There’s nothing worse than trying to have a meaningful exchange of ideas with someone not interested.
Standing at the counter of a pizzeria in my neighborhood in May of last year, the man to my left, an older man who claimed to have been working on a novel, learned that I am a military veteran and, therefore, asked me what I thought of our then-current commander in chief. His actual words were, “What do you think of your commander in chief?” Not our commander in chief. Your. That small detail should have tipped me off, but I don’t always catch these things. So, there was a bit of back and forth before it became clear to me that this man hated our former president. I mean, President Obama, according to him, had done nothing right—nothing at all. I cited the removal of al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, and like most Obama haters, this man didn’t want to give the president credit for even that.
“If you can believe that even happened,” he said.
The conversation should have ended there, but it didn’t. It moved onto this man’s next object of hate, Democrats in general, Hillary Clinton in specific, and of course, Clinton had done nothing right as well. I proffered up a piece of evidence to the contrary, a personal experience I had.
“Had it not been for Hillary,” I said, “I would not have gotten the G.I. Bill when I returned from overseas.”
“Oh, she bought you off,” he said.
“Bought me off or did the right thing?” I politely retorted.
The interaction, while irksome, was nothing new. When I worked as a field organizer for Clinton in Iowa from 2007 to 2008, I heard just about all: from a coworker of mine being admonished not to bring “a black person” around to one voter telling me “before you know it they’ll be in downtown Davenport with sticks of dynamite, screaming Allah [sic] Akbar.”
What irritated me most about these people, however, were their denials of basic accomplishment and sacrifice. My personal story for example. When I told Iowans my story, how I got the G.I. Bill only because of Clinton’s senatorial staff, even though I had enlisted in the military explicitly for educational benefits, some of them dismissed it purely out of their dislike for Clinton or whom they had perceived to be Hillary Clinton. They said things like, “Well, if she’s that good of a senator, why doesn’t she stay in New York?” In other words, they were telling me, a Midwest native, we don’t care why you’re here, why don’t you stay in New York.
Hillary Clinton—just to be clear—did not have a personal hand in getting me the G.I. Bill, let alone a job with her campaign. Not to my knowledge. And one reason I did not qualify for the G.I. Bill post my deployment to Iraq is because the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill had not come into effect until 2009, i.e. more than two years after I had graduated from college and only after the Democrats had resumed control of Congress for the first time since 1995.
I did not stay in the National Guard following Iraq, and technically, I needed to or I at least needed to have paid into the G.I. Bill for a year while on active duty, which I most certainly would have done had it been an option for me. But it wasn’t. So, that was the argument I presented to Senator Clinton’s staff, and for it, I was eventually ‘bought,’ ‘rewarded’ or whatever you want to call it with less than two years of the substandard version of the G.I. Bill, i.e. the much lesser yielding reserve-component one. Still, something was better than nothing, and if Democrats can be blamed for everything, why can’t they, Hillary especially, receive a modicum of credit?
*A version of this article first appeared at Daily Kos in 2016.
Jeremy Warneke is a public servant in the Bronx, New York, where he lives with his family. In 2016, with the support of the Bronx Council on the Arts, the New York Public Library and Voices From War, he created his own writing workshop, “The Craft of War Writing,” which provides free, high-level reading and writing instruction based upon the themes of conflict and war. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction Southeast, 0-Dark-Thirty, Intersections International and elsewhere.