Bowe Bergdahl and the politics of shamelessness

There are times I think the Right can’t sink any lower. Surely it has reached its nadir and will just wallow in its self-imposed muck. There’s nothing it can do which would shock the conscience or incense the soul. Birtherism, rooting for citizens to not get health care, swearing fealty to the NRA after thousands die each year from gun murders. The list goes on, and it makes for sad reading.

However, I’ve learned to put aside my disbelief and prepare myself for the descent into the next circle of hell.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release should have been a moment of unity. The one US soldier held captive by the Taliban was coming home. For that we gave up five Taliban prisoners, who will be locked up in velvet confinement in Qatar, unable to “take the field” against the US and its allies.

But, true to form, the Right—which had called for years for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release—saw not a moment of unity, but an opportunity to mount another frontal assault against Barack Obama.

Bob Bergdahl—Sgt. Bergdahl’s father—looks like a Taliban! And he learned Pashto! Unamerican!

Or: Bergdahl is a deserter, and cost the lives of men sent to look for him. Let him rot!

Or: We’ve never negotiated with terrorists! Obama is a weak appeaser!

Those are just some of the more tepid arguments from the Right. They range up to wanting to execute Sgt. Bergdahl for “desertion”, promising that it will come to pass in a Ted Cruz Administration.

I feel as if we’ve reached a turning point. It feels that way every time the Right comes up with some new outrage, but this time the Right has crossed a line it had never dared cross.

The unspoken rule of American politics, at least since 9/11, has been that the military is off-limits for criticism. Of course, the Right loves soldiers as long as they’re dying silently; it has not much use for them once they become veterans and start demanding services. But leave that aside. Respecting and honoring the military has been the one truism of American politics for the past decade and more. And if any servicemember was captured, bringing him or her home alive was a duty incumbent upon the Commander-in-Chief.

And, indeed, that seemed to be the common policy among members of both parties:

And that lovely soul Ollie North in 2011:

One would be excused for thinking that Senator McCain and Col. North were beating the hustings for Sgt. Bergdahl because they thought that he would never actually be released, the Taliban being barbarous monsters who could not be reasoned with. But then, amazing to no one who pays attention, Pres. Obama achieved his release, on very favorable terms.

As a POW, Sgt. Bergdahl was useful to the Right, as an example of Pres. Obama’s unfitness for command. As a released prisoner, he has now become tainted goods, associated with that usurper, that non-American, that Other.

Shamelessly, the Right went from braying for Sgt. Bergdahl’s rescue to braying for his head.

Let’s take the ostensible reason for their ire: that he “deserted” to join the Taliban.

I know it’s hard to believe, but most of the Right sees the Taliban as sub-human monsters, unable to reason or use strategy. They’re just wild-eyed barbarians, out to spill American blood any chance they get.

Of course, this is just so much wishful thinking. No, I wouldn’t want to live in a Taliban-run country. But to think that a group which has been fighting the US and the West for 13 years would pass up a chance to use Sgt. Bergdahl for propaganda purposes is absurd on its face. It belies logic and doesn’t pass the laugh test. If Sgt. Bergdahl had in fact defected, the Taliban would have had his happy face on a video the minute he had entered one of their camps. Seeing the Taliban solely as inhuman relieves the Right of the burden of thinking.

Sgt. Bergdahl committed the cardinal sin: he allowed himself to be rescued by Pres. Obama. Thus he must be destroyed.

But, in calling out the dogs, the Right may have stepped too far. It has broken the compact between the state and its soldiers, that no soldier will ever be forgotten, no soldier will ever be left behind. It has said that some soldiers are expendable, and if they make the mistake of being associated in any way with Pres. Obama, they will be smeared viciously. That is something Americans of most political stripes cannot countenance. The wurlitzer of the Right has finally played a tune so discordant that it makes most Americans pause and take notice.

Shamelessness has more or less been the bread and butter of the Right. It may just have played one hand too many.