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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016
Remembering Memorial Day
BY BOB FRANKEN
It’s a shame that it needs to be repeated as we enjoy the three-day weekend, but Memorial Day is much more than beach breaks, barbecues and shopping sales. It’s the occasion when we are supposed to pay homage to all those members of this country’s armed forces who died protecting the nation. By extension, it honors all those who serve in the military to defend America.
Regrettably, we have broken faith with them, not just for the shameful mistreatment that impedes the repair of the broken minds and bodies for those who returned (more about that in a moment), but for the shoddy state of a political system that is fundamental to our way of life.
They didn’t intend to put themselves in harm’s way to witness a choice between two presidential candidates who are significantly disliked, both for good reason. One is a fast talking, lying, and ignorant racist who has played on the fears and anger of a fed-up population. The other is also widely considered to be dishonest, enmeshed in an email scandal that has now only made her look even worse with the release of a scathing report from the State Department’s inspector general. In addition, she’s a plodding, uninspired candidate, perceived as a pawn of the wealthy.
They also didn’t believe they were fighting to protect the selfish interests of a few robber barons who live in obscene luxury at the expense of everyone else.
How infuriated they deserve to be at the cavalier treatment they get from a Veterans Affairs health system that was supposed to care for those who had served. But the wait times for treatment are unconscionably long, even fatally for some of them. A so-called reformer is brought in from private industry to turn things around. He’s former Procter and Gamble CEO Robert McDonald, whose mandate is to install a business culture of accountability.
Instead, he seems to have brought corporate executive arrogance. When questioned about the slow pace of improvement, he compared his institutions to Disneyland: “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?” he argued. “What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
For those veterans who have endured the ridiculous waits, those comments were mind bogglingly insensitive. McDonald didn’t even comprehend at first how cringe-worthy his remarks were and even defended them. Finally, someone a little more in touch with political reality explained to him that for public servants, petulance in the face of shabby performance simply doesn’t cut it. So he appeared with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, and gave one of those grudging sorta-apologies: “If I was misunderstood, if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it.” That’s a long way from effectively dealing with a problem facing those who survived the battlefields, some just barely, from combat. To reward their heroism, they are treated like dirt when they return.
Meanwhile, the nation they defended is going off the rails. The optimism that has defined the United States since our earliest days has been replaced by cynicism. We are surrounded by those who take unfair advantage of the freedoms carefully crafted by our founders. Now, these benefits are less available to everyone reserved for those those with highly paid, clever lawyers and accountants. The upward mobility that characterized generations has stalled for most or even slipped into downward mobility. The middle class has been gutted. The quality of education, medicine and even nutrition in the U.S. has slipped to mediocre at best, compared with the rest of the developed world.
This is not what our armed forces are fighting for. America the Beautiful is turning into America the Dreary, and it will take not only those who confront our enemies abroad to turn things around. The real battles are the ones at home.
© 2016 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.