VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Speaking before President Obama at a campaign rally here, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb delivered a sharp attack of Mitt Romney over military issues, playing to a key constituency in a part of the swing state that has emerged as a major campaign battleground.
Webb, a Marine veteran and former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, alluded to the secretly recorded video in which Romney dismisses Obama voters as feeling entitled. Addressing donors at a May fundraiser, Romney characterized the 47% of Americans who backed the Democrat as depending on government, paying no income tax and believing they are victims. He also said they were “unwilling to take responsibility for their lives."
Webb said that group includes veterans, of whom it would be wrong to accuse of being part of a "culture of dependency."
"In receiving veterans benefits, they are not takers. They are givers in the ultimate sense of the word," Webb said. "They will not say this, I will say it for them – they are owed. They are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander in chief."
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Webb, who is serving the final year of his first term in the Senate but not seeking reelection, was referring to the fact that Romney, in his acceptance speech, did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He also made a veiled critique of Romney for not having served in the military himself.
"Gov. Romney and I are right about the same age," he said. "Like millions in our generation we came to adulthood facing the harsh realities of the Vietnam war. ... This was a time when every American male was eligible to be drafted. People made choices about how to deal with the draft, and about military service. I have never envied or resented any of the choices that were made as long as they were done according to the law. But those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns and the lifelong changes that can come from combat did so with the belief that their service would be honored."
Romney filed for deferments from the draft while he was in college and afterward serving as a Mormon missionary in France. When he returned, he said he became available for the draft but never served.
Though Webb said he has often disagreed with Obama during his presidency, they shared a similar overall vision for the country, adding: "This is not the time to turn over the helm of the ship of state to someone whose views on foreign policy seem awkward and uninformed."
Speaking after Webb, Obama praised his former Senate colleague's eloquence on the issue of veterans. Referring to Romney's "47%" remarks, Obama said that he has not encountered people who consider themselves "victims," as Romney had also charged in the video.
"Like Jim Webb said, I see a whole bunch of veterans who served our country with bravery and distinction. And I see soldiers who defend our freedom every single day," he said. "And I see those military families who are wondering whether their loved ones are going to come back home safe and sound. That's who I see."
"We don't believe anybody's entitled to success in this country,” Obama said. “We don't believe government should help folks who aren't willing to try to help themselves. But we do believe in something called opportunity. We do believe in a country where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, where everyone gets a fair shot and everybody's doing their fair share and everybody plays by the same rules," he said.
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Obama added to his usual stump speech the theme of a new two-minute television ad, saying it was "time for a new economic patriotism." He also offered a broad overview of his plan for a second term, and mocked his GOP rival for lacking the same specificity he claimed he was offering voters.
"Every few days he keeps on saying he's going to reboot this campaign and they're going to start explaining very specifically how this plan's going to work, and then they don't," he said. "They don't say how you pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts that are skewed towards the wealthy without raising taxes on middle-class families."
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