The last two debates have made one aspect of Republican ideology abundantly clear: they think socialism is terrific and they are pledging to increase it. That’s not always the case: socialized medicine, for example, is an un-American heresy for teachers, cops, janitors or firefighters. But for military veterans, Republicans think it is not only acceptable but our sacred duty to provide abundant government services. If veterans come up in Thursday night’s debate in Jacksonville, you can be sure the candidates will contradict their supposed faith in the magic of the market.
When asked at last Thursday’s debate in Charleston about the needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, even Ron Paul, otherwise a consistent believer in the free market and small government, abandoned his principles. “Where the veterans really deserve help, both as a physician and as a congressman, is the people who’ve come back and aren’t doing well health-wise,” said Paul. “They need a lot more help. We have an epidemic now of suicide of our military coming back. So they need a lot of medical help, and I think they come up shortchanged. They came up shortchanged after Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and even now. They don’t get care from the Veterans Administration.”
Rick Santorum agreed with Paul about medical care but disagreed with Paul’s assessment that cuts in taxes and spending would solve the veterans’ unemployment problem. “We need to be much, much more aggressive,” said Santorum, who noted that his parents worked for the VA and he grew up in a government-provided apartment on VA grounds. “We have a president of the United States who said he is going to cut veterans’ benefits, cut our military, at a time when these folks are—four, five, six, seven tours, coming back, in and out of jobs, sacrificing everything for this country, and the president of the United States can’t cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans. And that’s disgusting.”
Of course, the fact that healthcare and employment programs are a form of social welfare appears not to occur to Santorum. While he views social welfare as bad except when the beneficiaries are a group he favors, this does not change his view of social welfare in general. Instead, he lies and says it’s not social welfare. It’s also untrue that Obama wouldn’t “cut one penny” out of other social welfare programs. In fact, the same deficit reduction deal that cuts security spending cut domestic discretionary spending by an equal amount.
The security spending cuts Santorum refers to were passed by Republicans in Congress, not dictated by fiat by President Obama. And they are cuts to national security spending, which includes the Pentagon, CIA, Homeland Security and other agencies. There’s no reason to expect major cuts to veterans services, but nonetheless Santorum and Mitt Romney have been accusing Obama of cutting spending on veterans.
Romney wanted to find a way to square the Republican affection for veterans’ welfare programs with their distaste for the federal government. He arrived at a preposterous solution, presumably inspired by his tortured position on healthcare reform: that social spending is great, but only if it’s implemented at the state level, as he did in Massachusetts. “In our state we found a way to help our—our veterans by saying, Look, if you’re going to come back, particularly if you’re in the National Guard, we’ll pay for your education, college degree, both the fees and tuition—we’d give you a full ride,” bragged Romney. “And we also had a plan that said, if you come back and you’ve been out of work for a year or more, we’re going to put a—like a bonus on your back, which, if anyone hires you, that bonus goes to them to pay for your training. So we can encourage that to occur. But let’s do it at the state level. Let’s not have the federal government continue to extend its—its tentacles into everything that goes on in this country.” As Romney frequently points out in defense of his moderate record as Governor of Massachusetts, that state has an 85 percent Democratic state legislature. The fact that Republican states such as, say, Mississippi might not provide these same services to their veterans appears not to bother Romney. But is the service of a soldier any less valuable if he has the misfortune to come from a right-wing state?