Nov 4, 2012

GOP Warrior Politics on Veterans, Cops, Firefighters and First Responders

PTSD Shadow – Nicolas Lampert (Milwaukee)

What kind of political psychopath denied veterans' benefits out of both principle and political calculation?

We are nearing what will be perhaps the most important election of our lifetime. I have spent considerable time lately reflecting on the political viewpoints of my brothers and sisters in the police and fire services, as well as those who serve our great nation in the armed forces. I have watched the GOP assault on public workers across the country, and have watched a Republican House of Representatives block one bill after another designed to assist our nation's veterans.

By Brian Austin

After careful consideration, I have become convinced that many in my profession have been voting against their own interests. On the eve of this election, I feel it is time to frankly acknowledge a harsh truth: today's Republican party is no friend to our country's law enforcement officers or soldiers.

While soldiers as a group lean toward the conservative side, there is a growing recognition that today's GOP is focused on the protection of the wealthiest in our society. The undeniable truth is that our wars are not fought by the rich, they are fought primarily by the poor and the working class. Without a doubt, the Republican party has historically done a phenomenal job of defining itself as pro-military. I would submit, however, that there is a dramatic difference between being pro-military and pro-soldier, and our nation's servicemen and woman understand this. Today's Republican party is certainly pro-military when it comes to the business of war, as evidenced by no bid contracts for Dick Chaney's former company Halliburton in Iraq and $28 billion paid to Lockheed Martin for a new fighter jet program that has been fraught with failure and mismanagement. In short, today's GOP is pro-military when there is profit to be made. Republican President and war general Dwight Eisenhower acknowledged the danger of this framework during his farewell address to the nation, warning of "unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
What kind of political psychopaths deny veterans' benefits out of both principle and political calculation? The GOP.
In my humble opinion, the first mark of a good military leader, including a commander in chief, is treating his or her soldiers like his or her own sons and daughters. Our brave men and women in uniform are a national treasure, and a commander in chief should never send them into harms way unless absolutely necessary. This should be a decision made after careful reflection and debate, not a decision born from tough talk or sabre-rattling. While I don't believe that military service is a requirement for a competent commander in chief, the reluctance to serve should be a red flag to all voters. Simply stated, those that have answered the call of duty understand on a visceral level the gravity of the decision to send our young men and women into battle. Those who have seen the horrors of war understand that subjecting others to the same horrors should be a solution of last resort.

I am frankly troubled by Mitt Romney's failure to serve his country during Vietnam. It is not merely the fact that Romney spent the years of the Vietnam war lounging on the beaches of France, writing love letters to his future wife in the sand. It was the fact that Mitt Romney hawkishly supported the US involvement in Vietnam, and demonstrated in favor of the war while he was a student at Stanford. Personally, I find it morally reprehensible to urge others into war while intentionally avoiding military service yourself. As one Vietnam combat veteran remarked, "funny how guys like Romney like to act tough with other peoples' sons." Romney's view of military service apparently has extended to his five able-bodied sons. Not a single one has served his country in uniform. In fact, as far as I can tell, not a single Romney man has served this nation in the armed forces.

The second mark of a good military leader is getting the troops what they need. While a commander in chief isn't required to have served in the military prior to taking office, he or she should most certainly serve the soldiers of the military upon taking office. That means providing sufficient resources as requested by the military commanders on the ground. It means providing your troops with functional body armor, armored Humvees that protect against IED's, and enough edible food and drinkable water to sustain the exhausting effort of battle. It means listening to our brave soldiers about what their needs are and making sure those needs are met. The Bush administration was sharply criticized for failing to provide soldiers in Iraq with vital safety equipment. The stories of soldiers jury rigging sheet metal onto Humvees for some measure of protection are still very fresh in my mind.

The obligation to care for our soldiers extends beyond the battlefield, and this is frankly where the Republican party has utterly abandoned the men and women that comprise our tremendous armed forces. During President Obama's first term, the Republican house members blocked almost every piece of legislation introduced by the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers to help our veterans.

The list is shocking, and includes the following legislative proposals:

  • HR 466: Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, which would have prohibited employers from terminating veterans who miss work while receiving treatment for service-related injuries
  • HR 1168: Veterans Retraining Act, which would provide job training for unemployed veterans
  • HR 1171, Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization, which would have reauthorized programs that supported homeless veterans
  • HR 1293 Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase, which would have increased assistance for disabled veterans who needed funds for things like accessible bathrooms and wheelchair ramps.
  • HR 1803 Veterans Business Center Act, which would have helped disabled veterans develop business plans and secure business opportunities.
Most recently, in a universally criticized move, Senate Republicans in September blocked the Veterans Job Corp, a jobs bill designed to help our returning veterans find work. This bill would have put veterans to work in our national parks, and would have helped veterans secure jobs in police and fire departments across the country. The reason for the death of this bill appears unquestionably political: the continued effort on the part of the GOP to deny President Obama any sort of political victory.

The budget proposed by the Romney-Ryan ticket paints an even bleaker picture for veterans' programs. This budget proposes across-the-board slashing of federal spending that would cut $11 billion dollars from the Veterans Administration. This segment of the Romney-Ryan austerity plan is particularly offensive given the Herculean sacrifices our veterans have made during a decade of war. I find it darkly ironic that the very people who voted to wage two unfunded wars while maintaining massive tax breaks for the wealthy are now so deathly concerned about government spending. Governor Romney has proposed turning veteran's healthcare into a voucher program similar to Ryan's ill-advised Medicare plan. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in veterans benefits and proposed a reduction in his state's hiring preferences for veterans.

These actions are in stark contrast to the efforts of President Obama and Democratic Congressional members who have proposed multiple pieces of legislation designed to assist our soldiers and veterans. President Obama expanded the GI Bill, and signed the largest funding increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 30 years, a move which will help ensure that our heroes get the health care and counseling services they do desperately need. The tremendous efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to support military families through their "Joining Forces" effort announced in 2011 also highlights this administration's commitment to our military families. It is the difference between supporting the machines of war and supporting the people that go to war.

The fracturing of the GOP persona as the party of safety and security also extends beyond the military. Across the country, public sector employees, including police officers and firefighters, have been under attack from radical anti-labor Republican governors. As a police officer, I firmly believe that one cannot be anti-labor and pro-cop. Police officers need the ability to bargain for things such as health insurance for duty-related injuries, bullet proof vests, and squad cars that don't explode on impact. Furthermore, despite the Tea Party's assertions to the contrary, you can't be anti-government and pro-cop. The citizens in New York, New Jersey, and other areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy understand this concept. Police officers and firefighters are a vital part of the government, and need a decent flow of tax revenue to do our job. You can't support slashing government spending to enrich the wealthiest in our society and still claim to support police officers. As Bill Clinton might say, the math just doesn't add up.

Police officers, by necessity, have an uncanny ability to see through dishonesty and insincerity. It isn't enough for politicians to attend the funerals of fallen officers and get teary when the bagpipes play. It isn't enough to talk about how grateful you are for the officer that makes the ultimate sacrifice. Supporting police officers means taking care of my family if I am killed in the line of duty. Last year, as I wrote about in my piece titled "The Contract," the Republicans in the Wisconsin statehouse blocked legislation that would have provided health insurance to the families of fallen officers. One of the GOP representatives responsible for blocking this bill explained the decision of the GOP by stating simply that the bill wouldn't be fiscally responsible.

Actions speak louder than words.

Supporting police officers doesn't just mean declaring yourself "tough on crime," either. The corporate right loves to build prisons. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, yet we have a shockingly high violent crime rate. This violent crime rate directly affects my profession, as 173 of my brothers and sisters were killed in the line of duty last year. The corporate right loves to build prisons not because they care so much about crime, but because it is hugely and grossly profitable. These same politicians that are so tough on crime are helping to privatize our nation's prison system. The result of this privatization is that those who staff the prisons are paid the bare minimum, while the executives and shareholders of the companies that build and run the prisons pad their pockets with taxpayer money. If politicians truly want to get tough on crime, then they need to fund police departments, dispatch centers, probation and parole agents, district attorneys office, and drug treatment efforts. All of these services are under massive strain in this country due to the current GOP's love affair with austerity for the masses and tax breaks for the rich.

As a police officer, I get angry when the media mocks Joe Biden. Why? Joe Biden has done more for police officers than almost any other politician in this nation. He has spent his entire political career advocating for the law enforcement profession. Joe Biden authored the Clinton crime bill in 1994 that put 100,000 police officers on the streets of our communities, and repeatedly led efforts year after year to continue funding for the COPS grants. I can tell you that some of the dedicated professionals with whom I work everyday were hired as a result of these grants, and my community is better for it.

The time has come for those of us in public safety to vote with our heads, not with a vague and outdated sense of blind loyalty. It is time to vote based upon results, not upon anecdotes about perceived slights or unwarranted reputation.

Underlying the historical link between police and the Republican Party was the traditional belief that the GOP was tougher, more "manly," more law-and-order. Policing is a profession filled with "type-A" personalities, the kind of people who run toward gunfire instead of away from it. Without this mentality, a police officer will fail in his or her mission to protect and serve society. But "manly" also means taking care of your family. It means not supporting people that want to hurt your livelihood and make your job more dangerous with draconian budget cuts. It means not supporting people who hurt your ability to send your kids to the doctor when they are sick, or to college when they finish high school. It means not supporting politicians who believe your daughter is somehow inferior and unworthy of the same rights as her male counterparts.

For me, it comes down to this: the current Republican party in this country stands for one thing, the protection of the rich and the corporate elite. It promotes austerity to fund that goal, which translates into less cops, firefighters and even soldiers. It means paying these public servants less and eroding a secure retirement that used to come at the end of a lifetime of dangerous service. It means tax increases on military families to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. It means privatizing public services, including police and fire, so their corporate donors can make a profit. We need to understand the implication of Mitt Romney's comments when he talked about privatizing FEMA during a Republican primary debate. I don't know about all of you, but I don't want the rescue of my family after a natural disaster to be left up to some for-profit company with a name like Acme Rescue and Recovery Corporation that pays its workers minimum wage. I know one thing for certain, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie definitely isn't complaining about federal spending at this moment in time.

I believe the tide is starting to turn among military and police groups. A survey conducted by the Military Times in 2010 showed that the percentage of active duty members who self-identified as Republican had fallen by one third. Last month, Republican Senator and Vietnam combat veteran Larry Pressler endorsed President Obama in an editorial written for the Huffington Post. Pressler stated in part
"As a Vietnam vet, one of the reasons I support President Obama is because he has consistently shown he understands that our commitment to our servicemen and women may begin when they put on their uniform, but that it must never end."
Every active duty soldier and veteran should read the full text of Kessler's absolutely extraordinary editorial before casting their vote on Tuesday. They should also consider the fact the President Obama has earned the endorsement of Colin Powell, retired four-star general and Secretary of State to George W. Bush.

This year, the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) strongly endorsed President Obama for reelection. Even more notable is the fact that the historically conservative Fraternal Order of Police declined to endorse either President Obama or Mitt Romney. While this may seem a neutral occurrence at first glance, it is a striking development considering that the FOP has endorsed Republican presidential candidates in every election since 1988 with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1996. The FOP's failure to endorse Romney was in large part fueled by Romney's support of Governor Kasich's Senate Bill 5 in Ohio, which destroyed the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including police officers, before it was repealed by the voters of Ohio. FOP President Chuck Canterbury remarked on the political shift of his membership in response to the GOP attack on labor and betrayal of police unions:
“Who are these evil teachers who teach your children, these evil policemen who protect them, these evil firemen who pull them from burning buildings? When did we all become evil?”
"There is going to be a backlash. We are going to hold them accountable."
I will end with this thought: patriotism is more than declaring your love for your country. It means electing leaders whose actions match their words. It means choosing stewards of our society that care for all of its citizens, not a select few. It means valuing the ideals of shared sacrifice and prosperity that made this nation great. It means rejecting those who view the citizens of this nation in terms of profit potential. In this week before the election, my individual sense of patriotism compels me to cast my vote for President Obama. I may not be in the majority among police and military circles, but I certainly have quite a bit more company than I did four years ago. I suspect that number will continue to grow as the Republican Party becomes more extreme and continues to move farther and farther from the ideals expressed by great men like Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower.

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