Let's get this out of the way first: Mitt Romney's smear of Barack Obama over the issue of early voting in Ohio is both shamelessly dishonest and utterly despicable. In case you haven't heard, Ohio voters used to be able to vote early in the three days before election day, then the Republican legislature passed a bill eliminating the early voting for everybody except active-duty military servicemembers. So the Obama campaign sued to restore early voting for everyone, which the Romney campaign rather predictably characterized as an attack on our brave fighting men and women.
So yes, Romney is just lying. But let's put that aside and ask this question: just what kind of special privileges should members of the military be entitled to?
We can start with things that come out of your service. I happen to think that if you got a leg blown off in Iraq or Afghanistan, you should never have to work again if you don't want to. And veterans benefits ought to be funded to a degree that no veteran ever goes without adequate physical and mental health care for an instant. But those are easy questions. What happens when we get to things that don't have anything to do with their military service?
In the Ohio case, we aren't talking about absentee ballots for people who are serving overseas. We're talking about people who are stationed in Ohio. So why do they get to vote early when nobody else does? The Romney campaign said, "The brave men and women of our military make tremendous sacrifices to protect and defend our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to protect their fundamental right to vote." OK, so it's because they make sacrifices. But so do lots of people — cops, firefighters, teachers...you could make a long list. And as Jonathan Chait quite reasonably asks, "If the ability to get to the polls is the 'fundamental right to vote,' then why shouldn't all eligible citizens enjoy that right?" I've seen some people argue that people in the military are really busy, but so are lots of people (we really ought to do our voting over the weekend like they do in civilized countries, but that doesn't look like it'll happen any time soon). Voting should be convenient for servicemembers, but it it should be convenient for everybody.
Are there any other special privileges that members of the military ought to get? What about the ability to park in handicapped spaces without getting a ticket? After all, that would make shopping more convenient. Maybe they should get a free sub after only eight punches instead of ten.
OK, I'm kidding. But I'd bet that most servicemembers would say that they didn't sign up so they could become some kind of special class within civilian society, enjoying all kinds of privileges the rest of us don't. Those who serve in the military get a lot of deserved praise these days, praise that's only partially matched by the kinds of considerations they ought to receive as a reward for their service. But voting by the same rules as everyone else is probably just fine with them.