Okay, so I drag myself out of bed last Wednesday morning, shower and dress, and go retrieve the newspaper from the front porch. I sit myself down at the kitchen table and begin reading, eventually making my way to the editorial page. Let's see -- which wingnut has my local paper seen fit to harangue me with today? If it's Wednesday, it must be Thomas Sowell. And sure enough, below Sowell's rather dated mugshot...
Sen. Obama's cocky ignorance shining through
Now that Senator Barack Obama has become the Democrats' nominee for President of the United States, to the cheers of the media at home and abroad, he has written a letter to the Secretary of Defense, in a tone as if he is already President, addressing one of his subordinates.
**Sigh** What a way to start the day...
It's always a Manichean struggle to decide whether to read the conservative du jour my paper likes to torture me with at such an early hour. I mean, this is an outfit that counts David-Fucking-Broder among the four "liberals" it claims balance out Sowell, George Will, Cal Thomas, Bill O'Reilly, Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer, and a local guy or two.
So I decide that I'll weather the sudden spike in blood pressure and see what Mr. Sowell has to say about rude Senator Obama's letter-writing skills. Feigning disgust, he accuses the Senator of taking up the good Secretary's valuable time with his unreasonable demands:
The letter ends: "I look forward to your swift response."
With wars going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a Secretary of Defense might have some other things to look after, before making a "swift response" to a political candidate.
Because of the widely publicized statistic that suicide rates among American troops have gone up, Senator Obama says he wants the Secretary of Defense to tell him, swiftly:
"What changes will you make to provide our soldiers in theater with real access to mental health care?"
"What training has the Pentagon provided our medical professionals in theater to recognize who might be at risk of committing suicide?"
"What assistance are you providing families here at home to recognize the risk factors for suicide, so that they may help our service members get the assistance they need?"
"What programs has the Pentagon implemented to help reduce the stigma attached to mental health concerns so that service members are more likely to seek appropriate care?"
(alternate source, as my local paper does not post its syndicated columnists in its online edition.)
"Wait a minute", I think to myself, "This language sounds very familiar. This sounds very much like any number of letters I've seen posted at this place I like to hang out", letters written by members of Congress to government officials over whom the Congress exercises oversight, requesting that these government officials provide to them the information they need to perform their constitutional duties. Might this, in fact, be one of those? Might the good Senator, champion of transparency that he is, actually have this letter – you know -- posted on his Senate web site?
Dear Secretary Gates:
I am writing to inquire as to what action the Department of Defense is taking to stem the disturbing increase in the number of suicides in our Armed Forces. As you know, the Army is experiencing the highest rates of suicide in 26 years, and the number of suicide attempts is also rising. There has also been an increase in the number of soldiers in theater who have killed themselves, including 32 soldiers serving in Iraq last year, according to reports.
These statistics are of great concern to me, as I am sure they are to you as well. We must do everything we can to ensure that our brave service members are provided the mental health services they need. I know the DoD has embarked on some mental health initiatives for our service members and the Congressionally-mandated Mental Health Advisory Team surveys have provided a good window into the mental health issues affecting our troops. These surveys have indicated that soldiers in Afghanistan are now exhibiting mental health stresses at the same rate as our soldiers in Iraq. These surveys also indicate a significant amount of strain on soldiers' families and spousal relationships. Despite the increased strains on our troops, reports indicate that the ratio of mental health counselors to soldiers in theater has dropped from 1 for every 387 soldiers in 2004 to 1 for every 734 soldiers last year. This downward trend is unacceptable, and does not put the best interests of these men and women first.
The Senate recently passed the Supplemental Appropriations bill, and I ask that you dedicate some portion of those funds to securing the mental health treatment and care our service members deserve, both in theater and here at home, as soon as possible.
I also ask that you provide me with answers to the following questions:
- What changes will you make to provide our soldiers in theater with real access to mental health care? Will you increase the number of mental health counselors in theater?
- What training has the Pentagon provided our medical professionals in theater to recognize soldiers who might be at risk of committing suicide?
- What assistance are you providing families here at home to recognize the risk factors for suicide, so that they may help our service members get the assistance they need?
- What programs has the Pentagon implemented to help reduce the stigma attached to mental health concerns so that service members are more likely to seek appropriate care?
The men and women in our Armed Services risk their lives every day for our security. We must show them that we understand the sacrifices they are making for us, and do everything we can to stand up for their health, their futures, and their families. The tragedy of suicide can be avoided, so it is our obligation to do what we must to prevent it. I look forward to your swift response.
United States Senator
Just. As. We. Suspected.
I've been dreadfully lax lately, far too often failing to capitalize on that one letter every 30 days that the opinion editor of the local daily allows me. Time to put an end to my sloth. All I need to do is distill my outrage into a short 300 words or less.
To the Editor:
In a column titled "Sen. Obama's cocky ignorance shining through" (June 11, 2008), Thomas Sowell deliberately mis-characterized a letter written by Barack Obama to the Secretary of Defense.
Sowell reproaches Obama for employing a tone "as if he is already President, addressing one of his subordinates," declaring that "With wars going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a Secretary of Defense might have some other things to look after, before making a 'swift response' to a political candidate."
He accuses Obama of ignorance, alleging that Obama should know that suicide rates among military personnel, while increased, are still lower than some population of "demographically comparable civilians", which Sowell then doggedly avoids defining.
Unlike Sowell's insulting smear of Senator Obama, I cannot accuse Sowell of ignorance. He is smart enough and versed enough in Senate practice to know that Obama's letter, available on his Senate website, is routine in format, style, and tone for members of the Senate performing in their oversight capacity, a form that is virtually boilerplate. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, sent to government officials every session .
Sowell knows this. He is simply dishonest. He discounts the suicides of 115 service members while neglecting to note that the increase coincides with a decline in mental health counselors from one for every 387 soldiers in 2004 to one for 734 last year.
But it should come as no surprise that conservative columnists like Sowell resort to dishonesty. In a contest of substance, they lose. A majority of the public may identify themselves as 'conservative', but when actually quizzed on their beliefs, as Pew did last year, their responses fall squarely in the liberal spectrum.
Expect more dishonesty from the Right directed at Senator Obama. That's all conservatives like Thomas Sowell have got.
It took a week, but the letter was finally published in the dead tree edition this morning.