CHARLOTTE - A near-capacity crowd of veterans and military families gave Tammy Duckworth a hero's welcome as the Illinois congressional candidate who lost both legs in the Iraq war walked to the speakers platform on her prosthetic legs.
She was the speaker who galvanized a meeting of the Veterans and Military Families Council (VMFC) at the Democratic National Convention here. She recalled that then-Senator Barack Obama, also from Illinois, came to visit her often when she was recovering from her wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Unlike other politicians who made quick "photo-op" visits, Obama stayed long. "The president says that America has a covenant with our veterans," she said. "Never forget the sacrifices of those who have worn the uniform of this great nation."
She blasted the so-called "Ryan Budget" approved by the majority-Republican House "that does not mention veterans even once in that gigantic document." The budget, which slashes veterans and human needs programs by nearly a trillion dollars over the coming decade, was authored by Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
"Today, you will never know whether you are going to be in that top 1 percent or whether you are going to need a helping hand," Duckworth said to thunderous applause. "President Barack Obama is that helping hand."
Other speakers hailed Obama for pushing through the most generous benefits for veterans since the GI Bill of Rights at the end of World War II including a new GI Bill of Rights. Obama ordered an affirmative action hiring program by the federal government that has resulted in the hiring of thousands of veterans, an effort to curb joblessness that is higher among veterans than the overall national jobless rate.
Obama ended the shameful "don't ask, don't tell" policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military.
"When you talk one-on-one to veterans about the accomplishments of this President, he should win this election hands down," said Ron Pierce a U.S. Army veteran who is heading up the Obama reelection outreach to veterans.
The caucus meeting, the largest since the founding of VMFC, had a tone of "victory in the air." Yet Pierce described the election as an "all hands on deck" effort. Grassroots outreach, he said, has recruited 25,000 veterans in the reelection campaign, he said. And 538 convention delegates describe themselves as military veterans or family members of veterans.
Speakers warned that rightwing extremists have turned even highly decorated war heroes like Vietnam veteran, John Kerry, into virtual traitors with lying "swiftboat" media ads secretly funded by GOP millionaires. Meanwhile George W. Bush used his family connections to avoid service in Vietnam yet the media whitewashed it.
Speakers referred to former Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam war vet defeated in his reelection bid with scurrilous-- but successful--- TV ads by Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss.
Christine Pelosi, her voice reduced to a raspy whisper from speaking too often and too long, delivered a sharp warning in her Power-Point presentation that the Republicans will resort to these dirty tricks in the 2012 elections.
Christine Pelosi is credited with creating the Council after the vicious "swiftboating" of Cleland and Kerry. She told the crowd that she consulted with Cleland before moving to organize the Council. Cleland told her emphatically that the Council should include "military families" to broaden its appeal.
Pelosi is the daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and the author of Campaign Boot Camp. She told the crowd to "focus on the persuadables" in the final 64 days of the campaign. "We have to 'leave no veteran behind' at the ballot box," she said.
She warned against "swiftboat tactics" from the Republicans adding, "Veterans must be on the election protection team....Connect with the people. Mobilize to win!"
Photo: President Obama at Fort Hood, stock image. The U.S. Army // CC 2.0