other party splitting its vote and yet the party that voted together lost? I’ve never heard it. Not one Republican broke ranks on this bill, and some Dems, fearful of the vengeance of their constituents voted “No.” What we have here is a failure to communicate.In the second I talked about some of the indirect effects that the Healthcare Bill would have:
Anyone who has ever viewed martial arts movies (even just Kung Fu Panda) or some sort of Science Fiction TV series knows that even small actions have ancillary effects on things you wouldn’t imagine. In the former genre it’s usually the butterfly principle where some solitary butterfly in search of nectar flaps his wings three times and 2 days later there is a tsunami in Portland, Oregon. In the latter genre it’s usually the Grandfather Paradox, where you can’t change the past because doing so alters everything after that, and thus you couldn’t have gone back in time. Anyway, the point of both of these is that no solitary event occurs within a vacuum, and this is what accounts for the discrepancies in macro-economics. And so it is with the recent Health Care Reform law.People are going to see what they want to see I think. If they want to be mad at us, they will find some proof of us being too [right/left] wing: it is the nature of being an advocacy group. But, just having a position identifiable with a specific party doesn’t make it partisan. We address the issues, not the people. So, there you have it. I know that people are going one of two ways about the VFW: either they are quitting in disgust, or they are urging folks to stay in and right the ship. I’m not here to say which you should do, that is up to each individual person. We’ve had folks drop their TAL membership on account of something I have said, and then it was based on a resolution passed at convention. I was pretty upset about it until my National Adjutant pretty much told me that when people complain like that, it’s generally best to pay them no mind. I don’t try to turn folks off on the Legion with the blog, I try to get them engaged. So, stay with the VFW and fix it, or “Turn on, tune in, drop out”; it is up to you. But, at one point the Legion fought this same fight, and as you will read below, even though outnumbered 33-3, those 3 changed the course of American Legion history. ______________________________________________________________________ The scene is the 1920 National Convention, discussing a resolution that would clarify Art II section 2 for the following purposes: Resolved, […] that the Legion is not prohibited by its Constitution and Charter from supporting and promoting those policies and principles within the purposes enumerated in the preamble to its National Constitution, as interpreted by acts of its National Conventions and rulings of its National Executive Committee; and be it further Resolved, that the Legion through its organization has the right under its Charter and Constitution to ascertain for the information of its members the attitude of candidates for public office towards such policies and principles. Now, this resolution before the debate was favored by 33, while opposition was limited to three votes. And, apparently, conventions were A HELL OF A LOT MORE FUN back then. Just read this discussion:
Mr. Chandler (Georgia): It was only a few weeks ago when the principles enunciated in the preamble were dragged into the mud and attacked by – I can’t mention his name. We called upon you for an interpretation as to what we could do. He said, “I can call your organization a Republican organization; I can say that it is a sectarian organization; I can name it and call it anything any you are impotent to do anything about it.” We submitted to you, Mr. Chairman a telegram setting forth the fact that this man was advocating un-American policies to the people of our State, that he had attacked – [Cries from the audience of “Name him!”] Mr. Chandler: [Name redacted by Mothax] is the man I speak of. We said he had attacked these principles; we asked if under this Constitution we could go before the people and oppose him. We didn’t ask for the privilege of advocating either of his opponents; we desired merely to oppose him. He used this Section in our Constitution on the stump against us. He turned the people against us by his slanderous remarks. [Cries from the audience of “Why didn’t you hang him?” followed by laughter and applause.] Mr. Chandler: We didn’t hang him because in Georgia The American Legion stands for the enforcement of law and order. [Applause.]Anyway, so now you have a resolution with an initial 33-3 favorability, with a rather vehement and tenacious advocate asserting the need for the resolutions passage. Two men took to the floor in opposition, James L. Boyle (of my birth-state of Maine) and a Mr. Herbert (of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where I grew up.)
Mr. Herbert: The American Legion owes immeasurably the success of its growth and the respect in which it is held by the people of the United States to the fact that it stands for policies not politics. (Applause) The people believe in and respect The American Legion because it lives up to its declaration of principles. We are told that the resolution is simply clarifying, that it is simply explanatory. I tell you, gentlemen, that in my belief, and in the belief of many in this Convention, that resolution is a tinkering resolution. It is only a shoepeg now possibly, but it will ultimately grow into a wedge that will split open this body in which the people of this country now believe.But it was the words of Mr. Boyle of Maine that truly would be the death knell of this resolution:
Speaking for the Department of Maine and making the motion that the minority report be accepted, I realize the vast confidence which the public has in us and the great respect in which we are held, but I say that we view with disapproval and we look with disfavor upon any resolution or any interpretation, as they may call it, which would attempt to throw the American Legion into the uncharted seas of political jingoism. [Applause] Our Constitution is brief so far. [Recitation of Art II, Section 2] Again, it says, each member shall perform his full duty as a citizen according to his own conscience and understanding. What more do we want? The whole gist of the resolution, the clarified resolution, as they call it, says the Legion through its organization has the right under its charter and constitution to ascertain for the information of its members the attitude of candidates for public political office toward such policies and principles. But, my comrades, who is the judge as to what our attitude is on some of these policies? Americanism, we say, a hundred per cent. Americanism, but from Maine to California, the Department officials will vary as to what their attitude is going to be on many questions, and that is going to be our situation. We have the confidence and the respect of the people of the United States. Our Constitution says that we are non-political. Go no further. I think that that is sufficient.In the end the resolution failed by a wide margin. One Department even changed it’s vote…
Mr Lindsey: Mr. Chairman, I have just gotten the consent of the Texas Delegation to change its vote to “No.” I desire to state to you gentlemen that your action meets the approval in principle of the vast majority of the Committee that brought in the report that you disapproved. It puts this Convention on record permanently, I think, as opposed to entering party politics. We don’t care about the method that is pursued, just so it goes out throughout the world tonight that the American Legion is irrevocably opposed to entering party politics.And so it was that a few brave men set the path for The American Legion.
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