BILL WINTER, CO-06: DUTY, HONOR, COURAGE!
by BGW1964, Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 08:09:52 AM EDT
Yesterday morning I had the honor of having Senator Max Cleland speak on behalf of my campaign against Tom Tancredo. I want to share with you what I had to say after he spoke:
It's a real honor to be introduced today by somebody like Senator Max Cleland, who has given so much to his Country over and over and over again. And to me Senator Cleland stands out as an example of both what is good--and in some senses, what is wrong--about our Country right now.
Senator Cleland has given so much in service to his Country, and yet when he tried to serve his home state of Georgia, what did they come out and do? They accused him of not being patriotic. And I think that speaks to what is wrong with America today. We have more people trying to divide us than trying to unite us, and we need to get back to where we're trying to be united as a Nation again.
It's a real honor to have Max Cleland here, who is such a role model for a young man--although I'm not so young anymore--and there are many things he brought up that I want to speak to today.
I had an interview with Charley Able here from the Rocky Mountain News yesterday, and he asked me what is the craziest thing I've ever done, and the dumbest thing I've ever done. Senator Cleland's remarks today remind me that everywhere I go, I get folks from the Marines who tell me the dumbest thing I ever did was join the Navy, and folks from the Navy who say the dumbest thing I ever did was join the Marines.
What I know is that serving ten years in the military taught me things I never expected to learn going in. I had the opportunity to get to know people from all over the Country. I met people of different ethnic backgrounds, and skin colors, and genders, and I got the opportunity to grow from a young man who just knew the kind of people I went to high school with in Littleton to someone who knew people from all over the world. And I gained a whole lot of respect for all kinds of folks and that alone makes the ten years of service worthwhile.
Senator Cleland also talked about the VA, and there are two things I want to talk about there. First of all, we have seen cut after cut over the last five years in money made available to our veterans at the very same time we have them over there in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan. I get people coming up to me and they say, "I am so proud of you", and "you are so brave for what you're doing", and I have to tell you, it doesn't feel right to me.
I've said to a couple people, "You know, it's not brave running for public office. It's brave to get up in the morning and put on the body armor and go out in 100 degree heat and walk patrol in Fallujah and Najaf, and drive a truck down the road and not know if any given Coke can or any piece of garbage on the road might be a bomb that will blow you up. And you don't even have to be serving to be brave. You can be a single mother trying to raise kids in today's workplace and in today's economy and that takes great courage. Or to be a parent trying to send your kids to college when all they do in Washington is cut student loans and student grants.
These are things that are courageous, far more so than running for office.
Now when I look at veterans, I think to myself: I'm running against Tom Tancredo. And here's a guy, who at the same time he voted for his own pay raise--and these guys were already making, I believe, around $165,000 a year, and they had to vote themselves a pay raise. That's significantly more than I ever made in my whole life, and significantly more than anyone in the military makes, I'm guessing, short of the Joint Chiefs level. And now they're making $167,000 and this guy voted for it at the same time he voted down a pay raise for our troops and voted down increases in spending for our veterans, and didn't do anything--anything--to get a new VA hospital here in Denver.
And I think the upgraded VA hospital that is supposed to be across the street is just the beginning.
We have a great big huge state here. What about all the veterans who served who live over on the western slope or out on the plains? I think they ought to have one out in Grand Junction, too, so they don't have to drive 300 miles every time they need care.
My father was a Navy doctor. He got the Navy to pay for medical school and in return he served for six years on active duty. They were going to put him in a MASH hospital in Vietnam or Great Lakes Naval Hospital, and in their infinite wisdom, they decided to put him in Great Lakes Naval Hospital, putting folks back together when they came back from Vietnam. He was an orthopedic surgeon and they decided that was where he could do the most good.
After he did his six years of service with the Navy, my father, as an orthopedic surgeon, had all kinds of offers to go and work for these groups that fix up athletes' knees and shoulders and make seven figure salaries. But my father chose instead to teach at medical school and do his medical surgery at the Denver VA.
I asked him why one time when I got a little older, because that whole idea of making seven figures, that didn't seem so bad to me as a kid. But my dad told me, "I teach at that medical school because a whole generation of doctors will go out from here and will have influence that I gave them, that will carry on long after I'm gone."
And he was right. My dad died back in 1998. He was 59 years old. And as I go around on this campaign, I have met countless doctors who said, "Your dad trained me." In fact, I spoke to the Board of Directors of the Colorado Medical Society, and the president, Rick May, an orthopedist, told me "your dad is the reason I'm in orthopedic surgery." That's very powerful to me.
And my dad also told me, "I do my surgery at the VA because they need me so much there." And that was a real revelation to me and really had an impact on my life. And not just on me, but on my brother as well.
My older brother got his medical training paid for by the Air Force. My brother was an Air Force doctor, and he's a psychiatrist. And after he got out of the Air Force, he said, "I'm going to be like my dad." And instead of going out into private practice where there's a lot of money, my brother practices up at the Denver VA, and he's been practicing quite a few years now. And he does it for the same reason my father did, because they need him so much there.
And while I'm talking about my father and my brother, I should mention my mother, who worked her way through college and medical school in the late 1950's and early 1960's as a single mother from a poor family. She's the one who saw me as an orphan in a hospital when I was a toddler and thought "I can give him a better life." So she adopted me and she did.
That's what service is really all about, and that's the legacy I have to live up to in my family. And if you want to know why I'm running for Congress, that's a very big reason right there.
But my brother gives me a lot of insight on what it's like to work at the VA and particularly the Denver VA hospital. Now I said he works at the VA for the same reason my dad did, because they need him so much. And I'll tell you what, in his field of psychiatry, they need him more than probably anything else they have.
I asked my brother--and this is a year or so ago--what's really happening with the soldiers coming back from Iraq and the PTSD and emotional issues? And he said, "You don't even want to know." He said, "We'll have jobs there for the rest of our lives if we live to be 150 years old."
And I said, "What's the plan to deal with it?" And he said, "There is no plan. There's no money, there are no people looking forward."
I think we've had over a million people serve in the Iraqi theatre already, and there's no plan for what we're going to do with them for the next 30 or 40 years. I've seen these people at Walter Reed, and I'm sure you have, too, Senator. And some of these folks that we've kept alive, some of these injuries you can't believe. I saw a young man who has no face anymore, and is blind and deaf. We've gotten to the point in medical technology where we can keep people alive, but we can't give them their lives back. And because of their injuries, they may need care for 50, 60 years and we don't have any kind of plan or any money set aside to do that.
So when we talk about the Denver VA and funding for healthcare for veterans, this is a very personal issue to me, and I think it ought to be a personal issue to everyone in America.
We did polling in my district back in May and asked about 15 different issues, and every one of them came back over 50% positive, but the single biggest response came from restoring cuts to benefits for veterans. So Americans want to support the people who are over there fighting for us, but our elected "leaders" in Congress don't seem to agree.
That has to change!
And while I'm talking about the war, I think we also need to stand up and say to our President, "We need leadership, sir." And when I go around and say this, some people say to me, "stay the course." And I say, "'stay the course' is not a plan; `stay the course' is madness.
We've been there 3½ years and we're no closer to victory today than we were when we started. In fact, we still don't even have a definition of what victory in Iraq is.
`Stay the course' says to me that we're going to send our sons and daughters over there indefinitely to be killed for no benefit!
So give me a plan!
Do you want to put more troops in?
Do you want to put fewer troops in?
Tell us what you want to do, Mr. President, but don't tell us `stay the course'!
Then, of course, when John Murtha says, "Let's redeploy. Let's get other Countries in there to help us do this." they say "that's cut and run".
And you know what I say?
I carry around a set of dog tags from a young man who was killed over there, and his mother asked me to be his voice, because he doesn't have a voice anymore. And I'm darned tired of going to people with a dead man's dog tags and all I get in response are slogans like "stay the course" and "cut and run".
We have to ask better than that of our government. We have to ask better than that from our leadership.
And I'll tell you why. Because when I was in the military--and I'm sure this is true of all of you veterans in here too--everyone I knew in the Marine Corps and the Navy was willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. And all we asked for in return was that our Country take care of us when we came home, and that our sacrifice mean something.
I think right now we're failing on both counts and letting our troops down. If we really want to support the troops, we need to stand up and ask for a real plan for victory, and stand up and ask our government as part of our sacrifice to our veterans to make sure we provide the money to take care of them when they come home. As Abraham Lincoln said, "to care for him who shall have born the battle and for his widow, and his orphan." And I think that's a debt of honor we darn well better pay.
Before I wrap up, I want to talk about this race. Because the single biggest problem we have in this district is that they say, "You can't win. You're a heck of a candidate, but you can't win, and therefore we're not going to help you." And they are wrong!
Let me tell you what's going on. I went back to Washington D.C. last week, and it turns out there's polling out there--and I got this from three different sources--that has us dead even in this thing. I haven't seen the poll and we didn't run it, but let me tell you why I think it's true.
Some people in Washington may not believe it, but I'll tell you who does: Tom Tancredo. Because he has cancelled his entire schedule for the next three weeks, and all of a sudden he's back in Colorado and he's on the radio and running ads, and we have nailed him down to a debate on October 24th.
Now, he won't do a debate in front of a live audience. He won't let people in the room. This fellow doesn't want to actually face constituents. But we'll get him in there. We'll do a debate, and it will be on TV the next day.
But he's come back and he's actively campaigning. He's got his surrogates out there trying to dig up nasty stuff on me. We've seen what's happened with Bill Ritter and Angie Paccione and Ed Perlmutter, and they want to try to do that to me. But you all have looked me in the eye and you know the content of my character. You know what I'm about. When I've done something wrong, I'll stand up and say it and apologize. I'm not a perfect person, but I am a good person, and the whole point of this campaign is to make a difference and make people's lives better.
We can absolutely win this thing.
We're making a great radio buy now for next week. We've got some great stuff, and we're going to spend everything we have every Friday, then we'll go back and re-earn it and spend it again the next Friday.
So if you can make a donation over here, we need it. If you know people who can make a donation, ask them to do it. We need it. If we can get the money to stay up on radio and keep our direct mail going--maybe do a little TV--we will win this.
I guarantee we will win this. Because as I go around the district and I talk to Republicans and Unaffiliateds, they almost universally tell me, "we really like what you have to say." I was at a candidates' forum the other night, and Victor Mitchell is a Republican running for the State House down there, and darn near everybody in the room with a Victor Mitchell sticker on came up to me afterwards and said, "You're great; we really like what you have to say." Because they're looking for unity, and they believe in America the way I believe in America.
I'll finish up by talking about the Statue of Liberty, and the poem across the base of it. Emma Lazarus wrote this, and it goes like this:
`Send us your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.'
I love that poem for the last line, if nothing else: "I raise my lamp beside the Golden Door". Because I'll tell you what, that's the America I learned about in school; that's the America I believe in.
That's the America that understands that all these people who come from around the world can be a strength to us, and that we are a strong nation, and we can fold them in and make them part of our society.
And more importantly, the Golden Door. We used to call America the land of opportunity and we have to get that back. We have to give every child born in this country the opportunity to find that Golden Door and to achieve the American Dream.
And that's what this campaign is all about, taking back America the way we used to know it. We have had six years of folks trying to make America be just for the top 2%. And doggone it, it's time for the other 98% of us to stand up and fight back, and that's what we're going to do.
Thank you all....