Thursday, May 29, 2008

“Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism”

I’m not certain where this quote comes from. It was originally attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but there seems to be a good deal of disagreement over who actually said this. Regardless, I believe that respectful opposition is necessary for a republican democracy to succeed and survive.

Why do I bring this up? Well, the most obvious reason is because Memorial Day was this week. I’ve also noticed for a number of years that the Republicans I know equate dissent with some form of mild treason. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a neo-conservative to dinner and mention any problem you might have with the current Administration.

There are millions of men and women that are overwhelmingly grateful for the job our military is doing. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and have always understood regardless of the President, the military should be appreciated. We might not agree with the policies, but I think it would be hard to find a significant segment of this country that does not respect and appreciate the work and sacrifices of our servicemen and women.

I was working in Washington, DC on September 11th 2001. It shook me up, just as it did everyone else. A few months after the attack I was riding on the Metro, the subway for that area, past the Pentagon stop. A member of the military sat down next to me on the train. As tears welled up in my eyes, I thanked the man for the job he was doing not only for the country, but also from my perspective for me as a citizen. Never once did I agree with going into the "war", but I certainly can appreciate the sacrifices that the military men and women make.

Every time I turn around, the Republicans (read: McCain/Bush) talk about patriotism. They are always wearing flag lapel pins, or singing "Proud To Be an American" by Lee Greenwood. I appreciate a show of nationalistic pride. It is great to feel a sense of unity and caring for the flag of your country, but put some substance behind that show of nationalism.

John McCain has talked about how much he supports the troops in Iraq. He has complained that Barack Obama has not been on the ground in Baghdad. Yet, one of the most famous times that McCain was on the ground there, he continuously lied about the conditions for political purposes. When confronted with these lies he backed down. He was more interested in the appearance of success, than seeing what was really going on in Iraq at the time.

Late last year, the Congress took up the Defense Appropriations bill. Before I continue remember that those "unpatriotic" Democrats now run Congress. The Congress passed a bill that gave a 3.5% salary increase for members of our armed services. That was more of a raise than the White House had requested, and the White House threatened to veto the bill. Now, before you think it had something to do with timelines and the like, the veto had nothing to do with that. The veto was threatened because the original legislation stated that Iraq would be accountable for acts of state sponsored torture. The Republicans, were willing to stop funding American troops during a war, because they didn't think a government should be held responsible for state sponsored activities of torture.Yet again the Republicans want to waive the flag, but not necessarily as interested in the substance of supporting our nation's troops.

Finally, on May 22nd the Senate voted on an updated GI Bill. This bill has passed overwhelmingly. It provides college tuition, room and board, and a $1,000 stipend to veterans who have served two years active duty since 2001. Both Senators Obama and Clinton supported this bill, while the war hero John McCain supported President Bush and skipped the vote. His rationale was that many of the troops would be tempted to leave the service early because of the benefits. His proposal was a tiered program giving more benefits for more years of service. Sorry, but the minute you enter into the Iraq or Afghan theater your life is in danger. I guess your service doesn't need to be respected until you hit the five-year anniversary.

Again, Republicans run around the country talking about how patriotic they are. I've given you a few examples where the hype does not measure up to the reality. Regardless of party, we should all honor our veterans this year. I think we should pull the troops out as soon as is practical, but let me put that argument to the side. If you are going to have this occupation in Iraq continue, then fund the troops properly. That means not only in the field of battle, but also fully funding the Veterans Administration for hospital upgrade (i.e. Walter Reed); or making certain that military families make enough money to stay off food stamps. Rather than wave a flag or wear a lapel pin, we should honor our troops by giving them the necessary tools necessary to defend themselves during combat, and support themselves after their distinguished service.



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