Bergdahl, VA force right to change tune

My hypocrisy alert is always on, but it’s been ringing off the hook lately, and I just have to share, as sensitive people like to say. The alarm was getting pretty loud as Congressional Republicans regaled us with their outrage over the VA problems, hoping their shouting would drown out our memories of how many times and over how many bills they voted no to increasing funds and services for veterans. It’s sort of working, because I’ve pretty much lost count.

I don’t minimize the issues with the VA; and no matter how underfunded and understaffed they might or might not be, there’s no excuse for trying to hide and falsify records. Rs have been after General Shinseki’s head ever since he called the powers that were on their claims it’d take only a handful of troops to stabilize Iraq; and whereas I think he’s a straight-up guy who managed to fix some things, but not enough, it seemed inevitable that he’d lose his job over it. Because that’s how it works when Congress is worried someone might blame them for the effects of their own penuriousness. I’ve said a million times, and written it in this very paper, that it’s appalling how we like to give tearful lip-service to our troops, salute our flag and slap stickers on our bumpers, while refusing to support them in the way they most urgently need: with funds and services.

Meanwhile, if there’s been hypocrisy involved in that scandal, Republican reaction to the release of prisoner Bergdahl has been transcendent, reaching levels of unctuousness that’s almost admirable in its brazenness. Switching directions like a Seahawks running back, they’ve scrubbed their websites and social media accounts of all mention of the times they demanded the White House use “all means possible” to get him back, of their singsonging that we don’t leave troops on the battlefield; and of their initial expressions of support on his release. Why, even as they fawned over that Duck Dynasty guy, putting on false beards when interviewing him, Fox “news” has suddenly decided Bergdahl’s dad looks like a Taliban. Maybe there are subtleties of beardedness with which I’m not familiar, having produced something pretty pathetic myself when I tried to grow one. But on Fox, it would appear, whiskers have political implications undecipherable to the rest of us, the distinctions between which are as yet unexplained.

Now, I acknowledge that although all the information isn’t in, and it’s changed a few times already, the man might not be the poster child for prisoner exchange. And people who think the deal was a bad one have a point. (Remember when the Israelis traded a thousand prisoners for one of their soldiers, though?) On the other hand, those Taliban people were at Gitmo for twelve years. We know the government puts transmitters in our fillings, right? So maybe those guys are bugged. Maybe they’re programmed to work for us. In any case, would you trust someone who’d been in custody of the enemy for that long? John McCain was in Hanoi for a lot less time, and look what he tried to do to us. (Two words. The first one is Sarah.) Whatever the men might have been before they were imprisoned, it’s hard to see them being sent back to the front lines anytime soon. And how about Oliver North, suggesting we might have negotiated with terrorists. Four words, Ollie: Iran. Contra. Missiles. You. But let’s be real: we negotiate with enemies of all sorts, all the time. It’s how wars end, isn’t it?

Surely the questions surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture were known to the president, and to those Republican representatives demanding his release before it happened. So maybe there are workings behind the scenes that we’re yet to find out. Maybe the president thought that, as when he used a conservative model for health care reform, he’d get praise for doing what they wanted. Fat chance. Meanwhile, I don’t know which bothers me more: the troubling questions about the situation, or the speed with which everyone on the right changed their tune when they decided they might get more mileage out of screamery. After all, they’ve done their fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and they’re approaching double digits in hearings on Benghazi and on the millions of dollars spent in those empty exercises, and they’re still in the dumpster, public-opinion-wise. The old dogs need a new trick.

Sid Schwab is a surgeon and former Herald columnist

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