The anti-dissent campaign switched sides last week as Salon's Joan Walsh became the first prominent liberal to accuse President Obama's critics of treason.
Between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the end of President Bush's time in office, Republicans and their conservative allies repeatedly suggested that Democratic dissent against the administration's policies was disloyal.
During that period, liberals and Democrats began a sustained effort to adopt the tactics of the right -- a decision we criticized back in 2004 in All the President's Spin. Since then, the trend has intensified -- the Center for American Progress, which mass-produces dishonest spin like conservative think tanks, has become a leading Democratic organization; MSNBC's prime time hosts are aping the misleading cable talk tropes of the right; and even Talking Points Memo, the leading Democratic/liberal journalistic blog, increasingly panders to its readers with unsupported claims and outrageous language.
Still, with the exception of the comedian Wanda Sykes, mainstream Democrats and liberal commentators have largely refrained from equating dissent with treason in the way that Republicans did under President Bush. That's why I was disturbed to see this Newsbusters post showing Walsh smearing Republican criticism of President Obama as "un-American" and "traitorous," on MSNBC's Hardball last week:
WALSH: The climate right now is that Republicans use everything they can to undermine and delegitimize this president. And it's actually un-American. It`s traitorous, in my opinion. Do you want to give aid and comfort to our enemies? Continue to treat this president like he wasn`t elected and he doesn`t know what he's doing! He knows what he did. He knows what he`s doing. I`m proud of him. I believe that he has the stalwart, resolute nature to get this done. In my opinion, sometimes he goes too far, but to talk about him like he`s some socialist out to lunch...
There's no excuse for this kind of language. Walsh may not approve of the way that Republicans are opposing President Obama, but we live in a democracy. It's especially disturbing because her perspective on dissent (like the right's) has flipped 180 degrees -- here's what she said during an interview with Bill Maher back in February 2007:
I was feeling optimistic in November  that maybe one thing we could say with certainty was that, in the war over patriotism, and over having the freedom to dissent while still being patriotic, our side maybe had won, and that the climate was freer. I'm wondering how you look at it. Have things gotten a lot better since October of 2001, or a little, or not at all?
And here's what she wrote in November 2006:
The president who lost the popular vote in 2000 nonetheless ruled as one of the most radical leaders in U.S. history. The president who got a chance to start over, with wide popular support, in the wake of 9/11 instead ruled as the bully-in-chief, presiding over a regime that made dissent synonymous with treason.
Finally, here's yet another example from September 2006:
Since that time [the immediate aftermath of 9/11], though, we've seen hubris beyond imagination. We've watched an unbridled executive-branch power grab, warrantless wiretaps, the curtailing of privacy rights; a pervasive smog of secrecy descended to obscure our government. Outrage about torture, rendition and secret prisons here and abroad is dismissed with a flippant "We don't torture" from the president. And all of it has been shellacked with an ugly culture of bullying in which dissent equals treason, shamelessly, five years after the attack. Last week it was Donald Rumsfeld comparing war critics to people who appeased Hitler; this week we had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying they're the sort who would have ended the Civil War early and let the South keep its slaves. Their intimidation is meant to say that the very freedoms worth fighting for -- the right to dissent, the right to question our government -- might have to be abridged while we fight. Politically, that truly is more than we can bear.
It's sad to see Walsh's transformation from critic to advocate of what she rightly described as an "ugly culture of bullying in which dissent equals treason." Let's hope other people on the left don't follow her example.