President Obama spoke at a naval ship yard today to propose new tax credits for businesses that hire returning veterans, including those with disabilities. His goal, he said, was to encourage businesses to hire 100,000 of our returning “war heroes.”
I suspect this will get a lot of favorable comment, but as a Vietnam War Vet who benefited from the GI Bill in law school and a state hiring preference for vets in getting my first job, I found myself strangely uncomfortable with the President’s proposal.
There are strong arguments for veterans’ benefits, especially during genuine existential threats that require mass mobilization, when draft age men (and now women) have a duty to serve their country and have little choice but to disrupt their planned civilian lives to protect the nation.
The argument is weaker if the nation is not really threatened and is split about whether the war should be fought. It becomes highly debatable in the context of today’s wars, especially when the Executive claims the unilateral right to engage the nation in hostilities while claiming that bombing another nation isn’t even “hostilities.”
Having an all volunteer armed force, when there is no meaningful check on whether we make war makes the question even harder. Thus, one way to explain the President’s proposal is that those who willingly agree to help the President engage in unlawful wars should be rewarded by private industry by giving them preferential access to jobs over all other citizens.
So let us consider who else might be looking for jobs today. Today’s jobs report, the President reminded us, showed the private sector added over 150,000 new jobs, but that was offset by state and local governments laying off another 30,000 government employees. Those public sector layoffs have been occurring for months, and it looks like that layoff average will continue for another year or two.
So while the President tells businesses they have a patriotic duty to hire former government employees he called returning war heroes, he also just strapped himself into policies that will perpetuate the firing of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firemen, police, and so on. See graph (h/t Atrios)
And as a former vet, I have to say this selective protection for some but not the others is just wrong, deeply wrong. And it’s up to veterans to say so.
If you want to help vets, Mr. President, first knock off the unnecessary and unjustified wars and get them out of harms way. Obey the Constitution. Then use your impressive public speeches to push as hard as you can to restore funding to budget starved states and local governments and help them rehire the rest of America’s heroes.
But don’t stop there. There are 25 million Americans that need jobs or more hours and better wages and conditions. Drop the pandering preferences for vets and protecting the financial elites and start putting Main Street America back to work. This vet would cheer for that.