Peals, Rumblings, & Flashes: Illinois Congressional Edition.
by Joshua M. Patton
Political campaigns are contentious, divisive, and often downright ugly, and it is all of those things in the 8th district in Illinois. Wounded war veteran Tammy Duckworth, formerly the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, is running for the House of Representatives. She is one of the many veterans who are becoming involved in politics following their service in the military. Her opponent, incumbent Joe Walsh, a Republican and Tea Party darling, has helped this campaign capture national media attention because of his seemingly dismissive attitude of both Duckworth’s bona fides and the pride with which she speaks of her service.
Walsh was quoted in an article at Politico.com saying “What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh, she is nothing more than a handpicked Washington bureaucrat. David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel just picked her up and dropped her into this district.” However, since leaving the military, she has resided in Illinois, but she does bear some similarity to the President. She has a multi-ethnic background and lived in both Hawaii and Southeast Asia. However, Duckworth has stated during the campaign that she is working towards bipartisanship and will by no means simply toe the Democratic line.
Despite the fact that she served and was injured during combat, despite the fact that she has struggled to heal from her injuries and learn to live with two prosthetic legs, in that same Politico article, Walsh has the nerve to say, “She’s a bureaucrat. I’m a fighter.” It is these thoughtless statements, wrought with logical inconsistencies that has defined Walsh’s campaign style and endeared him to the Tea Party. In another video from a town hall meeting in Elmhurst, Illinois, Walsh says that he wishes that Mitt Romney would “rejoice” in his wealth and announce that his a rich-American proudly. A staunch supporter of success, Walsh then says that he wants “everybody to be wealthy.” On the surface this seems like a nice statement, but ignores the situational differences, between perhaps a wounded veteran from a low-income family and a child of a State Governor from considerable privilege like Mitt Romney, that could preclude one from attaining that kind of astronomical wealth.
Perhaps the most troubling statement Walsh has uttered, however, was another campaign stop in Elk Grove, Illinois where he said of Duckworth’s service, “My God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served, that’s last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we — we are so indebted and in awe of what they have done.” Perhaps this is just campaign bluster and Walsh is scrambling to find some way to stand apart from Duckworth’s truly remarkable service record. However, this attitude represents a troubling attitude that civilians have towards members of the military. Veterans of conflicts like World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, established a kind of omerta about their service, specifically the horrors of war. While noble in intention – to protect loved ones and children from the gorier details – Walsh’s statement takes that a step further by saying that it is almost shameful for veterans to discuss their experiences. Regardless of political ideology, Walsh is wrong and should himself be ashamed for suggesting that maintaining this culture of silence somehow makes the veteran more heroic. He later appeared on The O’Reilly Factor but guest-host Laura Ingram lobbed softballs at him and never questioned him about why he thinks veterans should keep talk of their service to themselves.
This is a time when the effects of PTSD are more apparent than ever in veterans and the suicide rate amongst both active-duty and veterans continues to climb. Talking about one’s service, whether in a positive way or to unload some of the burdens of a terrible experience, is indeed an admirable act. Walsh is being trounced in both the polls and fundraising, with Duckworth’s campaign raising $1 million. While the statements he is making may be the utterances of a desperate candidate, the larger impact of these statements is disparaging to veterans in general and his repeated claims of honoring the service of all veterans ring hollowly in the ears of anyone listening.
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