Beto’s War Tax is Wrong (A Once Lost OpEd)

Back in June, I wrote the following article, intended to be an OpEd in a major publication but something happened, and I forgot about it until now. I’m sharing it here, as is, so the writing doesn’t go to “waste”! 

Beto O’Rourke’s proposed “War Tax” is noteworthy because it longs to go beyond Republican’s lip service for military veterans, but it clearly misses the mark and presents difficulties for the very people he’s trying to court. It could easily mark the end of his efforts to become the 2020 Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump. 

O’Rouke said, “We must be willing to pay any price, and bear any burden, to provide the full care, support, and resources to every single veteran who served every single one of us.” According to his vision, the War Tax “would serve as a reminder of the incredible sacrifice made by those who serve and their families.” 

Unlike proposals related to Medicare for all which would result in people having more money, O’Rouke’s proposed tax would negatively impact already financially strained individuals even more. For example, if the $25 yearly tax for individuals making under $30,000 does not seem substantial, you are among the lucky. If you are starving, $25 is substantial. Over a third of college students go hungry, even those from the middle class or who attend elite universities. Full time work doesn’t pay enough for an apartment. Homelessness is pervasive. Insulin prices are sky-rocketing. $25 is substantial. People increasingly can’t afford to live in the United States: Don’t add to their stress. O’Rouke’s advocacy comes across as tone-deaf when Democratic voters are calling for greater financial equity. (And a sizable portion of tax dollars already go toward defense expenses and toward the care of military veterans.) 

O’Rouke’s comments also perpetuate narrow definitions of “serving the nation,” of “making sacrifices.” People in the military risk their lives and give up time with their loved ones, but daycare workers, farmers, firefighters, police officers, professors, surgeons, teachers, and others do the same thing, often for decades more. What about guaranteed respect and welfare for them, too? O’Rouke’s plan would punish such individuals, as well as people who are disabled or who are pacifists or who whose sexual orientation disqualified them from military service for not “serving” the United States in the “correct” way. 

Voters looking to support a Democratic candidate’s want to honor military veterans but also desire a United States that is not always at war and that doesn’t have the largest military budget in the world. While soldiers fight wars for vastly different reasons than why governments start them, O’Rouke’s comments don’t acknowledge that recent wars continue to be highly controversial and were, in cases, deliberately started under false pretenses by the 43rd Administration. More concerning, O’Rouke’s comments imply that war is absolutely necessary and vitally important. He might eagerly support calls for additional military conflicts under the false guise of them being necessary to secure freedom and we should fear this. 

This piece will certainly receive criticism from some liberals. Because of Trumpism, we’re in an era where seemingly any criticism directed toward Democrats by those advocating for a more just society is seen as counterproductive and dangerous. While we must be cautious, we should not withhold honest criticism. O’Rouke’s conservative actions, here and elsewhere, speak to ideological variation among the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party of 2019 is not fully the beacon of progressivism proclaimed by some and that is desperately needed. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda