The former presidential adviser suggests the Commander in Chief doesn’t understand Bergdahl fall out because so few have served. He’s wrong.

On Sunday mornings I’m usually sitting in a folding metal chair in a darkish multi purpose room at a local elementary school. The school rules about bullying and respect which dance along the walls of the school room are thrown into shadow by the heavy curtains drawn to hold back the Southern California sunshine. Song lyrics are gamely put up on a large screen. The world class musicians play before a smattering of just-folks arrayed to worship. We barely need an amplifier. 

This small but growing group of Christians who meet here near the Pacific Ocean in Orange County, California come from all walks of life. I’ve met a couple who make their living making infomercials, others are in construction, ministry, college, music. There’s a couple who look like they could be part of a bike gang. It’s quite a collection. There’s us. One kid in college, another out of the nest, one adult out of a radio talk job (me) and my husband, who’s in high tech.  What we love about this collection of people–this church–is it’s set up to build nothing. No empires will be built here. No one will get rich from some TV church gig. There will be no building fund. Ever. They’ve planted this church to be a stable teeming with givers. Everything, indeed everyone, will be “given away.”

These people and the what moves them inspire us to be more than we are. We’ve chosen to be here to see if we can live up to the aspirations of this body of people, to be tasked by God to give ourselves away. There’s no hiding. Everybody there understands what this body is all about. 

The collective church is filled with people like these. In fact, armies of missionaries are sent out to selflessly “give themselves” away.  We have friends who began freely preaching in Nigeria and now must dodge the Boko Haram/Taliban types. Our former pastor and his wife are ministering in Tibet. 

There are secular groups that do some of this. Our friend’s daughter went into the Peace Corps. She deployed to Kazakhstan where she coincidentally worked drilling water wells in the same area as our Portland church’s missionaries. I’ve taught other peoples’ kids how to read. So has my sister. My husband and I have taught Sunday school for years. He’s been a soccer coach. My oldest daughter uses her money to buy dog food for the pups of a bunch of downtown Portland homeless men. My youngest has traveled halfway around the world to help victims of sex traffickers. Craig Ramey, a Lake Oswego, Oregon parent and business owner, loses thousands of dollars in lost business every year coaching his Little League team. Last year they went to the Little League World Series.

My friend Linda has toiled for years balancing the books for a Portland area soccer program. Somebody’s got to be the bean counter. That’s on top of all the other off-the-books giving she does. My road dawg Melissa has started a successful charity to help other parents who have gone through the battles of childhood sarcoma. My other buddy Karen and her husband have funded more foundations and given more of their time and money to other people than any other couple I know. My friend Rees fights for veterans without pay every single day. My friend Kelley sits every week with an elderly neighbor who has no family. My brother in law gave away his talents as a doctor for years. He set up a clinic for women with no doctors. He spent ten years giving local high school students “the talk.” Talk about your thankless work.

Back in Southern California, church is where you can usually find me, my husband and kids when they’re in town on Sunday morning. Except today. On this Sunday morning I sat in front of a TV watching Face the Nation. I heard the chatter about reputed deserter, Bowe Bergdahl, the Army Sergeant who walked outside of the wire to find the enemy and, uh, found ’em alright. He was taken hostage and eventually traded by this president for five high level Haqqani Network/Taliban bad guys. If you’re keeping book, they’re the enemy.

Former White House adviser David Gergen said he understood how the president failed to predict the response of  an outraged American people because so few Americans have served in the military. This was a defense of the COMMANDER IN CHIEF and the people he has chosen to work for him.

Gergen claimed because a mere 1% of the American people have served in the armed service it was impossible for White House staffers and the president to predict the outraged response of the American people to this bad deal. They’d miscalculated,

DAVID GERGEN: But the way they then presented it ignited this firestorm because it showed so little understanding of how people in the military, in the active duty militaries saw him and saw what he had done. And I– I think it– in some degree reflects the Gulf that is between the one percent who served today and the rest of the civilian population. Most of the people who work in the White House have never been in the military.

They couldn’t understand, he implied, why decent people recoiled against the characterization of Bergdahl’s service of honor and distinction. The White House staffers, he implied, were on their heels at the response of those who took great umbrage at the besmirching of his platoon mates, calling them Swiftboaters, in an attempt to somehow diminish their standing.

The truth is the White House staffers and their clueless leader didn’t get any of it. They thought stagecraft and optics would win the day and they were  so wholly and spectacularly wrong. It was a big fat Broadway flop. They learned of the outrage only when the throngs of Americans–right and left–spit their fiery, venomous anger at the White House like the phut, phut, phut, phut of a .50cal machine spraying gun fire at an encroaching enemy.

Every Sunday, on church benches and folding chairs alike, every afternoon on the field of play or in a school, a field in Kazakhstan, or a hut in Nigeria there are millions of Americans who know what it is like to “give themselves away” and to work for something greater than themselves. The vast majority do so without pay or thanks or anything. A plaque, maybe.

It is honorable work.

There is no attempt  here to equate those who teach kids to read with an American who volunteered to sling an M-4 over his shoulder and patrol a perimeter in the moonless night in the Afghanistan Kush. But that’s the point. We don’t need to experience that to know how the man in the White House has so misjudged the American people and our appreciation of our soldiers who give themselves away and work for something bigger than themselves. We get it.

The president should have known.

But he did not. 

2 Responses

  1. You are right. This really is less about Bergdahl, than about Obama. Obama who readily seems to take credit and be at the forefront when things go the right, loud proclaiming his effectiveness and responsibility. Correspondingly, when things go wrong, for example Libya, he is no where to be found, but seemingly innocently learns about the disaster the morning after in the DC media. Certainly he and his Administration assert; no failed responsibility without immediate knowledge??! Where in the world was that Presidential cell phone at the height of the crisis, a tool seemingly always so readily available for the latest diplomatic selfie??

    Bergdahl’s actions are best described by those members of his platoon who where there in June, 2009. Not the spin of the Pentagon, the Administration or members of the mass media who not only have their own myopic self interest to promote, but who are devoid of knowledge about the military and the daily sacrifices they make on behalf of this country.