You go to a baseball game in Washington (and I assume around the country), wounded warriors are introduced to standing ovations after the fourth inning (usually).
The American people appreciate the sacrifices of our troops and I think they feel a bit guilty about the fact that these warriors are doing pretty much all the work defending freedom. Most Americans aren’t facing much privation or inconvenience in this war on terror (with the possible exception of having to be strip-searched when we go to the airport). That only heightens the respect that people feel toward the military, in many ways putting the Pentagon on a pedestal in a way that may at times be unrealistic. Yes, the military has solid organization and deployment skills, but anyone who sits through a Pentagon PowerPoint presentation knows that the bureaucracy within the building is monumental and that it can limit innovation.
In other words, the military is an important institution in American life, but it can’t solve every problem that faces this country, nor should it.
That being said, the president’s decision to skip Arlington Cemetery and our national celebration of the troops was monumentally stupid. Going overboard to tip his hat to the troops and all of those who have sacrificed for freedom before was the president’s only real decision, and well, he blew it.
The political gods were not happy with Mr. Obama’s choice to give a speech in a military cemetery outside Chicago, sending in a punishing thunderstorm that scattered the crowds and washed out whatever message he was going to give.
And what message would that have been anyway, in the aftermath of the president’s decision to impose an unpopular (with the troops and their top brass) social policy? That “I love you man, but not enough to listen to your concerns”? That “I want you to do all this stuff for me, but I am not going to interrupt my Chicago vacation to pay tribute at our national shrine dedicated to your sacrifices on behalf of freedom”?
It is not exactly like the president has the love and respect of our nation’s military. They don’t trust him, to be candid. He didn’t serve, he doesn’t get the military culture, he won the Democratic primary by appealing to the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, he took forever to make a decision to send reinforcements into Afghanistan, his relationship with the most important military leader and innovator are so frosty that rumors are rife that David Petraeus may run against him in two years, and his relationships with the far left of American society (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, etc.), lead many to conclude that Mr. Obama would rather focus on what is wrong with America than celebrate what is right with the country.
This is the kind of president who really can’t afford to blow off any Memorial Day service and expect to get away with it.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, in the aftermath of the Civil War, as those who were living paid tribute to those who sacrificed their lives to keep the union together by decorating their graves with American flags. That tradition continues at Arlington Cemetery today, as little American flags dot the thousands of headstones that pay tribute to who came before. For more than a hundred years, this tradition was unofficial. It wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day became a national holiday, when it evolved into more or less the official start of summer.
But just because most Americans use Memorial Day as a way to jumpstart their summer, that doesn’t mean this president gets a pass to start his summer too. Memorial Day is a yearly ritual where our national leader pays respect for all of us to our nation’s military and those who sacrificed for our freedom. With the military being the only institution that the people really trust anymore, this wasn’t the time for Mr. Obama to let Biden do it.