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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gabbard: ‘Moral rot and corrosion’ in U.S. needs to be fixed, former presidential candidate tells hundreds in Spokane

Former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, left, speaks to hundreds during the Washington Policy Center’s Eastern Washington Annual Dinner Friday night at the Davenport Grand Hotel in downtown Spokane.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)

Former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard said the “moral rot and corrosion” in society need to be examined to solve the country’s issues as she addressed hundreds during the Washington Policy Center’s Eastern Washington Annual Dinner Friday night at the Davenport Grand Hotel in downtown Spokane.

“It’s up to us to save our country,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard, 41, is a former congresswoman from Hawaii and was a 2020 presidential candidate. She is the first female combat veteran to run for president and the first female combat veteran elected to Congress, according to her website.

Gabbard deployed to the Middle East and Africa after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now serves as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve working as a civil affairs officer.

“Joining the military wasn’t something that I had thought of before, but in the wake of (the 9/11 attacks) I knew that somehow, someway I wanted and needed to find a way to serve our country and to help go after those who attacked us on that day,” she said.

Gabbard said her military service, including serving in the medical unit in her first deployment to Iraq, prepared her for Congress.

“Every single day serving in that medical unit, (I) was frankly confronted with the fragility of life and the human cost of war,” she said.

“Going from that experience and having that perspective on life and death, frankly, kept me grounded and focused in Washington, where unfortunately priorities are often pretty screwed up,” Gabbard continued. “Where people are placing a level of importance on really stupid things like, ‘Did I get invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?’ ”

Gabbard said elected officials’ focus on insignificant items fuels the dysfunction in Washington.

Gabbard was asked Friday about the pushback she received after she supported Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, saying that parents should have the right to raise their children without the fear of the government. The largely conservative-backed law aims to, among other things, limit early teachings on gender identity and sexual orientation.

“The fact that stating parents should raise their children, not the government, is a controversial statement in this country today is both hilarious and devastatingly frightening. Truly,” Gabbard said to applause.

She said many problems the country faces are not being solved because people are not digging down in a spiritual way “to address that moral rot and corrosion that we’re seeing.”

Gabbard also blasted big tech, for-profit media and “permanent Washington” for making it difficult for the public to have a “true, thriving democracy” where voters are informed with facts. By turning on cable news or scrolling through Twitter, she said people might fall into the trap of the divisiveness fueled by those in power who do not care about the consequences of the rhetoric they use.

Gabbard endorsed Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election because she said she wanted to make a statement against “the warhawk establishment led by Hillary Clinton.”

“I’ve always floated in the spectrum of Democratic politics because I’m an independent thinker,” she said.