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Thomas W. Young Headshot

Troops to Congress: Do Your Job

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If troops in the field have time to consider the resignation of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, I can imagine what they're thinking: We're out here in harm's way, fighting three wars, and a congressman has time for this?

I'm sure other lawmakers would rather not have their institution judged by Weiner's actions. But most of his colleagues don't seem any more committed to serious governance. A case in point -- the recent budget deadlock. A core responsibility of Congress is to produce a federal budget. But last year, when Democrats had control of Congress, they kicked the can down the road to avoid making tough budget decisions before an election. Then the process got delayed further when Republicans grandstanded on the deficit.

Both parties made that mess, and don't let them tell you it didn't affect the military. Guard and Reserve units have a mix of part-time and full-time members. Some of the full-timers are on active-duty military orders; others are civil service employees until called to military status. Congress, derelict in its duty to produce a budget, nearly brought the government to a shutdown. And that would have idled those civil service workers.

Guard and Reserve units -- some with members in harm's way -- had to divert attention from their missions to make contingency plans for losing many of their full-time support staff. I wonder how many politicians even know about that. For too many members of Congress, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya -- along with every other issue -- are just lights and bells in a political game show, scored in gotchas, zingers, and campaign contributions. They pin flags on their lapels and slap yellow-ribbon magnets on their cars and think they're supporting the troops.

Some change from hawk to dove and back again depending on the party affiliation of the commander-in-chief. As we enter a time of proposed troop draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's hard to imagine critical decisions won't get politicized as we also enter the campaign silly season. But for soldiers, sailors, and airmen, war is not a game show.

A few politicians do understand what's at stake. Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran with a son in the Marines, surely gets it. So do Arizona Senator John McCain and the small number of other lawmakers who have served in combat or sent their kids off to war.

But most do not. President Obama put it well when he said we have young people in combat zones acting like adults, and adults in Washington acting like children.

So on the occasion of a particularly ridiculous end to one politician's career, perhaps Congress might take a message from the troops: We're dying out here, literally. For our sake, do your job.