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Lee A. Saunders

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It Takes a Lot of Brass: Romney and America's Veterans

Posted: 09/21/2012 4:41 pm

It takes a lot of brass, to paraphrase President Bill Clinton, to tell a room full of fat cats paying $50,000 for a meal that nearly half of the American people are freeloaders sponging off the government. Yet, as everyone now knows, that's exactly what Mitt Romney did. He told his wealthy backers that 47 percent of the electorate -- who he falsely claimed pay no income taxes -- will support President Obama "no matter what."

Romney ignores the fact that just about every working American pays taxes of one kind or another, including payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare, for example. It is seniors, the disabled and the poor who make up the majority of citizens who don't pay income taxes. Romney said these people see themselves as "victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them." His job, he continued, "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." It's not everyday that voters can see a candidate express such unbridled contempt.

There is another group of Americans who don't pay federal taxes, a group that Romney has insulted before: the 80,000 young men and women fighting for our nation on the frontlines in Afghanistan. Romney thinks so little of the contribution these brave Americans make that he gave his acceptance speech in Tampa without even once mentioning them. He never even uttered the name of the country in which they were deployed and where more than 1,200 American lives have been lost during the past decade of war.

Romney later told Fox News that he didn't mention Afghanistan and our troops because they were not important. Then he laughed about it. Hard to believe. Yet when Fox News personality Brent Baier asked him if he regretted leaving the war and our troops out of his remarks, here's how Romney replied: "When you -- when you give a speech, you don't go through a laundry list. You talk about the things you think are important." Romney said his support for a strong military budget should be interpreted as support for our troops, as though a budget is the same as the men and women in uniform. Well, that's the kind of nonsense you get from a candidate who thinks corporations are people.

This omission wasn't the mistake of a Romney speechwriter. As the Washington, D.C., newspaper Politico noted earlier this week, the campaign brought in veteran speechwriter Peter Wehner to craft Romney's address. His speech included remarks on Afghanistan, but the campaign rejected his work. Romney and his campaign manager crafted the speech as given, and scrapped the references to our men and women in the military.

The reaction to this insult was immediate. Bill Kristol, the neo-conservative editor of The Weekly Standard, blasted Romney's failure to say even "a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned." Kristol expressed real shock at "the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we're fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it."

Romney, who avoided the Vietnam draft while living in Paris, France, has a history of ignoring our troops and veterans. According to the American Presidency Project, which keeps transcripts of campaign speeches, Romney has mentioned Afghanistan only 10 times during the two-year course of his current race for the presidency. When he travelled overseas this summer, he found no time to visit a military base. Unlike candidate Obama in 2008, who visited troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Mitt Romney made no time to see any active duty personnel or visit wounded warriors in a hospital. That shows you where his priorities are.

His record in Massachusetts was just as disgraceful. He sought to cut state hiring preferences for veterans and tried to cut funding for veterans outreach programs. He tried to increase user fees for long-term care for veterans and even sought to cut funding for the care of veterans' graves. And he tried to combine veterans' services with the state's Office of Elder Affairs. The move was "incomprehensible," said Walt Sanders, president of the Massachusetts AARP. "Not all veterans are elders and not all elders are veterans."

With his eye on the bottom line, Romney ignored the real hardships faced by many of his state's neediest veterans. While wasting tens of thousands of dollars for new television sets for his staff, Romney forced blind citizens -- including many veterans -- to pay a tax. Under Romney, Massachusetts began a policy of requiring the blind to carry "a certificate of blindness." The blind were required to pay $10 annually for the certificate and $15 every four years for a blind identification card. "It's just another form of taxation," said Stephen Matthews of the Blinded Veterans Association. John Ray, an 85-year-old blind veteran of three wars called the Romney blindness fees "an amateurish act" to bleed residents. "I just don't understand this foolishness," he told the Boston Herald.

We can expect the same kind of "foolishness" to spread across the nation if Romney and his allies have their way. He has endorsed a budget that would force Draconian cuts in veterans' programs, turn Medicare into a voucher program and eliminate hundreds of millions of funding from long-term care for seniors. Romney has made no secret of his contempt for the men and women who sacrifice for all Americans. It is the same contempt he feels for every American who relies on government to help when there is a need for a helping hand. With fewer than 50 days until the election, there is still time to avoid his cruel -- and foolish -- agenda.

 

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