Brennanator Breakfast Briefing: Bowe Bergdahl and the myth of "both sides"

As the news of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s rescue came acorss the internet wires on Saturday, I made a joke on Twitter about the right wing’s “inevitable” rage at our President for rescuing a POW.  I put “inevitable” in quotes because I wasn’t serious – surely, even the far right wouldn’t be upset at one of our soldiers being brought back home, right?  This was good news, right?


There are legitimate questions about the nature of the deal that brought Sgt. Bergdahl home, and there are legitimate questions about how he came to be captured.  I’d like to see them answered.  Most reasonable people would like to see them answered.  But some people have already tried and convicted Sgt. Berdahl of everything from desertion to treason with no evidence to back up their claims.  Sgt. Bergdahl may be guilty of something.  We don’t know yet.  And in America, guilty until proven innocent, yadayadayada.

What I find unbelievable, however, is that while some people have decided a soldier is a traitor for no real reason that I can ascertain beyond their personal opinions, some other people — smart, capable people — in our media and government have decided to cite this situation as an example of what happens when “both sides” rush to judgment.

Let’s break this down: one side is happy a soldier was rescued from enemy combatants, the other side has decided this soldier is a traitor with no proof.  When I hear someone argue that “both sides rushed to judgment,”, it can only mean, “y’know, maybe some people shouldn’t have rushed to be happy that one of our soldiers wasn’t in a Taliban prison anymore.” 

 If you want to argue, “hey, something about this deal seems fishy,” I’m with you.  Most people are.  But if you want to call a soldier a traitor with zero evidence beyond, arguably,  your political ideology and that of the president’s, then you’ve officially called into question the relevance of your beliefs.

There’s a terrific line in the under appreciated Robin WIlliams vehicle Man of the Year where Louis Black nails the problem with Cable TV, proposing a scene where a network debate show would put a Holocaust survivor and author on with a Holocaust denier, and thanks to the reductive powers of TV, both will seem like equals when really we should only give one of the two our attention.  This debate over Sgt. Bergdahl has really highlighted to me the truth in that sentiment.  To imply there are two sides imply that both sides are somehow equally bad, and they’re not.

But saying “oh, it’s on both sides” makes us all feel credible or “above it all.”  I’ve heard “both sides” dropped a ton in the last five years, but I’ve only seen one side scream out “you lie!” simply because they disagreed on policy.  I’ve only seen one side’s political leaders call one of our soldiers anti-American because of private correspondence with his family.  

This won’t be a comfortable truth for many people, but let’s play make believe for a second: imagine George W. Bush was the president who orchestrated the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.  Now imagine any liberal commentators acting the way conservative commentators behaved in response to this story.  And now imagine any of those commentators still having their jobs right now.  You can’t, because it wouldn’t happen.

Even if Sgt. Bergdahl did desert his post, shouldn’t we want him back in a US court to face justice? Or did nearly three thousand people die on 9/11 so that we could one day say the that it’s OK to leave one of our own citizens at the mercy of the same evil we faced that day?