GEORGETOWN, S.C. -- He was standing at the counter when I entered the store. As he paid the clerk, he turned, and I noticed, in this order, his beard, his T-shirt, which had "Marines" emblazoned on the front, and his cane. His prosthetic foot still was masked by the counter when I said, "Semper fi, leatherneck."
He smiled and replied: "Semper fi to you, too, Colonel. You were embedded with my unit in Afghanistan last year."
We spoke for a few minutes. He had been wounded by the favorite weapon of radical Islamic terror, an IED. He's minus some of his body, a little less mobile, preparing to re-enter civilian life and permanently proud of having served his country. As he moved to leave, he said: "We did our part. Sure hope the crowd in Washington doesn't screw it up."
His concern is particularly relevant at a time when the American welfare state is the only growth industry in our country. At its core is socialized health care. The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation to make health insurance mandatory for every American and to allow government to dictate what services will be provided to us. It is an expansive, expensive proposal, requiring the most productive among us to carry the cost of medical care for all others.
That's relevant to the young wounded Marine because the O-Team's compassion czars first suggested that some of the cost of health care for illegal immigrants and "disadvantaged" citizens be borne by America's combat-wounded service members. The administration's bean counters and medical magistrates discerned that charging veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of service-connected injuries, wounds or sickness could save $540 million. The O-Team's message to our military: If you gun-toting, knife-wielding, overage adolescents and right-wing extremists want to go off and play soldier, don't expect us to pick up the tab if you get hurt.
After veterans organizations and pro-military citizens groups conducted a shock-and-awe campaign in the blogosphere, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the O-Team had "made the decision that the combat-wounded veterans should not be billed through their insurance policies for combat-related injuries." Let's hope someone on Capitol Hill actually reads the most recent draft of the "health care reform" legislation to ensure that the fine print of this medical monstrosity doesn't include other innovative ways to stick it to our wounded warriors.
The thought that we are likely to have more wounded has apparently occurred to the vice president. On July 23, a New York Times headline cautioned, "Biden Warns of More 'Sacrifice' in Afghanistan." During a European tour, the VP was asked about progress in Afghanistan, and he referred to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, along which up-tempo fighting is occurring, as "a place that, if it doesn't get straightened out, will continue to wreak havoc on Europe and the United States." For the gaffe-prone veep, file this remark in the category of broken clocks and occasional accuracy.
"This is the place," Biden continued, "from which the attacks of 9/11 and all those attacks in Europe that came from al-Qaida have flowed." In an effort to quell skeptics, he went on to note that the fighting and the war "are worth the effort we are making." His remarks appear to be directed at the press and the pollsters now casting doubt on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week asked the following question:
"All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting, or not?"
The survey showed 51 percent of Americans -- a drop of 5 points in four months -- now believe the war is worth fighting. Notably, that is roughly the same decline the O-Team has taken on everything from handling the economy to health care reform. It also begs for a poll question like, "All in all, considering the incompetence of the media versus the benefits of a free press, do you think the 'free press' provision of the First Amendment is worth keeping?"
For the record, Afghanistan is the place from which the attacks of Sept. 11 were planned and launched. Those attacks took the lives of nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens and were the catalyst for legislative, cultural and political changes many of us never imagined. The masters of the mainstream media are now doing to the campaign in Afghanistan what they did in 2006 and 2007 in Iraq.
The left and the potentates of the press derisively labeled Iraq "Bush's war." But this week's Oval Office meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Mr. Obama indicates the campaign in Iraq is all but over and won for American troops.
Some have taken to calling Afghanistan "Obama's war." There is some truth to that; Mr. Obama blamed Mr. Bush for "taking his eye off the ball" in Afghanistan and has "surged" troop levels there. These two campaigns, however, are just part of a bigger, broader war being waged against us by radical Islam. It is a war that deserves more than a veep's occasional stumble into veracity. It deserves a commander in chief's laser focus and recognition of the sacrifice already being made by hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.