David Brooks: Obama Was Right—Except

David BrooksNormally, I just pass by articles by David Brooks, because really, what is the point? But this one was pure click bait with the title, President Obama Was Right. It was, of course, about Sgt Bowe Bergdahl. And the middle of it is really quite good. It is an excellent example of why most liberals give Brooks way too much credit for being reasonable. He points out what almost no other Republican will: we are in a war with the Taliban—they are not terrorists; swapping troops is what we do, even when the troops are dead; it is not true that the deal makes Americans less safe. But he errors at the beginning and then especially the end of his column.

At the beginning, he talks about how all of the ostentatious acts of patriotism are necessary in this country because we are so diverse. Well, I guess the case can be made. But this is not what I think is going on. I think these acts of patriotism are part of divisiveness. I think it is mostly conservatives trying to make the case that they are the real Americans and we liberals are just America-hating interlopers. There are a few reasons I think this. One is how conservatives generally go apoplectic at the thought of taking out “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Another is all the confederate flags I saw when I went to a NASCAR race. Another is how the people who think themselves most patriotic—the Cliven Bundy militia types—clearly hate the actual America and are only patriotic to some mythical America that seems mostly to involve keeping blacks in their place.

Bowe BergdahlBut most of all, I hate these ostentatious acts of patriotism because they remind me of Gertrude in Hamlet saying, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” I don’t think that the British find such displays embarrassing and avoid them in their own country because they are one people. I think they are just a lot more secure that they all stand together. Maybe it’s because of World War II. We haven’t really had a war here in the United States against another country for about 200 years. Regardless, all the chanting of “We’re number one!” just makes me think these people secretly fear that we aren’t. Personally, I think my kind of patriotism where I think we are and are not number one is the best. This is home, and I do love it—for good and bad. I don’t think all the flag waving proves people love the country and it certainly isn’t what binds us together. (Note: some of the biggest flag wavers want to secede from the union.)

Brooks started his column talking about this, so he could then complain that President Obama should have used the Bergdahl deal to bring the country together:

Most of all, the Obama administration can be faulted for not at least trying to use the language of communal solidarity to explain this decision. Apparently, we have become such a hyperindividualized culture that it is impossible to even develop an extended argument on how individual cases fit into the larger fabric of the common good.

Really Brooks?! Because I think that’s exactly what he did. He said, “We still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity—period—full stop.” I don’t see much television, and yet I’ve seen this a dozen times:

What is Brooks getting at? That the president should have held a press conference and laid it out, “To start with, we are one country. And the army is part of that country. So all together, the civilians and the army are one country. We are one. We have to stick together. Because, as I said, we are one. United we stand. Am I right?! So we had to get this prisoner of war—who is one of us—back from the enemy. Now you may have heard some things about this guy that you don’t like. Well, we have a couple of traditions David Brooksin this country. One is that you are allowed to think what you want. Another is that you are innocent until proven guilty. So just to summarize: we are one; Bergdahl is one of us; we got it back; God bless America!”

Is that what Brooks wanted? Does Brooks think that this would have made even the smallest change in the Republican reaction to the prisoner transfer? Of course not! This was just Brooks doing what all Republicans always do: he was complaining about Obama no matter what he does or says. But I will give Brooks credit for understanding that the Bergdahl deal is (1) a prisoner swap and (2) uncontroversial.

Maybe next week, Brooks can write a column about how Obama is right to love his kids, but that he really ought to be using that love to convince the Republican House to pass the Dream Act.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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