Monday, June 23, 2008

Why Republicans Should Not Attack a War Veteran Candidate

Review of "Taking the Hill" by Patrick J. Murphy

Patrick Murphy has written his autobiography. This book details how a street fighting kid from Northeast Philadelphia wound up teaching at West Point, serving in the Iraq War, and getting elected to Congress, all by age 33.

Patrick Murphy graduated from Widener Law School in Harrisburg and joined the JAG Corps. He also became one of the few JAG lawyers to also complete paratrooper training. Indeed, he was the first attorney to complete 82nd Airborne Division training in two decades. Then he found himself one of the youngest professors at West Point, where he also wrote a column entitled “Murphy’s Law” for the official Military Academy newspaper.

While serving in the JAG Corps, Murphy was the Command Judge Advocate for a district that ranged from Sarajevo to Hungary. He then was assigned to Iraq where he served as both an attorney and as a soldier on patrol. As a military attorney, he handled the very sensitive subject of Iraqi legal claims. As a soldier, he led patrols into dangerous zones, taking on pistol fire.

Murphy witnessed war and military practices and he emerged from these experiences with strong opinions. He finds the dismissal of gays from the military to be very counterproductive, especially since there is a shortage of troops. He finds it dangerous to the remaining troops that 3,500 troops, including 50 Arab language interpreters, have been dismissed at a time when the remaining troops are being overly stretched in what they need to do.

Murphy is upset over the use of private contractors in Iraq are paid as much as $150,000 a year tax free for tasks such as gardening and sorting mail when privates in combat earn $15,000 a year. There are about as many private contractors in Iraq as there are troops. He was further upset that these contractors fell outside the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which meant they could not be prosecuted for just about anything they did wrong in Iraq, including killing civilians. When Murphy was elected to Congress, he proposed the Iraq Accountability Act that called for better oversight and scrutiny of how our money is spent on contractors and to eliminate the fraud and waste he saw in this system.

Murphy was frustrated as seeing how the military failed to provide body armor to troops. 80% of Marines who died in Iraq could have lived had they worn such armor. He was further startled to see that vehicles lacked proper protection against mines and even after years of this being pointed out, only 6,000 vehicles were properly provide with the correct protective attachments. He is upset that this is a war where standing by existing slow delivery contracts with suppliers takes priority over rapid production of what troops require. He notes how our country could build 57,000 tanks, 109,000 airplanes, and 31,000 beach landing vehicles in a matter of months during World War II. He compares that to our inability to come close to that level of productivity today.

Bureaucracy upset Murphy. He noted how over fifty soldiers had applied for U.S. citizenship before being sent to duty in Iraq. They were then denied citizenship because the law requires them to be in America for processing their application.

The largest mistake Murphy observed was dismantling the Iraqi army. This army should have been brought as an ally against insurgents. We have spent much time and afford trying to rebuild this army. Many of the newly hired soldiers lack equipment, uniforms, discipline, and training and have proven incapable to follow orders and fight, according to Murphy. When the army was abolished, Iraqi soldiers suddenly became unemployed. Many became upset at America and many needed employment. Some of these unemployed soldiers developed sympathy or found employment with insurgents and became the enemy, Murphy argues.

The stress on the war on soldiers also upset Murphy. Some soldiers have been called back for historic high rates of tours, up to four tours, and have faced more days of combat than was faced by soldiers in previous wars. They have left their families behind and the divorce rate for soldiers is at a historic high. When they return home, they often return with injuries and severe stress and will need much long term care.

Murphy decided to run for Congress. He did so with a lifetime savings of $322 and not a single dollar for his campaign. He ran against an incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick who had won his previous election by 12 percentage points and held a 57% favorable rating. He ran a risky but successful campaign strategy. He spent all the money he first raised on early TV advertising. When various Republican operatives attempted to attack him, even claiming he had never been a combat veteran and had never been a prosecutor, the attacks failed to stick because Murphy had established his identify with voters prior to the scurrilous attacks. In time, his district was determined to be a close race, and he raised $2.4 million versus Fitzpatrick’s raising almost $3 million and the National Republican Congressional Campaign spending another $3.6 million. Murphy won by 1,518 votes, or by 0.6 percentage points.

This is a fascinating autobiography of a young politician who has packed a lot into his life. Students of political science, Pennsylvania political history, and the Iraq War will all find this a useful book to read.


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