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Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream

Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream
© Greg Nash

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have never served in the military. I have worked around veterans and military personnel in various phases of my career at the Pentagon, at the State Department, at the United States Institute for Peace and in conflict zones as a journalist but not in combat. 

I cannot imagine what it is like to come home from war with life-changing physical and emotional wounds. But I remain deeply grateful to those who fight for our freedom and bear the scars of battle, and to those who die defending democracy.

And so it was with pain and anger that I watched FOX News pundit Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonThe Memo: Trump election loss roils right More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Ex-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results MORE smear combat veteran Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Ill.), and I stand with pride as she fights back.

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Duckworth Monday night hit back at Carlson after he criticized her for supporting a “national dialogue” on removing memorials to George Washington. “Does @TuckerCarlson want to walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?” Duckworth tweeted after Carlson called her a "deeply silly and unimpressive person." 

Things escalated after Carlson refused to apologize to the senator but invited her to appear on his show. How ridiculous to imagine that she would want any part of FOX News after what Carlson had done. After Duckworth turned down his invitation, Carlson called her a “coward.”

The only thing worse than a bully is a bully with a pulpit devoted to tearing people down.

And Carlson is not alone in sowing division between the political parties. When Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) in January accused Democrats of being “in love with terrorists,” Duckworth retorted that “I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists.”

After calling Duckworth “deeply silly and unimpressive,” Carlson said of Democrats who support taking down statues, “These people actually hate America. There’s no longer a question about that.”

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Later in the segment, Carlson argued that “the leaders of today’s Democratic Party … despise this country.” 

Regardless of whether Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE selects Sen. Duckworth as his running mate (she is reportedly on the shortlist), her accomplishments and patriotism should be celebrated.

Duckworth, 52, is in the fourth year of her first term in the U.S. Senate, before which she served two terms in the House. She has used her position on Capitol Hill to fight for stimulus payments during the current COVID-19 crisis; to introduce legislation to make it easier for working women to breastfeed their infants; and to work on important issues such as veterans’ care, defense spending and transportation.

Duckworth doesn’t run from controversy. She stands up for what she believes in but is open-minded. For example, although she is a champion of the Affordable Care Act, she also acknowledges that there are areas of the law that should be fixed. She opposes the “Medicare for All” plan that Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Prepare for buyers' remorse when Biden/Harris nationalize health care Biden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members MORE (I-Vt.) espouses. Duckworth is the kind of woman who engenders deep respect. Married to a veteran who serves in the National Guard, she is the mother of two children.

In April 2018, Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth spearheaded a successful push to change longstanding rules to allow newborns onto the Senate floor during votes and became the first lawmaker to cast a vote on the Senate floor with her baby by her side.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Thai mother and American father, Duckworth grew up in Southeast Asia. Her father was a U.S. Army veteran who came to the region to fight in Vietnam and then stayed to work assisting refugees.  

Duckworth's family moved to Hawaii when she was in high school, and Duckworth has said her family relied on food stamps growing up. She has a PhD in human services and became a helicopter pilot at a time when that was rare.

One day in 2004, the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. She became the first female double amputee of the Iraq war and received a Purple Heart. But Duckworth is humble and always pays homage to her co-pilot, Dan Milberg, and others who carried her from the wreckage and got her to safety.

She served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years and headed the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and then became assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Duckworth is one of those individuals we need more of in this country — thoughtful, humble, talented public servants who deserve praise, not scorn. In short, Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.