I’m old enough to remember President Bush’s first term when Republicans and Democrats alike were so obsessed with politically capitalizing on supporting the troops that it became a thing to act like soldiers. That’s not to say the adulation wasn’t deserved, but even at the time it seemed disingenuous and hamfisted. There was, of course, the time when George W. Bush dressed up like a fighter jock; there was the time when then-Senator George Allen (R-VA) dressed up like a Confederate officer in the rebellion-porn film Gods & Generals; and yes, there was the time when actual veteran John Kerry launched his Democratic Convention speech with the desperately soldierly line: “I’m John Kerry, reporting for duty.”
In those days, to criticize the president meant undermining the commander-in-chief when our soldiers were in harm’s way. It might sound like I’m unfairly building a strawman: over-simplifying what many pundits said at the time, so we’ll hand this one off to the following quotes:
“The only ideas that they espouse are ways to undermine the troops in harm’s way and undermine their commander in chief while they’re at war. Your candidates have no idea how to keep this economy strong.”
—Sean Hannity, 10/18/06
“You know, Norman, those comments while we are at war, while troops are in harm’s way, while he is the commander in chief, do you not see the outrage in that?” —Sean Hannity, 11/12/07
“I have had it with members of your party undermining our troops, undermining a commander in chief while we are at war…” —Sean Hannity, 11/05
“You don’t criticize the Commander-in-Chief in the middle of a firefight. That could be construed as putting U.S. forces in jeopardy and undermining morale.” —Bill O’Reilly, 04/04
“Can we do it without distorting their legacies and pandering to anti-American elites worldwide and using their deaths to embarrass and undermine our commander in chief?” —Michelle Malkin, 11/23/05
“On the other hand, if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat Congress are successful in undermining the commander-in-chief (thereby emboldening the terrorists to kill more Americans in Iraq)…” —Tom DeLay, 04/11/07
“And furthermore, one of the fundamental principles we have in America is that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and attempts to undermine the commander in chief during time of war amounts to treason.” —Pat Robertson, 12/07/05
For the record, criticizing the president during wartime is perfectly acceptable, regardless of whether the president’s name is Bush or Obama. But you can’t condemn it under one president, while very loudly marketing in it during an opposing party’s term. Well, you can, I suppose, but it’ll sound inconsistent and silly, so…
Back to the point.
Not only has it become de-rigueur for the above-listed characters to criticize the commander-in-chief during wartime, but it’s fine and dandy to tar the president as being everything from a terrorist sleeper-cell to literally the Antichrist. Again, knock yourself out, but be ready to defend yourself against accusations of clear-cut hypocrisy.
With the Bowe Bergdahl story entering its second week, the troops themselves as well as their families are now clearly fair game, too.
It appears as if we’ve entered an era when soldiers are not only tasked with risking their lives for their nation, but the conservative entertainment complex has added a new requirement: to be personally awesome in every way or else suffer a different kind of jihad — a media jihad here at home.
Following what should’ve been a week or so of national unity in support of the last U.S. Afghanistan War POW returning home, sure, we might expect there to be a respectful examination of the circumstances of his capture and detainment, or even some tabloid exploitation of his personal life. But what we’ve witnessed from Republican A-listers over the past week has been absolutely shocking, especially considering how the GOP brand for so many years included the words “support the troops (or you’re with the terrorists).” But I suppose now that our trendy yellow-ribbon-bumper-magnets have disappeared, this particular aspect of Brand GOP is dead.
This weekend, we learned that Robert Bergdahl, the father of Sgt. Bergdahl no less, received death threats via email, which the FBI is currently investigating. Death threats. To a soldier’s father. Add this to the lengthening series of incidents in which discourse-noncombatants have been targeted by soulless malcontents. Would there really be death threats against Bergdahl’s family without a full week of desk-thumping and rumor-mongering in the media? Of course not.
Not entirely dissimilar was Chris Wallace’s unconscionable discussion with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Fox News Sunday.
MUKASEY: Desertion is a very serious offense. It carries a penalty — if it’s done in wartime — that includes possibly the death penalty. At the end of World War II, we executed a U.S. soldier, in January of 1945 for desertion. So, it’s a very serious offense.
WALLACE: So, you believe the death penalty should at least be on the table for Bergdahl?
MUKASEY: No, I’m not saying the death penalty should be on the table for Bergdahl.
For the first time, at lease in the traditional media, the concept of the death penalty for an American military POW has been invoked. Even though Mukasey backpedaled from the idea, it’s still out there. It’s now fair game to talk about it.
And then there was the grotesquely ironic attack on Bergdahl by Sarah Palin, who mashed out a follow-up to a Facebook post by Bristol Palin. In response to a bogus item about how Bergdahl couldn’t remember how to speak English, Bristol tweeted a photo of her and her mother snarkily shrugging their shoulders, with the text, “Really #WTF … Hire him a translator.” Classy.
Palin’s word-salady response?
Bristol posted an answer to supporters of Obama’s terrorist negotiations to free the Taliban’s Dastardly Dream Team in exchange for the sketchy “I’m-ashamed-to-be-American” Sgt. Bergdahl, who is accused by his fellow soldiers of deserting and denouncing America before going AWOL – a decision which cost other soldiers their lives as the Army mounted extensive operations to find Bergdahl after he abandoned his post. Sympathizers now tell the media Bergdahl can’t be held to account anytime soon because he can’t be interviewed… claiming he’s forgotten how to speak English. Really? See below. Then # Call1-800-RosettaStone.
Does anyone remember abused POWs like John McCain, Tom Moe, James Stockdale, Tom Kirk, and other American troops forgetting the English language during their years and years of brutal, inhumane captivity? Seems these war heroes returned to their beloved country not speaking Vietnamese, but speaking KickAss against those who would destroy the red, white, and blue.
So in response to a completely unsubstantiated report, Palin thought it would be appropriate to suggest that an American POW buy a copy of Rosetta Stone (!!!) in order to learn how to speak English. Sarah Palin. Sarah. Palin. Seriously, Sarah Palin dropped a Rosetta Stone joke. The former vice presidential candidate who described the role of the vice president like so:
Position flexible? Englishy-Butchery.
Beyond the language thing, is Sarah Palin really asserting that all American POWs cope in the exact same way with the psychological and physiological damage of often brutal, interminable captivity by a hostile enemy? Sounds like she is, and it only vindicates the observation that, yes, serving your country and then being held as a POW isn’t good enough anymore. You absolutely must rise to Sarah Palin’s “KickAss” standard for personal conduct in order to be a real hero — a real American.
In 2014, we have a litmus test for American POWs, emerging as a consequence of the immediate and ill-motivated media scrutiny of Sgt. Bergdahl. It’s the same character and conduct litmus test we reserve strictly for celebrities, political candidates and reality show performers. The iconic “POW/MIA: You Are Not Forgotten” emblem now requires an asterisk.
One last point: the justifications for why we should hold our military women and men in such high esteem are as obvious as they are numerous, so I don’t have to list them here. For their service, our soldiers deserve our respect in spite of their — or your — personal politics. They don’t deserve to be accused and convicted by cable news screechers (or by Sarah Palin on Facebook for heaven’s sake) with the same bug-eyed zeal and cynicism normally reserved for a shameless Nancy Grace show trial.