It's a political campaign, right? So we all expect a little hyperbole, a few sucker punches, the occasional head-butt, flying elbows and lots of eye-pokes. Such stuff is not a 21st century phenomenon, as anyone knows who has checked out the contests when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson went at it or when Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine did.
Nonetheless, Mitt Romney's linking of military suicides to President Obama's (modest) reductions in military spending during a speech Thursday to the American Legion is a particularly nasty bit of business. In Springfield, Virginia, a battleground state, Romney said, after expressing opposition to the Obama reductions:
"We have huge numbers of our men and women that are returning from conflict, that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can't find that counseling within our system. And, of course, record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis!" Romney said at the American Legion post.
Military suicides do constitute a crisis. President Obama has not been remiss in recognizing this, both in his appointment of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki and his taking a personal interest in the subject. And then there is the budget. Under Obama, spending for dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injury as well as mental health services has been increased significantly.
Paul Ryan, on the other hand, has actively sought cuts in veterans' health benefits. The proposed Romney-Ryan budget could cut nearly a fifth of the VA's budget, $11 billion axed. That's not the worst of it. Romney favors privatizing a portion of VA health coverage, replacing it with a voucher system, something even the very conservative Veterans of Foreign Wars oppose. Paul Krugman kicked this Vouchercare idea in the groin:
Mitt Romney wants to privatize the VA. This is awesome on multiple levels. First, you know what voucherization would mean in practice: the vouchers would be inadequate, and become more so over time, so that veterans who don’t make enough money to top them up would fail to receive essential care. Patriotism!
Patriotism, indeed. Samuel Johnson once proclaimed that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But if he had lived in more modern times, he would have known that it is often the first refuge, particularly of political scoundrels. Romney's outrageous, infuriating implication that the president's budgetary proposals for the Pentagon are somehow to blame for a crisis in military suicides—whose roots predate Obama's entrance in the Senate, much less the White House—offers a perfect example of the updated version of Johnson's dictum.