The Plank

Goodnight Saigon

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Yesterday, Anthony Swofford, a Marine Corps veteran and the author of Jarhead and Exit A, previewed the Democrats' plans to honor veterans at the convention. How'd the Dems do? Here's Swofford's response:

I think they might have done it. With a post-Vietnam roster of veterans speaking from the dais, the Obama campaign presented a youthful, vigorous, and engaged voting block of former warriors last night at the DNC. Couple that with the repeated shout-outs to Obama's grandfather and great uncle, both of them veterans of World War Two European combat, and the speakers mostly hop-scotched around Vietnam, leaving it a chalk outline on the sidewalk outside the convention center rather than a ghost lurking the hall and pulling the entire enterprise down into the muck of 60s academic politics.

In mimicking Obama's post-60s race themes, the evening updated the image of the veteran advocate from a Ron Kovich dazed and confused type to the professional and pragmatic nine-to-fiver. It might have seemed a little corporate, but what is the military but America's richest government run corporation?

Michelle Jones, a former Army Chief Master Sergeant, gave a ringing endorsement of Obama's ability to lead the military. And Jack Reed, the senator from Rhode Island and former Army paratrooper, spoke about his recent Middle East trip with Obama, and the fact that everywhere they went, young military members were eager to connect with candidate Obama.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much policy discussed. For the most part, the speakers followed the convention guidelines of stating how great their candidate is and what a swell job he'll do at everything. I bet Obama can also do a mean diaper change, but do we really care?

Beth Robinson, a Marine wife with multiple sclerosis, put a compelling face on the domestic side of the war, the side often forgotten or ignored. Robinson spoke of the empty seat at the dinner table and the long recovery a family must make after a deployment. She said that Obama will institute a Military Advisory Board. She didn't say what this would be, but I imagine a board comprised of spouses and veterans and public officials with ties to the military that focuses on non-combat, domestic issues. This would be welcome. Over the last eight years while the military has been focusing on bullets and bombs, DOD housing and schools must have suffered incredibly.

Tammy Duckworth proved to be the most forceful and grounded speaker. She narrated the history of her injury, and of receiving a sans press visit from Obama while recovering at Walter Reed, and she spoke out against McCain's plan to privatize the VA health system. McCain's plan would give the veteran a credit card that he could ostensibly use at any health care facility. Disabled veteran advocates have told me that this is a horrible idea. Throwing a disabled veteran into the miasma of the civilian health system would be like trying to run a Ferrari on cranberry juice. It just won't go. The VA system is certainly flawed, but profit is not a constraint to doctors when it comes to treating veterans. When they need an MRI there is no cost/benefit analysis done. The civilian world is foreign enough to a recently returned veteran, so why shock him further with the health care nightmare everyone else is facing? Duckworth insisted that Obama will create a 21st century VA. If he has the chance, I hope that Tammy Duckworth is part of that rehabilitation.

Of course, the Democrats still played the dread short movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. I don't know what they needed Spielberg for other than his name. My five-year-old niece could have cobbled together the still photos and canned footage they used. Tom Hanks did the narration to give it a Saving Private Ryan feel, but the vibe was much more Animal Planet or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. This is how the strange beings eat. Look! They are not that much different than you and me. To exoticize the military like this does no one any good.

But the night was full of good for Obama. The veterans who spoke proved that the senator has cachet and standing with the military set and that they consider him ready to be commander in chief on day one. He should take Duckworth on the stump with him so she can hammer this point home and further distance military politics from the old domestic battles of Vietnam.

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