Memorial Day proposals

This weekend, America celebrates Memorial Day and honors its men and women who serve. Many of these great patriots remain under fire today, however. Meanwhile, too many Washington politicians are continuing what many Americans consider a battle of the buffoons, and the media herd looks more like Abbott and Costello than Woodward and Bernstein.

By contrast, I suggest two Memorial Day proposals:

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First, let’s enact a one-time bonus payment to those who have served our country since Sept. 11, 2001. This would be a well-earned expression of thanks to those who assume great burdens on our behalf and would support the national economy and create jobs.

Second, let’s escalate the effort to eliminate the backlog of benefits due to wounded warriors and disabled vets by devoting whatever resources are necessary to complete this mission, and enlisting a major business leader such as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch or Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a special consultant, to bring “fresh eyes” and management expertise to the task.

Last year I had the opportunity to write a nonfiction political book either as a “tell all” or an insider view of Washington today. After thinking about it, I concluded that rather than write a book about the mundane subject of Washington today, I would write an historical fiction novel and screenplay about greater figures and larger themes.

My male hero is modeled after Pat Tillman, one of the greatest Americans of our or any generation. My female hero is a reporter who wins a Pulitzer Prize for writing about female heroines of the American Revolution. The two historic periods they return to are the American Revolution and the Second World War, periods in which “common men and women” joined the high and mighty to pursue great causes that embody the true American heritage.

Last Memorial Day I paid tribute to three great men: former Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Philip Hart (D-Mich.), who met as wounded warriors in the 1940s and became true brothers and great statesmen.

During World War II a long list of the super-wealthy joined the battle, including David Rockefeller, Winthrop Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Ted Roosevelt Jr. Wealthy beyond description, they heeded the call alongside stars like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable. Roosevelt, for example, had earned the rank of general, and despite being in his 50s insisted on landing at Normandy with his men, which was memorialized in the film “The Longest Day.” He was killed in action.

The heroism of Tillman is shared by countless men and women today. What is different about Tillman is that he gave up the riches and fame of being a football star to join the battle. From September 2001 until today, how many wealthy Americans have followed in his noble and courageous footsteps?

Instead, in our times there were tax cuts passed, great fortunes made, financial scandals, bailed out bankers and cruel joblessness. As official Washington failed to provide our troops adequate body armor and Humvees, the Marine Corps reported that up to 70 percent of casualties were preventable. We owe those who serve and their families — big time.

The deficit is declining. We can afford a one-time bonus to those who answered the call of patriotism in our time. There are understandable reasons that our nation, at war for more than a decade, has a backlog of veterans benefits to distribute, but we can solve this problem with a can-do attitude.

On Memorial Day weekend, visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and greet the hundreds of thousands of biker vets at the Rolling Thunder rally. Visit the National World War II Memorial and shake the hands of the last remaining heroes of the great generation who remain with us.

We cannot all have the heroism and valor of Pat Tillman. But we can all ask what he might do today and do it. We have some big debts to true American heroes to repay.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.