This debate has raged on blogs and social media ever since Barack Obama put his arm around Robert Bergdahl, so having it erupt of Morning Joe today is less of a surprise and more of a cathartic. Chuck Todd, traveling with Obama on his tour of Europe, reacted to criticism from Joe Scarborough of the elder Bergdahl for his Taliban-friendly behavior prior to the release. Todd rebuked Scarborough for criticizing the father of a captive, a situation that’s impossible to imagine without experiencing it himself, but Scarborough angrily retorts that the father’s actions are open to criticism — especially those prior to his son’s desertion:
“I keep holding up this image where Barack Obama has his arm around a man who is reaching out to pro-Taliban forces, talking about killing Americans,” Scarborough said.
“Joe, Joe, don’t criticize the parents,” Todd replied. “Don’t criticize the parents in here, that are missing a child? Their son is missing for five years. You know what? It is not logical. You cannot handle it. You put yourself in his shoes –”
“I have a 26-year-old son, and if my son is out on the wire and he is out there with fellow troops and he is writes me up and says he hates America and he’s thinking about deserting and he’s thinking about leaving his post, I can tell you as a father of that 26-year-old or 23-year-old son, I’d say, ‘Joey, you stay the hell right there,’” Scarborough said. “I would call his commander, I would say ‘Get my son. He is not well. Get him to a military base in Germany.’ I would not say ‘Follow your conscience, son.’ I would not reach out to the voice of jihad.”
“I’m not backseat driving how someone parents,” Todd replied.
“That is not backseat driving,” Scarborough said. “I am a father. Any good father would not tell their son to follow their conscience and leave men and women on the line.”
“So he’s a bad father?” Todd challenged.
“Yes!” Scarborough said. “Yes, he is! Oh my god, Chuck.”
Scarborough later asks, “Am I alone here in America?” The answer is — most certainly not. There has been an avalanche of criticism and suspicion of the elder Bergdahl’s actions, statements, and motivations. It’s just that most news outlets haven’t touched that story, but this debate has been taking place in largely the same parameters as it did between Scarborough and Todd. Scarborough and Todd end up talking past each other a bit too, as Scarborough aims his criticism mostly at Bergdahl’s fatherly advice prior to the desertion, while Todd attempts to immunize Bergdahl for what happened afterward — which also is a feature of some of the debate in America, too.
For what it’s worth, there is room in between those two positions, too. It’s possible to have empathy for the Bergdahls and understand why they would present a friendly public profile in order to connect with their son’s captors and help keep him alive. That doesn’t give a carte blanche excuse for everything, though, and it certainly doesn’t make Berdgahl père immune from criticism. He made those statements and actions in the public square, but that criticism should be tempered with some compassion for a father who was desperate to save his son’s life.
Mika Brzezinski hits the nail on the head in this exchange. The elder Bergdahl isn’t really the issue — it’s the President who put him up at the Rose Garden podium and wrapped his arm around him. Did no one look into the public statements of Bergdahl before creating that photo op? In military terms, the anger at Bergdahl is collateral damage. The national question isn’t whether Bob Bergdahl is a bad father, but whether Barack Obama is a dangerously incompetent President.