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A Memorial Day Speech Obama Should Give

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Dear Obama,

Before I get to the speech I'd love to hear you give, please note that this Memorial Day (at the invitation of our town's city fathers) I'll be giving a talk before the parade. Ours is a small town, and there won't be many there. I'll bet that most who do turn up to honor our troop's service will be middle class or working class members of our community. I don't expect to see many of my more swanky friends.

I never served but my Marine son did when he was deployed to President Bush's wars. I disagree with the President about invading Iraq, but I'm proud of my son's service. He didn't volunteer to serve an administration but our country.

I live on the Volvo-driving, higher-education-worshiping North Shore of Boston. I'm a novelist, not your usual "military parent" these days. I've learned a little about working class America -- especially the white Americans who live in places like West Virginia and Kentucky who provide an outsized contribution of men and women to our military.

Having my beloved child fight shoulder-to-shoulder with other people's children, while our kids were shot at and saved each other's lives, connected me to a bigger and better America than I knew existed before my son unexpectedly volunteered in 1999. Call me a snob, call me stupid, but I had a lot to learn about the people who protect me, something I wrote about in detail in Keeping Faith -- A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps.

Since, over the last 8 years I've written several books (and many Washington Post op-eds) about the military family experience, and since so many military folks write to me in response -- literally thousands -- I think I've learned something about the America that serves and what they -- what we -- care about.

Military service--who serves and who doesn't -- is a good shorthand summation of the class divide in America today. And the people who serve are the sorts of people your Obama For President campaign seems to be having trouble connecting with sometimes. So, as an enthusiastic supporter, I offer you this speech as a way to perhaps speak to some folks who need to learn more about you:

This Memorial Day let's honor our vets, our troops and the fallen with some truth-telling about service, the price of war and who serves these days and who does not.

Has Bush's war in Iraq impacted all Americans equally? No. It has mostly impacted working families.

Before George Bush launched his unnecessary war-of-choice in Iraq gas was two dollars a gallon. It's four now, heading to five. Why? Partly because the Bush administration destabilized our world, especially some of the most vital oil producing regions.

Before Bush sanctioned torture as a means to get information from our enemies, America was respected around the world.

Until George Bush -- against the advice of many of his military commanders--launched his war-of-choice in Iraq we were winning against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Until George Bush squandered the goodwill we had in the world, and made our country appear weak and incapable of military victory, by launching a dumb war in Iraq, America was both respected and feared and our military capability unquestioned.

Today we appear vulnerable to our enemies because Bush has overstretched our military. And John McCain wants to continue these mistaken Bush policies.

Bush and McCain say they are friends of our military. Are they? This Memorial Day let's honor our men and women who serve by telling the hard truth about the lack of real support they are getting from Bush and McCain.

President Bush has abused our sons and daughters by using a provision in the law called 'stop loss' that allows the government to demand extra service, beyond the amount of time a volunteer signed up for. This law was supposed to only be used in a true national emergency, not in some self-inflicted unnecessary war-of-choice. Stop loss has been used to draft our sons and daughters--the ones who already volunteered! -- while no one else in the country was asked to do anything more than go shopping and enjoy their tax cuts. Rather, I should say, enjoy tax cuts if they were wealthy.

It's time for working America--all of us--to get together and tell Bush and McCain that waving our flag or putting up a banner that says 'Mission Accomplished' or talking about 'victory' in Iraq isn't the same thing as actually showing support for the Americans who fight for us.

Senator James Webb has introduced a bill called the New GI Bill. It would give vastly improved educational benefits to all our men and women who have served the United States since 9/11. Senator McCain and President Bush are opposing the bill.

This new GI Bill has passed in the Senate but Bush says he'll veto it, and many Republicans are opposing it. Bush and McCain say that the bill would encourage our sons and daughters to leave the military and get a first-class education, instead of going to war again and again and again.

Bush and McCain are hypocritical. The spirit of their opposition to the New GI Bill, is the same spirit they've shown by being willing to use the stop loss measures to keep our kids in uniform, even after their time of duty is up. It is the spirit we see when Bush and McCain are lowering the taxes for the richest Americans, while asking the sons and daughters of working America to fight on and on and on. It's wrong.

With the Republicans in the White House all the breaks are going to the wealthy and the privileged. Working America, white or black, Asian and Hispanic is being left behind and actively discriminated against, abused and manipulated.

McCain and Bush refuse to trust our troop's patriotism. They say that if educational benefits are increased working people won't stay and serve. They're wrong. Those who serve are patriots. To question their patriotism because of college benefits is a low and mean-spirited insult.

The answer to our military's recruiting problems is to have a commander-in-chief who doesn't abuse our military but only sends our men and women into combat as a last resort, for instance as I will send them to Afghanistan and if need be into Pakistan, to hunt down and capture or kill bin Laden.

It's time we see through Bush and McCain's loud talk about patriotism and ask them what is so patriotic about pushing working America into bankruptcy by driving oil prices through the roof because of a dumb war on the one hand, and by mostly asking only working Americans, to serve on the other? When was the last time Bush asked our elite to volunteer?

What is so patriotic about refusing the sons and daughters of working America the same comprehensive-type of GI Bill our fathers got after World War Two?

This Memorial Day let me be clear: I want to honor those who served and serve by ending George Bush and John McCain's war-of-choice. I want to bring our troops home. I want to get back to a fair military where soldiers serve the amount of time they volunteered for not a day more.

And when our young men and women have served I want to thank them by providing a first-class education from a grateful nation.

With a strengthened military, one that's no longer stretched to the limits and beyond, I will pursue our real enemies and protect our actual security. I want to truly support our troops, not just have photo ops with them.

When I am President I will take the trillions of dollars Bush and McCain keep wasting in Iraq, and find alternative energy solutions so that the price of oil won't matter. We'll build roads and railways and schools and create jobs so that working America may prosper and we can all move forward.

That is how we'll make America strong again. That is an America our enemies will fear. That is how we'll honor those who gave their lives so that we may live free."

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back"

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