Tammy Duckworth’s tale and metaphor at the DNC

Tammy Duckworth (AP)

On the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, veteran and congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth gave quite the speech.

A Blackhawk helicopter pilot, she lost her legs on a mission in the Iraq War. She later worked for the Illinois and then the U.S. agency serving veterans.

Her speech was a clear counterpoint to what was heard at the Republican convention, going beyond the fact that there was little attention (none from nominee Romney) to veterans and to the men and women in military service now in harm’s way.

Duckworth’s words contrasted to the individualistic message at the RNC, in which each person was portrayed as standing on his or her own, with their accomplishments just due to his or her actions.  Now, this was oddly delivered, since many speakers also noted help they and family members received from the government — but speakers emphasized the “we built it on our own” theme.

In contrast, Duckworth’s message was that no one gets ahead on his or her own.

One example was how her own family needed help after her 55-year old father lost his job and how this contributed to her ability to finish school.

Most moving of those messages was her invocation of her comrades-in-arms and her connection of this to this broader theme.  Duckworth said:

On November 12th, 2004, I was co-piloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other and tearing my right arm apart. But I kept trying to fly until I passed out. In that moment, my survival and the survival of my entire crew depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves and insurgents were nearby, they refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I’m alive today.

Ultimately, that’s what this election is about. Yes, it’s about the issues that matter to us: building an economy that will create jobs here at home and out-compete countries around the world. But it’s also about something else. It’s about whether we will do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me; whether we’ll look out for the hardest hit and the disabled; whether we’ll pull together in a time of need; whether we’ll refuse to give up until the job is done.

Or, as Duckworth tweeted, “This election is about whether we will do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me.”

You can read or watch Duckworth’s full speech at the link.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.