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July 07, 2006


I just have a hard time getting worked up about this issue, partially because there is so much anti-Bush, anti-Republican speech (both on and off the net) and the fact I kind of file it mentally with the standard "anyone who does not specifically agree with my way of combating X is obviously for X" rhetoric politicians often use. For example, if I am opposed to affirmitive action, at best not only do I obviously not care to advance the interest of minorities, but at worst I am really racist and working to undermine the advancement of minorities.

But maybe my view is just warped because I don't watch tv news, just read the Internet, and there have been rivers of virtual ink spilled railing against the Bush administration and it's policies in the War on Terror, so I just don't feel how dissent has been stifled; indeed, it seems to me there is more criticism of this administration than there has ever been, especially when it was restricted mainly to 1/2 the op-ed page of my local paper.

Byran - There is a big difference between your example and the GOP criminalization of dissent. Being a racist is not a crime. Treason is a capital crime, punishable by death. Conservatives often speak in code. This talk of being on the "side of the enemy" is code for "our political opponents (liberals) are traitors, and as we all know the punishment for traitors is death." It is eliminationist rhetoric, the type of talk favored by fascists and authoritarians. It is, frankly, un-American, irresponsible, and dangerous. And it's only getting worse as the abject failure of their foreign and domestic ideology becomes manifest.

I would also add the incident in the fall of 2002 when there was an argument between the White House and the Deomocrat-controlled Senate over civil service protections for employees of the Department of Homeland Security; during this argument President Bush, personally and on the record, impugned the patriotism of Democratic Senators who disagreed with him.

Wow, I guess I'm not really a conservative, since I don't know the code. I thought when, in one of the examples, Rep. Tom Davis says "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country." he meant that Democratic criticisms hindered the War on Terror and thus indirectly helped AQ ( a point I disagree with, BTW) not "Democrats should be tried an executed for treason". He was simpy, as politicians tend to do, saying it in the most hyperbolic way possible. But again, I don't speak conservative code, so I was not his target audience.

And I really hope the GOP is not attempting to stifle or criminlize dissent, because they really suck at it if they are, judging from what I read everyday.

I hear a lot of similar rhetoric from Democrats with regard to the Plamegate issue and I must admit I have difficulty drawing the line on that one. If Rove/Libby/whoever did reveal the name of a covert agent it was clearly wrong (if not criminal) and should be punished, but I'm not sure "traitor" fits either.

Bryan, as to your comment, the phrase "aid and comfort...to our enemies" is verbatim the text from the treason statute ergo the suggestion of treason is implicit.

Sohei, treason MAY be punishable by death. The statute (18 USC, Sec. 2381) says that those found guilty "shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."

I'm sure you already know my position on this, Brendan, but for old times sake, let's do that dance again. :)

Every single example you listed consisted of a Republican asserting that a Democrats statements, policies or position would be bad for US security, harmful in the War on Terror, etc. At no point was their "patriotism" mentioned, even implicitly.

Democrats routinely argue that the Bush administation's policies are harmful to US security, that the administration is putting our troops at risk, putting politics before security or harming us/helping the enemy in the War on Terror. And that's fine. That's what opponents do, else they wouldn't be opponents. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. That's the nature of debates about important, complicated issues.

It would be a very strange political discourse if we eliminated any statement that one's opponent was advocating harmful policies.

I'm perfectly prepared to accept the possibility that the Bush administration or a prominent Republican has questioned the patriotism of a Democrat. But "I disagree with my opponent and think his policies would hurt the United States" is not equivalent. I'd be much more impressed if you produced quotes actually questioning a Democrats patriotism.

Several prominant military officers of the North Vietnamese army have made statements that the war was actually won for them in the court of American popular opinion and not on the actual battlefield. In other words, it was their strategy to stir up dissent amongst the American public through protracted suffering displayed on the evening news every night.

What if all of the squabbling against the war in Iraq and anti-terror programs does give comfort to terrorists? Then the question of patriotism is moot, all of the quotes you gave would be mere statements of fact.

None of the quotes above equate giving comfort to the enemy to a lack of patriotism. The suggestion is that it may be irresponsible, naive, or dangerous to display such dissent, surely; but each one of those Republicans might attribute that to ignorance or partisan hackery rather than a lack of patriotism.

It would be a very strange political discourse if we eliminated any statement that one's opponent was advocating harmful policies.

But that's not the issue, Jon. The above statements aren't about policy; they're making the claim that Democrats' advocacy - the very act of dissent - is a threat to the country.

I swear to God I did not invent Jimmy to prove my point.

Ken Mehlman (quoted above as "playing the treason card"): "Democrat leaders never miss an opportunity to put politics before our nation's security."

Paul Krugman (from later in the same column discussed above): "[Bush] has consistently played politics with national security."

(Actually, the selection of the other Mehlman quote is even weirder - Howard Dean says we're going to lose the war, and how Mehlman responds is somehow unfair?)

Jon and I aren't going to resolve this disagreement, but let me try to clarify my position.

The difference he misses is that Democrats typically argue that Bush's policies endanger national security -- a perfectly acceptable statement from an opposition party. It's fine for Republicans to do the same, but members of the party frequently go further, suggesting that the very act of criticizing the President endangers national security.

Those are not analogous.

Brendan, as you've written it above, we're not that far off. My primary objection is to the notion that said Republicans have questioned the patriotism of Democrats. Whether Republicans have gone too far over the line between criticizing specific dissent and criticizing dissent in general is, as far as I can tell, a categorically different matter from the "patriotism/treason" issue.

I agree that Republicans have been too quick to criticize dissent in general, rather than specific, terms.

I believe a perfectly plausible case can be made that some kinds of dissent are harmful to a given war effort -- clearly, any lack of domestic unity signals our enemies that they may defeat us on the political- rather than the battle-field -- though I don't believe that's necessarily a reason to argue that the dissent should not occur. And those arguments are more ethical/moral than they are legal. I don't think there's any justification for legally suppressing dissenting speech.

But then we come around the circle again. Isn't it equally "suppression of dissent" to argue that it's illegitimate to point out that lack of unity has negative strategic effects in a war?

If your argument is that criticism of dissent has been too generalized, I agree; perhaps not in every instance, but in general, yeah. If your argument is that prominent Republicans questioned the patriotism of Democrats, I'd disagree.

With the complete absence of evidence presented, I think my position is pretty defensible, and I'm pretty mystified that people still make that claim. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, I'm left thinking "the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the ["questioned our patriotism"] hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion."

The argument of this post is that Republicans have engaged in an assault on dissent since 9/11; it says nothing about patriotism. So I'm glad we agree that "criticism of dissent has been too generalized." I think some of these statements do imply that Democrats are unpatriotic, but let's leave that aside for now.

As for the question of whether my criticism of attacks on dissent is itself an attack on dissent, I think there's an obvious and important difference between trying to suppress dissent against government officials and criticism of those who would delegitimize said dissent. The former is an attack on a core principle of democracy; the latter is an attempt to defend said principle.

In June 2005, Rove suggested that liberals sympathize with the enemy:

Well, the main point of the Krugman column was expressed in its first sentence: "The Bush administration and its supporters still believe that they can win political battles by impugning the patriotism of those who won't go along."

Again, I'd generally agree with the idea that criticism of dissent has been too broad. But I wonder how one would point out the costs of some of the more virulent, outrageous and irresponsible criticisms and the effect of political strife. They're necessary in a free society -- the marketplace of ideas, etc, etc -- but let's not pretend that political indecision and conflict don't have costs.

Unfortunately, nuance is not a particular talent of politicians and pundits. Even those who understand it rarely express it well.

It is those who bungle a war who undermine it, not those who criticise the bungling.

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