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February 12, 2006

Comments

I don't get it, Brendan. You rebut Mehlman's denial that Republicans questioned Democrats patriotism by....citing a lot of quotes that don't touch on patriotism at all?

The cited quotes argue that the Democratic arguments are having "the effect" of undermining the troops, of comforting the enemy, or that they are simply dishonest. That has nothing to do with their patriotism. One can be patriotic and still make poor arguments; one can be patriotic and make arguments that rebound negatively on American interests.

You're conflating "I disagree with you and think your arguments are harmful" with "I question your patriotism". Those are clearly different arguments.

I challenge you to find Bush administration equivalents of statements like these:

"John Ashcroft is not a patriot." -- Howard Dean

"I don't think it's patriotic to put on a flight suit and prance around on the deck of an aircraft carrier looking for a photo op." -- Wes Clark

"We hear them in the cries of the false patriots who bully dissenters into silence and submission. These are familiar fights. We've fought and won them before. And with John Kerry and John Edwards leading us, we will win them again" -- Ted Kennedy

"The policy that the administration is following in Iraq is ... anti-patriotic at the core..." -- Sen. Graham

"we deserve a president who stands up for patriotism and its real definition, which is doing what makes our country stronger and safer and more secure." -- John Kerry

"a group of people around the President whose main allegiance is to each other and their ideology rather than to the United States." -- Howard Dean

Brendan, I'm not trying to pile on for its own sake, but my thoughts were along the same line as Henke's. The reason I want to add my two cents is that this issue is a perennial challenge for progressives--one we keep losing and for which we therefore need to devise better responses. These thoughts are not very new, nor comprehensive, but they at least elucidate dangers we should have learned to avoid by now in this admittedly uphill battle.

Prominent Republicans, unlike some of their supporters in right-wing media, rarely deny our patriotism per se. Instead they try both to make us look ridiculous or incompetent on defense and to shame us into acquiescence with the administration's national security policies, no matter how questionable they may be on the merits. Because the default position of the electorate will arguably always be in a hawkish direction in view of the stakes in the GWOT, minimal rhetorical effort serves nicely to create a resonant portrayal of Democrats as weak. (For this reason, I don't think Karl Rove is quite the genius he is popularly judged to be. In large part, he has one hammer with which he strikes from various angles in every election.)

Since around the fall of 2003, Democrats have begun to defy the GOP's appropriation of national security. But because the Republicans are identified with easily understood aggressive policies and because they rarely challenge our actual patriotism, it's been hard for us to find language with which to respond that doesn't misrepresent their attacks or seem shrill, and that strikes a chord. We need to be concise and angry, but measured; to focus our anger on policies and not personalities, because in the latter domain we will probably out-ad-hominem the Republicans on these matters (as Henke's quotes illustrate) and still alienate people, not convince them. The question "What would you do?" needs answers; mere toughness of style does not provide them, nor does it match up well against the president's "At least you know where I stand" and the default hawkishness of the public I alluded to earlier. We need instead to be able to summarize the poor effects of Bush security policies, provide a handful of simple examples (but not an exhaustive list!), propose specific alternatives, and affirm our coherence and seriousness about defense without being either complacent or enraged. We need to be angry but focused, and critical but constructive; concise but able to elaborate in detail. The public may draw fresh conclusions about us if we can master that balancing act.

Jon, I hold no brief for the Democratic comments you cite. Indeed, I disavow them. But my point stands -- there is a much larger body of rhetoric out there on the GOP/conservative side suggesting that people who question the war or the president are essentially committing treason ("aid and comfort," etc.). I believe the public interprets those statements as attacks on patriotism; if someone is siding with the enemy, what inference are we supposed to draw? And in a democracy that is engaged in a war with no foreseeable end in sight, this approach represents a systematic attempt to silence criticism of the government indefinitely -- a disturbing and dangerous prospect.

Again, I think you're inferring too much. You conflate "hurts us/helps them" with "sides with the enemy". That kind of calculus would essentially place most political criticism in the realm of questioning patriotism. After all, if you didn't think the policies of the Right would hurt America, or -- in the case of foreign policy -- help our enemies, you wouldn't need to oppose it.

Arguing that one's opponents arguments have the "effect" of hurting us/helping Them is just categorically different than arguing that they intend their arguments to hurt us/help Them.

Imagine if I said you were advocating educational policies that would ultimately hurt our children. Would that be equivalent to accusing you of hating children? Of course not. Your intention and my perception of the effect of your policy are two very different things. If you try to stigmatize that kind of argument, you'll find there's not much left to argue about. We'd end up restricted to things like "your policy suggestions would be good, but mine would be better!" As much as an increase in comity might be nice, it's not necessarily accurate.

Killer collection of quotes, Jon.

Uh...Jon? If saying that criticism of US tactics "undermines the troops" isn't a questioning of patriotism, what is?

The assumption being made is that we would "win" if only Those F%#$ing Hippies would shut up. If they don't mean to infer that they welcome defeat by speaking, then they'd be moderating their response, saying instead something along the lines of "debate is good, let's just keep it behind closed doors in case they're listening". I have yet to hear such a measured remark.

Besides, I'd think the Republicans saying that would expect there to be a REASON that the criticisms continue despite such statements -- that is, one other than "they're stupid". If they honestly believe the comments to be misguided they should say so & explain why.

Weighing the capacity of either "side" for meaningless vitriol is worthless. The real problem is that people accept it from either.

b-psycho,
What do you mean by "behind closed doors" in this context? Public debate is obviously available for review by those hostile to the US. Bin Laden has stated that previous withdrawals from difficult military engagements, such as in Somalia, suggest a weakness of will, and this belief seems to have encouraged him to pursue his terrorism campaign. (Saddam also invoked US disagreement with the war in maintaining his belligerent posture shortly before the war in 2003.) That's the kind of thing conseratives are referring to when they invoke the need for unity and resolve. Dissent is important, not least because the costs of continuing in Iraq seem to outweigh the likely benefits, but on a certain psychological level of the conflict, the conservative analysis is correct. That is to say, there are costs to withdrawal, and the arguments Henke cited about undermining the troops seem to me to speak to those costs. Islamist fighters who believed they were up against an adversary that would never surrender would probably be smaller in number than they are today. Patriotism has nothing to do with this point, per se. It's true that those willing to assume the worst of the patriotism of opponents of the war will likely cheer these aggressive conservative talking points for reasons of sheer meanness and intimidation, and the Republican base may be mobilized accordingly, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a serious argument many of the hawks are making on a policy level. That's why I tried to suggest in my previous post that a more careful progressive response to these predictable hawkish attacks must be devised.

"Imagine if I said you were advocating educational policies that would ultimately hurt our children. Would that be equivalent to accusing you of hating children?"

Jon,

I believe this is the Democrats' strategy for dealing with Republicans. They say Republican approaches would be bad for women, hence Republicans are sexist. They say Republican approaches are bad for minorities, hence Republicans are racist. They say Republican approaches are bad for kids, and as such Republicans are heartless towards the young. And so forth.

First, there are some very cordial and well thought comments here. Second, questioning the patriotism of one's political opponents is and alwasy has been part of the dialoge on both sides. Third, what precisely is wrong with questioning peoples' patriotism? Not all patriots are created equal.

I actually believe that Democrats are, generally, less patriotic than Republicans. They simply have other priorities in my view.

I think Republicans darn well ought to start questioning the patriotism of some Democrats. Al Gore would be as good a place to start as any, given his speec at the Jeddah Economic Forum.

Stating that criticism of aspects of the war effort may aid the enemy is not "questioning patriotism."

Let's presume, for purposes of a thought experiment, that it IS possible that certain kinds of criticism may weaken the war effort, by diminishing domestic support and bolstering enemy morale. When the enemy's strategy is to prolong the war until American popular dissatisfaction leads to our withdrawal (following General Giap's strategy in Vietnam), whether one likes it or not, anything that increases American popular dissatisfaction assists the enemy's strategy.

Now, a lack of patriotism is not the only thing that would lead a person to thus further the enemy's strategy. One motivation could be based in genuine patriotism -- a conclusion that, even if the enemy's strategy succeeds, this would be in the long-term interest of the country, because the costs of victory outweigh its benefits. Thus, it's not true that to point out that criticism can help the enemy automatically equals a charge of lack of patriotism.

But, patriotically-motivated or not, it would remain the case that such a critic's actions have the practical effect of aiding the enemy. And it is completely legitimate to point this out.

The critics are trying to have their cake and eat it, too: They are trying to criticize the conduct of the war (some of them in truly vitriolic and paranoid style) -- but they insist that their criticism must be immune from the reasonable counter-criticism that their criticism carries a cost.

It remains the case that far more mainstream Democrats have expressly criticized their opponents' patriotism, as illustrated in Jon Henke's post above, than the reverse is true.

Brendan, your error is in failing to comprehend the difference between "stupid" and "evil."

If your *intention* is to give aid to the terrorists, you are unpatriotic and evil.

But if you simply urge a bad policy - perhaps out of genuine concern with safeguarding civil liberties - and the unintended consequence of that policy is that it aids the terrorists, then you may be perfectly patriotic but you are also quite, quite stupid.

There is a marked difference between saying someone's tactics are ineffective or wrong and saying that a person is not patriotic. The first is a result-based criticism: I disagree with you because I think what you want us to do will hurt rather than help our cause. The second speaks to motives: you're just saying that because you hate America, etc. The first technique is a valid question to raise: I would submit that given the amount of disagreement regarding the Iraq war, it's clear that well-meaning people can disagree on something without being unpatriotic. Just because someone may believe a policy that will lead to a bad result doesn't mean that they intend that bad result. While I don't think that any of the quotes above add to a substantive debate of policy, it seems fairly clear that if anyone is questioning the other side's patriotism, it's the people saying that so-and-so is not a patriot, etc.

Brendan,

Sounds like a bad case of projection there.

Jon makes some great points, and the responses he is getting illuminate the undercurrent to this subject.

The traditional way that Americans have dealt with foreign wars is to fight like crazy for their respective positions before the shooting starts, but then to pull together -- even if reluctantly -- behind the war effort once it's underway. The problem is that modern American "progressives" largely see America as the problem, the world's hyperpower bully. Thus, they show little to no compunction about saying and doing things in opposition to the policy choices they do not like with no regard whatsoever for the consequences on our troops, the enemy, or our standing in the world.

A certain tact is required when discussing foreign conflicts that is not required for a debate on, say, Social Security. But the American left so detests George Bush and is so invested in the misguided European notion that there is no geopolitical problem that can not be defeated by talking it to death, that they simply can not bring themselves to behave in the more restrained and responsible manner that tradition and necessity dictate.

Thus, we end up with Democrats saying and doing ghastly things (McDermott in Baghdad, Gore in Jeddah, every other word from Dean, etc.), but then trying desperately to justify their conduct to a skeptical-to-angry public. It's a battle they can not win.

There's a large difference between telling someone when their actions are having unintended consequences and accusing someone of having intended those consequences. I honestly believe that people who do things which serve to undermine our military strategy don't intend for them to do so.

What I don't understand is when, after having been told in public and in private that their actions are having a desultory effect on our troops, those people keep persisting. My only explanation is that even after having been informed, they refuse to believe those who are trying to help them out. It is clear that Howard Dean doesn't believe his rhetoric hurts our troops, at least in the long run. The same goes for others.

But there are lines that have been crossed, and there are few and far apologies for having done so. Moreover, liberals have a major, major credibility problem with the national defense issue, due to their having outright opposed the United States during the Vietnam War. One wonders if they're a little sensitive to accusations of aiding and comforting the enemy because they remember when they actually did such things.

Lastly, the movement just sounds dumb when it openly accuses the conservatives of questioning their patriotism (which the conservatives are very careful not to do), and then turns around and openly accuses the conservatives of not being patriotic. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Progressives should be worried that their movement is being run by amateurs.

I'm not conceding that your point about "the most disingenuous rhetorical question of all time" has any merit, but do you understand the difference between conducting intelligence on non-US citizens who may happen to call someone inside the US, versus getting a warrant to wiretap two parties that are within the US?

The problem is that comments questioning the democrats patriotism contain a grain of truth, if one defines “patriotism” as preferring that the interests of one’s own country should always prevail. Protesters against the Vietnam war openly cheered for the Viet Cong and Ho Chi Minh; during the cold war, conventional liberal democrats like Ted Kennedy, George McGovern and their counterparts in the House (to say nothing of the Ron Dellumses) consistently questioned the wisdom underpinning military spending even on the “containment” policy of that war (let alone the beyond-the-pale suggestion that such a war could be “won”: remember how backward was Reagan’s “evil empire” remark?); post-cold-war, establishment democrats like Madeline Albright express the view that the world was a better place when there was a substantial counterweight to U.S. interests in the Soviet Bloc. Who can blame the republicans for (gently or not) reminding voters that underlying all these positions is the view that the U.S. is frequently more a force for evil and oppression in the world than a force for liberty, and that things might be better if U.S. interests didn’t always prevail? There may be a way to harmonize such a view with the concept of “patriotism”, but I doubt it will find many takers. Basically, the democratic party has outgrown “patriotism” and most voters have not. That is a difficult reality to disguise, particularly during a war in which the U.S. territory has actually been attacked.

Let me try to bolster Jon's distinction between policy disputes and character attacks a bit further.

On numerous occassions I have heard Democratic policymakers and pundits claim that Bush's decision to invade Iraq "hurt America" and emboldened our terrorist enemies. I think most reasonable people understand these statements to be something far different from saying that the President is a "false patriot" or "un-American." Likewise, I don't think a Republican (however wrongly) opining that criticism of the war hurts troop morale is the same thing as one stating that persons who criticize the war want America to lose.

Jon's spot-on in pointing out that some major Democratic figures have gone beyond criticizing the effects of Republican policy and have directly attacked major Republican figures' patriotism on numerous occassions. I don't believe serious Republicans have done the same to prominent Democrats to nearly the same degree.

Saying that Howard Dean is giving comfort to the enemy is NOT the same thing as saying he's not patriotic. Indeed, he may think the statement he made was derived solely from his patriotism.

But it's irrelevant.

When he says (I paraphrase here) 'It stupid to think there is any chance we could win this war' that IS giving aid an comfort to the enemy. Again, there is a difference between being unpatriotic and saying something dumb.


It seems like you're oversimplifying the context in order to get a good soundbite.

"there is a much larger body of rhetoric out there on the GOP/conservative side suggesting that people who question the war or the president are essentially committing treason. I believe the public interprets those statements as attacks on patriotism;"

Saying that Howard Dean is giving comfort to the enemy is NOT the same thing as saying he's not patriotic. Indeed, he may think the statement he made was derived solely from his patriotism.

But it's irrelevant.

When he says (I paraphrase here) 'It stupid to think there is any chance we could win this war' That IS giving aid an comfort to the enemy. Again, there is a difference between being unpatriotic and saying something dumb.


It seems like you're oversimplifying the argument in order to get a good soundbite.

The "questioning my patriotism" line is an old play from the McCarthy era that has no resonance today. Without McCarthy, Dems parroting that line does nothing but hurt them, suggesting that reasonable people think their patriotism is questionable.

Of all the quotes, the only one that even vaguely seems to be questioning the Dems patriotism is, actually, the initial one by Mehlman. If I said I do not, and would not ever, suggest that Brendan Nyhan is a blithering idiot, isn't that suggesting it?

I think these two quotes are pretty much analogous, the only difference being that Bush coyly doesn't name names, literally or figuratively, so he gets to accuse everyone and no one all at once:

"[The American people] know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right." -- President Bush

"a group of people around the President whose main allegiance is to each other and their ideology rather than to the United States." -- Howard Dean

And this may be splitting hairs, but Jon's quote from Wesley Clark doesn't read to me like he's saying that one who does those things is unpatriotic. He's just saying that doing those things doesn't necessarily make one patriotic. There is a difference there.

Your Book is doing SOOOO well! #247,000 muckty muck. I can see why. WHATTA SCHMUCK! You MOONBAT! I don't challenge your patriotism, I challenge your intellect and your integrity.

Uh...Jon? If saying that criticism of US tactics "undermines the troops" isn't a questioning of patriotism, what is?

Actually, Jon provided you a number of very good examples in his 12:39 post. If Brendan's choices, on the other hand, qualify as questioning patriotism, then I guess we're just going to have to be big boys and accept that questioning patriotism is a legitimate part of the debate.

The assumption being made is that we would "win" if only Those F%#$ing Hippies would shut up.

I don't think it's fair to attribute the "only if" part to those quotes. Those quotes do make the claim that winning is harder and/or less likely because of their actions, though. But we can win despite that.

Interestingly, the left often gets accused of being stuck in Vietnam in the war debate---but the claim that anti-war dissent hurts the effort is drawn from our Vietnam experience, too. History has proved that the North Vietnamese encouraged and emboldened to continue their fight as a result of the anti-war sentiment in the U.S.

But given the wealth of differences between Iraq and Vietnam, I don't know that either side is sufficiently justified in drawing those parallels.

I don't see those quotes as questioning of patriotism.

Brendan, if there really is a large body of rhetoric from Republicans accusing Democrats of being unpatriotic, this would be a wonderful place to provide actual quotes.

I personally believe that anyone who criticizes the current war effort without simultaneously presenting a superior encompassing alternative war plan through which America would more probably triumph over her enemies is incredibly unpatriotic. Probably a traitor. Certainly a child.

But I'm just one person, more of a libertarian than a Republican, not in elected office, or even writing my own weblog. I haven't seen anything like my opinion reflected by the Official Right.

Patriotism is love or devotion to one's country. This is different from good judgment. Does anyone doubt that French patriots built the Maginot Line? In hindsight, does anyone doubt that this strategy was horribly, horribly ill-conceived? None of the R quotes above reflect on anyone's love of their country. Rather, they accuse the Ds of simply being wrong.

"If saying that criticism of US tactics "undermines the troops" isn't a questioning of patriotism, what is?"

I think this only underscores the troubling lack of critical thinking or even basic comprehension on the left, and it's damaging to any debate. The Republicans are saying that these actions are foolish and ill-advised, not unpatriotic. They recognize that the intentions of the Left may be patriotic, but that their actions and words have a damaging and dangerous effect, unintendedly so (because of lack of thought, of course, due to hatred of Bush).

There is a key difference, that they do not attribute bad motives to their foes, whereas Dean et al most clearly do - and then hypocritically accuse those they just pilloried.

This only goes to shore up claims that the Left is fueled by anger and hatred rather than good sense.

Um, b-psycho, here's an example: "John Ashcroft is not a patriot." -- Howard Dean

It doesn't get any more clear-cut than that, does it?

Incidentally, Brendan, some of your quotations would benefit from a little context and accuracy.

For instance you quote Ken Mehlman responding to "Dean's statement," saying that it "sends the wrong message to our troops, the wrong message to the enemy, the wrong message to the Iraqi people."

The actual quotation is: "I think that it sends the wrong message to our troops, sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people -- who are going to vote in elections -- and it certainly sends the wrong message to the enemy."

Your quote switches the order of "Iraqi people" and "the enemy," and leaves out the significant phrase, "who are going to vote in elections." A suspicious person might surmise that the reason you (or whoever you lifted the quote from) made these changes was to mask the context. At a very minimum an ellipse should have been added.

And what was that context? Let's consult CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/12/06/dean.iraq/

First of all, it was less than two weeks before the December 2005 elections in Iraq.

Second, Howard Dean had just stated in a radio interview, according to CNN, "[the idea that the war in Iraq can be won is] 'just plain wrong.'" (This was "Dean's statement" to which Mehlman was replying.)

How should have Ken Mehlman responded to such bottom-dwelling pessimism? He didn't call Dean a "traitor." He didn't "question his patriotism."

But he did question the impact Dean's comments would have on the morale of the troops and the Iraqi people, especially on the virtual eve of an important election.

Morale is a paramount factor in any war. American troops were being tested in the runup to the December elections, when terrorists ramped up their attacks. Would you tell a company about to go on patrol, "The idea that you're going to win is just plain wrong"?

Everyone knows too that the Iraqi people wonder whether America has the staying power to see this through. When the leader of the main opposition party utters the things that Dean has said, it reinforces the doubts among the Iraqis, thus making our troops' job harder. That is why Mehlman said, "It sends the wrong message." Because it does.

Constructive criticism is one thing. But to say that there's no chance we can win, well, in what way is that helpful?

Brendan, I have to respectfully agree with the above posters. I'm sorry don't have the time to provide links etc., but James Taranto, for one, has pretty extensively documented how [Republicans accusing Democrats of being unpatriotic] occurs much less often than [Democrats accusing (Republicans of accusing Democrats of being unpatriotic)], if at all.

There's a good reason for this. Both sides know that accusing the other of a lack of patriotism just doesn't play well with voters. Americans don't like it. So the Repubs don't do it, but the Dems try to make it sound like they do.

As I said, I don't have time to research this, but the one that comes off the top of the head is the Max Cleland Affair. Dems were accusing Repubs of playing the patriotism card long, long after it had been repeatedly pointed out that Cleland was, in fact, attacked not for his patriotism but for *his votes on the senate floor* (particularly WRT the DoHS). As others have pointed out, if you can't criticize a senator for his votes, what can you criticize him for?

- AJ

Ob. disclaimer: I consider both parties equally sleazy. I just don't think this particular line of attack is accurate.

Jon Hencke,

Excellent demolition of Brendan Nyhan’s phony thesis although IMO he utterly destroyed his own argument when he included the following:

“President Bush (January 2006): "[The American people] know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.”

"If saying that criticism of US tactics 'undermines the troops' isn't a questioning of patriotism, what is?"

Answer: "These guys are trying to hurt our effort by criticizing US tacics." That would be calling them unpatriotic.

As Jon has identified, patriotism is a matter of intent.

The official Republican stance seems to be "these idiots are hurting us," not "these traitors are trying to hurt us."

Some Republicans, of course, go further. Ann Coulter springs to mind (naming a book about liberals "Treason" is not exactly a subtle innuendo).

I'm sorry, this isn't persuasive at all. You have found Republicans criticizing Democrats for not being willing to do what it takes to protect national security--and what is new? This isn't the same thing as calling them unpatriotic.

If a conservative said that if you oppose the death penalty, that's the same as wanting people to go out and commit murder, would you accept that logic? You would not. You would say that everyone wants to prevent murders and that you are arguing about the best way to do that.

Democrats want to protect this country. Everyone knows that. We are arguing over the best way to do it. Saying that something makes the war on terror harder to fight is not the same as calling a person unpatriotic.

I mean, don't almost all Democrats think that the war in Iraq detracts from the war on terror? So, aren't all Democrats calling supporters of the war unpatriotic, by your logic?

Your inconsistency is even more pronounced when there are Democratic leaders who have actually called Republicans unpatriotic, and you ignore them in favor of quotes from Republicans who are legitimately question Democratic proposals.

Saying "Your proposal is bad because it produces this bad effect" is NOT the same as saying "You are a bad person who must WANT this bad effect".

"And in a democracy that is engaged in a war with no foreseeable end in sight..."

What does that mean? Which wars had a foreseeable end in sight? The American Revolution in September 1781? The Civil War in March 1865? World War II in January 1945? At these points in time was the end foreseeable? If so, by whom?

Our nation's policy shoud be to achieve victory as quickly as possible. The AUMF gives the President wartime powers to achieve this goal. Congress can remove the President's funding at any time to end it. So our options are to 1) quit fighting and hope things turn out for the best, 2) continue fighting until the President (or a President) can credibly declare victory and terminate the AUMF authority or 3) Congress can declare an end to war by revoking the AUMF or cutting funding.

The fact that this is a different kind of war does not change the Constitutional relationship between the branches of government.

I'd like to say up front that I'm very impressed by the thoughtful & nuanced posts here. You folks are making some great points and I admire your intellectual honesty.

By way of disclosure, I am a conservative, so it should be obvious that I have a great many disagreements with Pres. Bush and with many of you.

But here is where (no matter how upset I am with Bush' policies) I clearly differ from liberal opponents of Bush: I love the US more than almost anything on earth. The well-being of my country takes priority over anything except my family. When it comes to prosecution of a war, I want the US to win, no matter what it takes. Even if it means supporting Bush if I don't like him. He may be wrong, but he's still President. Voters who feel this in thier bones like I do cannot understand anyone who doesn't feel the same way.

It is a fact that many liberals think my love of country makes me a dupe, while others think it makes me a fascist. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of patriotism, it should be self-evident that telling a patriot that he is a thug or a fool is not likely to motivate him to vote for you. I think one reason liberals call us evil stems from the fact that our patriotism is so foriegn to them that they can only assume that we are putting on an act; that our motivation is so patently ridiculous that no one could believe it to be real and so they're perfectly justified in attacking our "real" motives. But that's just a theory.

I submit that the best thing liberals can do is support the President in his prosecution of the war, & instead criticize him on domestic issues. If Democrats were clearly in support of the US during a time of war, the attacks against thier common sense & judgement (& yes, patriotism) would melt away like snow in the rain. Republicans would look like poltroons.

But too many liberals just can't do that. In thier passion, they can't understand why voters aren't endeared with being called dupes or thugs.

I also don't think any of these justifications apply when you're talking about someone who uses a word like "cooperate," as Rep. Geoff Davis is quoted as having done above.

You guys can try to split that hair all you want, but in pretty much any context, "cooperate" implies intent.

Nice to see that everyone who responded to my comment missed the point. Especially whoever it was that somehow thought I was saying that Democrats weren't questioning the patriotism of people that disagreed with them. Why would I say something so ridiculously partisan when I'm not a democrat?

Again, if the problem isn't disagreement itself but the airing of it in a way that allows our enemies to point at it for propaganda reasons, then the hawks are simply terrible at arguing their case. If not, then what else is left?

BTW: Mark, is it not possible to disagree with HOW the war is being prosecuted without thinking we deserve to lose? Are people just supposed to accept whatever tactics are adopted regardless of if they actually accomplish anything? Since when did supporting the US and supporting Bush become the same thing?

b-psycho: "Supporting Bush" with regard to the proscution of the war is another way of saying "supporting the President (whatever his name might be)" and since he is the head of state for this country, one who want to "support the United States" during wartime must sublimate their disagreement with that president and support him in that capacity (distasteful as that may be for democrats today). This is the meaning of that old saw "politics ends at the water's edge."

To my mind, psycho-b, almost none of the critism from the left fits the characterization you just made. I haven't heard any substantive criticism on how the war is being prosecuted. What I keep hearing is that we're a bunch of bullies who lied our way into a senseless war and then committed war crimes, with no plans or exit strategy, all of which are demonstrably false assertions.

If you read Michael Yon's blog you'll find out that we're doing pretty damn good. If you consider the fact that the US is not an empire and consequently doesn't have a lot of experience with conquering nations, its hard to be too critical of military commanders who are having to make it up as they go along. The liberal divorce from military reality is so complete that you don't seem to realize that the President does NOT make decisions regarding "tactics". The last President who did, LBJ, was terrible at it and it was a lesson that the military internalized.

If you further consder that the military commanders on the ground are getting better every single month, it really makes a lot of the criticism from the left seem specious. There's a story in the Washington Post today about the 3rd Armored Cav that compares thier previous tour in which the performed poorly to thier current tour in which they're performing magnificently.

Fair or not, many on the left make it pretty clear that they have little use for the military. I liked Joel Stein's article in the LA Times a few weeks ago because it was a refreshing piece of honesty. Speaking as a veteran of the first Gulf War, it grates on my nerves to hear people who pretty openly dislike the military either a)criticisng the mission while claiming to 'support the troops' and b) criticising something that they have so little knowlege of.

If I'd never driven a car you'd probably find my back-seat driving to be irritating at best.

In my opinion this is an argument the left cannot win. Even if your criticisms are valid (and I don't think many of them are) they just carry no weight coming from the left. It's sort of the reverse of "Only Nixon could go to China." I think you'd be better off just visibly supporting the President on the war & stick with issues that you have a chance of winning on.

Alistair and Mark Gibson,
How can giving an honest opinion about the prosepcts of the war be a failure of constructive criticism? The immediate point isn't whether we are doomed to failure in Iraq and are harming ourselves and Iraqis by our occupation. The point is that if such assertions are true (as many well-informed people believe) and criticism of the war is silenced, we'll be stuck with a catastrophic policy in perpetuity. We'll never know we're wrong because we're not supposed to talk about the possibility. The president says he welcomes debate but considers any serious disagreement as irresponsible defeatism. With the best intentions, you simply can't look at such statements and find much commitment to informed decision-making processes. Because discussion is integral to thorough deliberation, this attitude essentially censors thought itself.

As far as comments like Dean's saying John Ashcroft is not a patriot, it's more likely, judging Dean's remarks in the context of his overall views, that he believes that many of Ashcroft's policies and statements during his tenure as attorney general were inconsistent with important American values. This wouldn't even be a partisan point, per se. Dean was probably thinking of Ashcroft's association with the secret, unaccountable use of government power. Dean is a careful thinker, as his policy speeches, his writings, and his gubernatorial record demonstrate, but certainly not always a careful commentator. Of course Ashcroft is a patriot, but that doesn't mean his policies were faithful to some of our core values, such as individual liberty.

The president and the hawks who criticize serious dissent may not be questioning the patriotism of war opponents per se, but they seek a frightening narrowing of debate. The liberals who carelessly overreact to this political intimidation by charging the hawks with a lack of patriotism are usually much more open to debate, much more willing to give their opponents space to be themselves and speak their minds. Of course, many other hawks welcome and practice a thoughtful exchange of views. But I daresay these figures aren't the trendsetters in the media, and if they are having an effect in politics, it must be happening slowly and behind the scenes.

That would be a pretty devestating response if it actually applied to me instead of this Leftist Strawman you constructed. I'm actually a libertarian.

I'm no pacifist, but I do have "little" use for the military in that I believe we're involved in way too much at the moment. You say we don't have a lot of experience in conquering nations, I'd like to keep it that way, as the cost of policing the world far outweighs any conceivable benefit. I'm not going to support Bush because that goes against everything I stand for, he wants more intervention & I want less, it's as simple as that. This conversation is basically over, I could care less how we're doing in Iraq as that country was not -- is not -- worth a single drop of american blood IMO.

BTW: You know what I meant by tactics, just because the president doesn't directly plan out everything doesn't mean that he's out of the loop. If we're doing something then it's reasonable to assume that Bush agrees with it until he says he doesn't.

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