The Corner

Dionne’s Astonishment

E. J. Dionne was moved by Barack Obama’s admirable D-Day speech, particularly this part: “Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men,” Obama said. “Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men.”

Dionne then adds the following in his column today:

It’s hard not to be cynical after the display of rancid partisanship that greeted the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years as a Taliban-held prisoner of war. The Greatest Generation would not have acted this way.

Yes, Obama could certainly have handled the situation better. It’s fair to question the optics of the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Bergdahl’s freedom, to wonder why the administration did not acknowledge upfront the ambiguities surrounding his tour of duty and to ask why Congress wasn’t alerted to the deal the administration was negotiating.

But what’s truly astounding is how many Republicans raced to turn Obama’s commitment to bringing home a POW into an outrage. It tells us something that so many GOP politicians first tweeted warmly about the good news, only to take their tweets down and replace them with the party line that we never negotiate with terrorists, that Obama had endangered the nation, etc.

I love this. As quickly and breezily as possible, Dionne runs through a few of the reasons why one might be cynical about the president’s handling of the Bergdahl debacle, but the only thing that is “truly astounding” is how Republicans reacted. 

When George W. Bush was president, Dionne treated real and alleged White House spin and non-transparency as a grave threat to the Republic and liberty itself. Now, it is a matter of astonishment that people might grow sick of similar tactics that Dionne acknowledges the Obama White House is guilty of. 

“And there is no defense for the rush to judgment on Bergdahl’s own behavior,” Dionne proclaims. “Those who served with him and are angry with him because they believe he walked away from his base have every right to challenge what Bergdahl did and insist upon accountability. But why can’t commentators safe in their studios and offices have the decency to withhold their verdicts until all the facts are in?”

I agree that there’s too much treason talk with regard to Bergdahl, but surely the testimony of those who served with them is enough to warrant much of the skepticism aimed at the White House. (If you read Dionne’s many columns about the Valerie Plame incident, by the way, you will not come away with the sense that this is a commentator who waits for all the facts to come in before rendering judgment). 

Here’s a short explanation for why the reaction to this incident has been so heated: The White House has been over-spinning and lying for years. It, and its supporters, have responded to nearly all such criticisms by claiming they are, variously, indecent, illegitimate, without foundation, partisan, unpatriotic, or even racist. Amidst a Veterans Affairs scandal that the president was painfully slow to acknowledge, the president went out an announced a deal in the Rose Garden that on its face seemed fishy and driven by other priorities than simply bringing home a POW. With barely a nudge, the press uncovered that such suspicions were well-founded. The president responded by — once again — dismissing the controversy as “whipped up” like the other “phony scandals” of his administration. He went on — once again —  to eviscerate strawman arguments as if they were the arguments of his critics.  

It is entirely fair to say that some of the reactions to this farce have been overly heated. But I for one am truly astounded that Dionne can only muster astonishment at people who are sick of being oversold, overspun, and lied to. 

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