It's time to add Time's Joe Klein to the emerging anti-dissent caucus on the left.
Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit busts Klein for his repeated use of "sedition" rhetoric against conservative critics of the Obama administration, as in this clip from the Chris Matthews Show a couple of weeks ago:
MATTHEWS: Well, making your point, we just watched Sarah Palin and she said un-American ["All of this makes us more beholden to foreign countries. It makes us less secure. It makes us less free. And I'm not calling anyone un-American, but the unintended consequences of these actions, the results are un-American."]. Now, she said it was just his policies, not him, but those words are license words. They're permission words, you know?
KLEIN: I did a little bit of research just before the show on this little napkin here and I looked at the definition of "sedition," which is conduct or language inciting rebellion against authority of the state. And a lot of these statements -- especially the ones coming from people like Glenn Beck and to a certain extent Sarah Palin -- were right next -- right up close to being seditious.
Klein subsequently defended this statement in a post on Time's Swampland blog:
On the Chris Mathews Show Sunday, I said that some of the right-wing infotainment gasbags--people like Glenn Beck etc.--were nudging up close to the edge of sedition. This has caused a bit of a self-righteous ruckus on the right. Let me be clear: dissent isn't sedition. Questioning an Administration's policies isn't sedition. But questioning an Administration's legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine or overthrow it certainly is. A rally like this yesterday in South Carolina is a good example of seditious speech. It's not illegal--unless actions are taken to overthrow the government in question--but it is disgraceful and the precise opposite of patriotism in a democracy.
Note the sleight of hand in Klein's language. He fails to specify what specific statements constitute sedition on the part of mainstream figures like Beck or Palin, but suggests that statements "questioning an Administration's legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine or overthrow it certainly is." The problem is that "undermin[ing]" an administration is precisely what the opposition does in a democracy. Some conservatives have made baseless and inflammatory attacks on the Obama administration's legitimacy (for instance, the birthers), but Klein's statement sweeps in a range of more innocuous criticisms as potentially seditious.
Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma--who, with James Inhofe, constitute the most extreme Senate delegation from any state--prayed for the incapacitation or death of a Democratic Senator so that health care would be blocked. But that wasn't all. He also offered this:This is borderline sedition. Coburn--who had a friendly relationship with Senator Barack Obama--is saying that giving up on the U.S. government is justified. This helps stoke the hatred of those extremists who see Barack Obama's presidency as illegitimate. It also comes dangerously close to incitement to violence. It certainly deletes Coburn from the list of those who can be considered loyal to the most important American ideals. He should clarify what he means by these statements--and apologize for his hate speech, immediately.
"The crisis of confidence in this country is now at an apex that has not seen in over 150 years, and that lack of confidence undermines the ability of legitimate governance," he said. "There's a lot of people out there today who...will say, 'I give up on my government,' and rightly so."
And as I previously noted, Klein also suggested some Fox News programming "borders on sedition" back in October:
Let me be precise here: Fox News peddles a fair amount of hateful crap. Some of it borders on sedition. Much of it is flat out untrue.
With these statements, Klein joins Salon's Joan Walsh, Obama counterterrorism official John Brennan (here and here), New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and Fox News host Geraldo Rivera in equating harsh criticism of the Obama administration with treason -- an almost precise inversion of the pattern under the Bush administration after 9/11. I would not defend many of the statements made by Beck, Palin, or Coburn or the coverage offered by Fox -- indeed, I've frequently criticized each of them -- but sedition is a term that must be reserved for direct efforts to foment an insurrection against the government of this country. Using it as a blanket description of harsh or misleading attacks on the Obama administration is an anti-democratic tactic that threatens to suppress and stigmatize dissent.
What's sad about this is that Klein wrote very harsh things about the Bush administration -- the sort of statements that were repeatedly described as seditious in the post-9/11 period. Indeed, were the situation reversed, Klein's 2007 statement that "it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead" might meet his own definition of sedition ("questioning an Administration's legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine... it").
In fact, Klein even praised Montana governor Brian Schweitzer a couple of years ago for pardoning state residents who were prosecuted for sedition during World War I:
[A]fter the Montana state legislature passed the resolution opposing the Patriot Act, Governor Schweitzer decided to put some icing on the cake by pardoning 78 Montanans who had been convicted of sedition during World War I--a far more egregious case of the government trampling civil liberties than the Patriot Act is. "Most of them were German immigrants," Schweitzer told me. "Some of them were arrested for speaking German in public, others for refusing to buy war bonds. We had a big ceremony, and family members from 31 states came to honor their ancestors. It got pretty emotional."
To be clear, Klein hasn't advocated prosecution of any of the public figures he's suggested have committed sedition. But shouldn't he be more aware of the silencing effects that such rhetoric can have?
(Note: I've added Klein's statements to my timeline of attacks on dissent against President Obama.)