Joe Conason's Journal

The self-styled super-patriots in the GOP praised veterans -- then cut their healthcare funding.

Published November 6, 2003 7:50PM (EST)

Why vets won't be celebrating
Yesterday evening on the House floor, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., offered some angry perspective on the Bush administration's "support for our troops." A Vietnam-era Air Force veteran (although his own Web site omits that fact), DeFazio rose to contest the happy-face rhetoric of his Republican colleagues in anticipation of Veterans Day next Wednesday. DeFazio's remarks about the real record of the self-styled super-patriots in the GOP deserve to be quoted at length:

"Here are some real facts, unlike what we heard earlier today: 150,000 veterans are waiting six months or longer for appointments; 14,000 veterans have been waiting 15 months or longer for their "expedited" disability claims; 560,000 disabled veterans are subject to the disabled veterans tax, something we have tried to rectify.

"We have 373 cosponsors [to repeal that tax in the House]. There are only 435 people here. If 373 people want something, we should be able to do it, should we not? That is a super, super, super majority. But guess what? The Republican leadership, under urging from the president and Secretary Rumsfeld and threats of veto from the president, are refusing to bring up a repeal of the disabled veterans tax.

"We can have tax breaks for people who do not work for a living, the investor class. We can have tax breaks for whole hosts of people and things. But we cannot have tax relief for disabled veterans. Is that not extraordinary? President Bush refused to spend $275 million in emergency money for veterans' health care provided by Congress in the fiscal year 2002 supplemental appropriations bill. But of course he wants to do everything he can to recognize the service of our veterans and our young men and women.

"[On] January 8 of this year, the Bush administration cut off [Veterans Administration] health care for 164,000 veterans. They put them in a new category called Category 8. They are wealthy veterans just like the wealthy people they are giving tax breaks to. Well, not quite. The wealthy people the Bush administration is raining tax breaks on earn over $311,000 a year. But these vets are 'wealthy.' They do not deserve that veterans health care, according to the Bush administration. They earn $25,000 a year. They should pay for their own health care ...

"In March, House Republicans voted in favor of their budget resolution that cut $14 billion, 'B' billion dollars, from mandatory veterans benefits over 10 years, including veterans pensions, education and other benefits. That was an hour after we voted to support the troops in Iraq.

"Maybe it would have been a better message if we just had not bothered with the words, but had duly voted for the money. But, no, the Republican majority, pushed by President Bush, could not vote for that money, and that budget passed by one vote.

"The House Republican budget resolution also cut $14 billion from veterans health care and other discretionary veterans programs. The Republican budget also included the president's proposal to impose a $250 enrollment fee on our veterans for the free health care that they were promised ..."

Untruth and consequences
As I expected, yesterday's Journal entry on CBS and "The Reagans" provoked rage among some readers:

"I am a gay man who grew up during the Reagan years ...

"Ronald Reagan may not have made the snarky comment from The Reagans script. In fact, he is most famous for not saying anything at all about AIDS until he was nearly out of office. I am sure he wasn't a heartless homophobe, just as I am sure some of his best friends were Jewish, but there was absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that the hatred and fear that swept the country was emanating from the White House.

"Ronald Reagan may not have said anything hateful, but he stood up with men who did. Falwell, Robertson, et al, screaming that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality, while the White House pretended the problem didn't exist ...

"Ronald Reagan needs to be held accountable for the AIDS crisis in this country. He may have said nothing, but his administration went out of its way to block aid and comfort for the sick, funding for research into the disease, and funding for educational programs to help people understand how to prevent transmission. This policy continues in the Republican Party's insane 'Abstinence Only' sex education policy.

"The thing about bad guys is they don't know they're bad. They have wives and children who love them. Ronald Reagan was a bad guy. He needs to be exposed as the homophobic bastard he was. I don't care what his daughter thinks of him. My friends are dead and he made sure they died helpless and alone."

It's certainly true that federal AIDS policy during most of Reagan's presidency was terrible. Pertinent facts about the Reagan administration's neglect of AIDS sufferers -- including a Daily Variety column by Hillary Rosen and a remarkable speech by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D. -- may be found here.

But Reagan's record of neglect is all the more reason why fabricating quotes was unnecessary as well as wrong. A film that included Reagan's friendship with the late Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS, as well as his courting of bigots like Falwell would be more interesting, more honest and yes, more nuanced.

Some readers also cited "Dutch," the authorized biography of Reagan by Edmund Morris, which quotes its subject speculating that maybe "the Lord brought down this plague" because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments." I'm not alone in my doubts about Morris's methods in that controversial work, but that particular citation only reinforces my point. Why invent dialogue when a salient quote is already in the record?
[11:30 a.m. PST, November 6, 2003]

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