You did not have to be paying much attention during last night's Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address to notice a young Army Staff Sergeant in full dress uniform seated prominently right behind Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and enthusiastically applauding and cheering at the Governor's attacks on Democrats.
Slight problem, you see. That is probably against the law.
Look it up for yourself right here in the Department of Defense (DoD) Directive entitled "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces." The purpose of this DoD Directive is to mirror the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in partisan political activity in an official capacity. Since a DoD Directive is considered to be in the same category as an order or regulation, and military personnel violating its provisions can be considered in violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, our Republican friends may have just caused this brave young soldier to break the law. Thank you for that, Governor McDonnell.
Now, my point is not to single out this young soldier for punishment, but rather to highlight the continued use of members of our armed forces as stage props for Republicans. "Mission Accomplished?" Remember that one! Or just consider Sarah Palin's latest attempt to hold a rally (aka "book tour") on Fort Bragg this past November. Well, you can now add "Republican Response 2010" to what is a rather endless list, actually.
It was a Republican administration and Republican-led Congress that sent our military into two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) that were woefully under-planned, under-funded and under-equipped. We all know that story. It was a Republican administration and Republican-led Congress that left my generation of servicemen and women with a Department of Veterans Affairs unable to meet the demands of millions of new Veterans.
It has taken a Democratic President and a Democratic-led Congress to end the war in Iraq as well as finally commit the troops, resources and strategy necessary to win in Afghanistan. And yes, it has been President Obama and a Democratic Congress that has given the VA the largest budget increase in its history ($15 billion dollars in 2010) and is working tirelessly to create a 21st Century VA to care for our newest generation of Veterans.
I know many of you to my ideological right are already leaping out of your seats and shouting "well then why were there men and women in uniform at the State of the Union address?" Pretty simple answer, actually. The State of the Union is not a partisan political gathering (as the Republican response clearly is). The State of the Union is mandated in the Constitution, and the entire government--Republicans, Democrats, Independents--as well the Cabinet, members of the Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs of Staff all gather to hear the President address the nation. The State of the Union is the exact opposite of a partisan political gathering. It is the heart and soul of our government coming together "from time to time" to address the entire nation on the state of our union.
My point is this--Republicans love to stand in front of the military; it is about time they try and stand behind us as well.