Memorial Day Matters
On Memorial Day, we spent a good chunk of our driving time listening to conservative talk show hosts on AM radio. They did a great job of criticizing those who oppose the war by calling them unpatriotic. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they never criticized the Bush administration for cutting funding for vets' health care, prescription drugs and nursing homes. Why didn't they mention the bill that would have qualified the National Guard and Reserve for TRICARE, the main military health plan? It was defeated by 218-211. What about the bill that would have increased spending by $53 million for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including $8 million for treating combat trauma, $9 million for prosthetic research and $6 million for telemedicine to remotely serve National Guard and Reserve veterans. It was defeated by 214-213. If you look at voting records, you'll find that almost every Democratic House member voted in favor of those bills, while every Republican voted against them. I didn't hear any mention of that on the radio; instead Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners to call in with gift ideas for the one-year anniversary of Abu Ghraib.
That evening, we went to a Memorial Day celebration at the White Rock Lake Park in Dallas. In addition to an endless array of "Support Our Troops" ribbons on cars, flags could be found on everything from earrings and hats to lounge chairs and blankets.
Before going in, I got into a conversation with a female police officer on duty.
How do you feel about the war?
I'm not really sure what we're fighting for. I know what I've been told, but those theories have been proven wrong time and time again.
How do you feel about providing healthcare benefits to the troops? A few bills that would have increased coverage were killed in the House.
Why are they killing bills to support the troops? As far as I'm concerned, if you serve this country, you should receive healthcare for life.
What's your opinion of Bush?
I'm too much of a lady to answer that question.
Here are excerpts from a few interviews with people who attended the event.
Kay McGuire, 79, member of the Republican Women's Association of Dallas, TX
What does Memorial Day mean to you?
We think about all our friends and relatives that we have lost, not just in the war that's going on now, but in other wars. It's a sad day, it really is. They said we were getting away from it, but unfortunately since war came, now we're back to square one again.
What about freedom? What does that mean to you?
For me personally, it means that I can go to any church that I please and nobody questions me. We can vote. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't vote, but we have that choice. We can work where we want, educate ourselves if we want, and that's a good feeling. Anybody in the United States can make something of their lives. All they need is the right attitude.
Do you think that's what Bush means when he uses the word freedom?
Yes. He portrays that to the people and I think that's why he's popular even though they say he's losing his popularity. I don't believe that, but of course I might be biased. I happen to like him.
What do you like about him?
His honesty with the people when he talks to them on the radio or on TV. Even though he came from a wealthy family, he's down to earth.
How do you think the war is going?
Not very good because of the insurgency, but I was for it. A lot of people were not, but I was because I thought we were doing it to try to free people who were persecuted. Of course, we're having a hard time from a lot of people and that's not helping matters. And naturally, some of the American people are becoming disgruntled. I am not disgruntled, but I am worried for our men that are in the uncomfortable position of being in somebody else's country. They would love to come home, but they can't until they get the police straightened out. What's hard is you can't trust things you always read in the paper. You have to find out for yourself. If you hear a story, you have to read it from different angles.
Where do you get most of your news?
Fox News. I rarely listen to the other big names because I hear a lot of stuff from them that isn't true.
Things are going so badly in Iraq. I talk to friends that have sons over there and they say everything is going well. I also always hear that we're not doing anything over there. Of course we are, but it's not being reported. We're building schools and building water systems. We have helped these people tremendously, but I don't know if they even appreciate it because they don't know whether to trust us or not. You try to place yourself in their position, you really do, and it's not easy.
Zoltan Zsohar, 58, author of "Surviving Through Faith"
I'm from an immigrant family. We moved here in 1950. You have no idea what this country has meant to my family. My parents escaped Hungary during World War II. They lived five years as refugees and had the wonderful opportunity to come to this country in 1950. If you go where we're sitting, we have American flags everywhere. We're so patriotic. We just love this country.
What does the word patriotic mean to you?
It means freedom. We've traveled overseas and we've seen the restrictions and the fear people have about their government. In this country, you trust the government to an extent. The poverty and distrust for anybody in uniform in other countries is incredible. We don't have that in this country.
What do you think of the current climate in this country? Are you a Bush fan?
I'm a Bush fan, but I don't support the war. I've got real problems with what's going on, but I support Bush and his overall efforts. I think he means well, but there is a lot of stuff about the war that really bothers me.
The original purpose for the war didn't pan out and everybody knows that. It's a mess over there. We should have learned from Vietnam. You better be right before you go in and start a war and we weren't.
So you know all about the Duelfer report and the Downing Street memo?
Oh, yeah. I know about those. I am concerned about what's happening, but I have to support our government. I was brought up to support the government.
Did you vote for Bush the second time around knowing all that you do?
Yeah, because the alternative wasn't that good.
Were you open to voting for a Democrat?
Yes, absolutely. I wasn't sure up until late into the campaign. I'm not a diehard Republican and I'm not a diehard Bush supporter, but I thank god we voted for Bush in the first election because I don't think Gore would have handled 9/11 well.
Barbara Spruill, 61, works for a Christian ministry
What does Memorial Day mean to you?
It's a time to remember the price for freedom and the men and women who've given their lives and paid the ultimate price. I can choose to have a career. I can choose to marry or be single. I can choose what church to go to or not. It's the freedom to choose.
What do you think Bush means when he says freedom?
I assume that he means people deserve the same freedom I have in America. The freedom to vote. The freedom to travel. The freedom to worship as I choose. The freedom to have a career and live my life the way I want to live it. Our nation is founded on the principle that people have rights and one of those rights is the freedom to pursue liberty and happiness. I think that's what he means when he says freedom. I hope that's what he means.
Are you a fan of Bush?
Well, I voted for him. I certainly don't agree with all of his decisions, but I'm sure he wouldn't agree with all of my decisions. I voted for him because I agree with him morally. He's a man of conviction and he says what he means.
What do you mean when you say you agree with him morally?
I'm a Christian. When I say that, I mean that Jesus Christ was the son of God. I believe the Bible is a word to us from God and shows us how he wanted us to live our lives. When I say moral values, I think he holds dear those same values that the Bible addresses and that God holds. I think he has those values.
How do you feel about the war?
I hate war. It should be the last option, but I think there are some people who give you no choice. I think there are times when war is necessary. I don't know if the war in Iraq was necessary. I don't know that any of us know that. You have to have a lot more information than I have to know that. I have to weigh the information I get and then make a decision as to whether it was necessary.
Where do you get your information?
I prefer Fox, but I watch the others because I like to know what other people are thinking. It's important to do that.
In terms of information, the Duelfer report says weapons of mass destruction didn't exist. Have you heard about the Downing Street memo?
It's not getting much press. It's a British memo with notes from a meeting with Tony Blair. It said Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. So basically, it was war first, weapons second, not the other way around.
I know that the weapons of mass destruction was the main reason. Whether there was deception there, I don't know. The result of the war will turn out to be good because I think the majority of the Iraqis hated their lives and hated the way they had to live. Did we go to war over weapons of mass destruction or did we go to remove a ruthless, evil man? We can beat that horse to death. Regardless, we are where we are and I think we're in a good place. I don't think we'll dethrone all dictators. There are dictators everywhere that don't threaten America, but I think he threatened America.
We know at one time he did have weapons. Whether he got rid of them or whether we haven't found them, we don't know.
How do you feel about the fact that we supported Saddam at that time and sold him the weapons?
Again, I don't have all the information.
What about domestic issues?
I'm not sure about education and social security. The jury is out on those two issues. With 9/11, so much of the focus has had to be on other things. Domestic issues have moved to the back burner, but I think they're getting more attention, so we'll see.
Do you always vote Republican?
No, I vote for the person. My father was a staunch Democrat and he always voted for Democrats. I was raised in a Democratic family, but in my 30s I decided that I was going to vote for people that I could align myself with. I happen to agree more with the Republican platform right now because they're more aligned with my values.