Distraction is a ploy used with great effect in all sorts of situations. Squids sensing danger escape by clouding the water with ink. Mother birds use the "wounded wing" ruse to lure predators away from their chicks. Teams that make it to the Super Bowl have a slew of distraction plays that send multiple receivers downfield while a fullback is punching through a gap in the line.
Political distractions work equally well. The Vermont Legislature has mastered the art. They can’t agree on a school funding or property tax reform, so they invented the cockamamie scheme to change school governance to save money by eliminating a few superintendents and re-configuring school districts. They worried about GMO labeling for months instead of working on how to reduce the number of poorer families whose children qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school.
Our state brags about having a low unemployment rate, distracting from the fact that a very large percent of Vermonters are self-employed, and if they can’t find work they are not considered to be "unemployed" since they have no employer. They worry about limiting campaign contributions, distracting from the fact that these limits benefit current office holders immensely due to the high costs of campaigning.
At the federal level the distractions are so routine that no one is surprised by them. To deal with scandal, the Obama administration has developed a playbook that is as predictable as punting on fourth down.
First, act surprised. Second, seem angry. Third, stonewall by "investigating." Fourth, claim it is only a political attack and blame Republicans and/or Fox News. Fifth, change the subject.
This worked rather well for a few years. "Fast and furious" was pretty well papered over. The IRS scandal and Benghazi are declared over, even though investigations continue. It didn’t work out quite as well with the problems of the Obamacare roll-out. The administration let Secretary Sibelius take the hits as long as she could, before they chucked her under the bus. Since we are several months away from the next enrollment period, it will be interesting to see if any improvement is made.
Distraction disaster! The administration has finally hit a snag they can’t duck away from, or postpone, or change the subject. The Veterans Administration health care scandal is too big and too real. Plus, it involves actual physical harm to a group that no one can accuse of being the cause of their own problems. Veterans have paid their dues in advance. Even the ones that didn’t actually serve in combat made themselves available. They either enlisted voluntarily or were drafted. The Greatest Generation and those who followed them did not desert. They stayed and served loyally.
Our president was trying one last distraction to try and restore some credibility with his troops by negotiating the release of the only prisoner held by our enemies in Afghanistan. The case of Bowe Bergdahl is too serious to be called a mere distraction. Sadly, the administration was not content to obtain his release and let this stand on its merits. They tried to turn it into a patriotic circus with a White House rose garden ceremony.
They sent Susan Rice to the Sunday talk shows so she could insult every person who ever put on our uniform by praising Bergdahl’s "heroic" service. The people who knew him the best, the soldiers in his platoon are sure that he deserted to the enemy. It is clear that a trial by court martial will be required to square his record and determine the extent of his guilt -- A.W.O.L. or traitor?
It is sad that discussing the fate of this deserter is distracting from the remembrances of the truly heroic deeds at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.