April 24, 2023

Using Troops & Veterans as Pawns Is So #Over

Parties, politicians and “strategists” need to evolve their thinking and messaging and understand that using troops and veterans as pawns in political fights is amateur, transparent, and so last century.


Throughout the government shutdown saga, one group was consistently but involuntarily on the front lines - veterans. Although the misuse and abuse of veterans as political pawns by both parties is by no means a new phenomenon, it reached new heights during the most recent political showdown.

From politicians showing up as veterans tried to visit their own memorials to pundits and fringe groups upstaging veterans who were trying to join together and rally, veterans have once again found themselves squarely in the crosshairs of political opportunists.

During the shutdown, the Republican National Committee began lobbing robocalls into the states and districts of vulnerable Democrats and Democrat leadership. But the script sounded like it was taken straight out of Political Influence for Dummies, in the literal sense of the title.

“Senator X and Senate Democrats think this shutdown is a game. They are playing politics by cutting off our veterans and their benefits… These men and women served our country with honor and yet Senator X would rather put partisan politics ahead of honoring our commitment to the people who defended this country…”

At the same time, Democrats were holding up the threat of veterans not receiving their compensation and benefits as a classic case of how the shutdown was hurting Americans, yet they refused to even consider House-passed legislation that would have funded the VA and at least taken those to whom we have sacred commitments out of the political fray.

These tactics are not only shameful, but they represent an outdated strategic mindset. The merit, or lack thereof, of the claims aside, the American electorate is much more sophisticated today than these tactics presume. Rather than sway opinions, simpleton messages such as these make even sympathetic voters roll their eyes. They also reinforce Americans’ frustrations with politics and give good public servants and political operatives a bad name by association.

Last week, a formal coalition of the nation’s largest military and veterans associations held a rare joint press conference at the World War Two memorial on the National Mall to speak for themselves. The coalition had a simple but serious message - stop the political games and end the government shutdown immediately. But behind this primary message was an implicit secondary message that was communicated in advance and strictly enforced during the event - politicians and political stunts are not welcome.

Service members and veterans are tired of being referenced and trotted out by politicians when it’s politically convenient, and then forgotten or only paid lip service to when real policy changes are needed to help them. The American public is tired of seeing this abuse over and over again too. They’re attuned to it, it doesn’t score political points, it doesn’t get votes, and it’s just tacky.

In the 21st century, these cheap shots and stunts will only backfire on politicians, candidates, and political parties. They all need to evolve their tactics, strategies, and messaging if they want to really support and honor veterans.

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