Oct 9th 2013

When Radicalism Becomes Treasonous

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

Given the blanket press coverage of the government shutdown and impending default, what more can be said that has not already been? For that reason I have restrained from writing on the topic, but also because right wing proclamations have been absurd enough to discredit themselves as the words are uttered. But then George Will, an ostensibly less extreme conservative, pipes in with his own inane conclusions; and now we know that radicalism has gone mainstream. This is Will's insight: "I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."

Well, sure, laws can be changed. But what conservatives miss, or ignore, is the obvious fact that laws change through a democratic process; this does not include shutting down the government and defaulting on U.S. debt obligations. My blood boils and I want to scream every time McConnell or Paul or Cruz or Boehner cavalierly and willingly sacrifice the reputation of the United States while wrapped in the mantle of patriotism. Never has there been a grander case of hypocrisy.

So first to Will's silly point: yes, of course there are some obvious and notable exceptions in which contemporary political views led the us astray, resulting in bad laws inappropriately upheld by the Supreme Court. We have Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857; Plessy v. Fergusonin 1896; and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld in 2004, to name just a few. But those are the exceptions that prove Will's comments ridiculous: over time the Court itself has self-corrected (Brown v. Board of Education in 1954); or Congress has passed new legislation correcting the flaws in laws previously upheld by the Court (the various civil rights acts). Nowhere in that equation is government shutdown and default.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by both the House and Senate, enacted into law, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. A presidential election was won with health care prominent in the national discussion. Nevertheless, if conservatives think the law is flawed as in past cases, fine: then work to change the law using established legislative processes as has been done for the past 250 years. But if that fails accept the result as we have for our entire history; do not hold the country hostage because you do not get what you want. We have children throwing tantrums because they got two scoops of ice cream instead of three. The GOP lost and they just can't stand it; and this has led to extraordinary behavior. The party of personal responsibility takes none for the shutdown; the party of overt and excessive patriotism is throwing our country under the bus; the party of no just can't take yes for an answer.

Let us not forget that Reid and Boehner had a deal in July of this year, in which the Democrats yielded completely to Republicans in order to forge a budget deal. Democrats accepted the GOP numbers, giving up $70 billion to meet GOP demands; in return, Boehner promised to pass a clean Continuing Resolution with no riders about Obamacare. But then Boehner reneged, claiming that the GOP had second thoughts and needed to take a stand on the Affordable Care Act. Then Boehner, McConnell and friends have the audacity to claim that Democrats are not willing to negotiate. No, no, no. The Democrats negotiated in good faith, compromised, gave up much with little in return, only to be double crossed. With each "yes" the GOP demands more, and then claims Democratic intransigence when they get no more concessions. The far right has come to the point where negotiations are nothing but a means to get 100 percent of what they want.

Conservative opposition to Obamacare has transitioned from obsessive to treasonous. Here is the simple definition of treason: the betrayal of allegiance to the United States. One caveat: treason applies only to acts committed during times of war. Well, we are in the middle of the war on terrorism, no? So that qualifies. The GOP could point to a fuller definition of treason to argue their actions are not treasonous: "the betrayal of one's county by waging war against it or by consciously or purposely acting to aid its enemies."

Well. How could anyone argue that willingly damaging the good faith and credit of the United States is not purposely acting to aid our enemies? The shutdown and impending default already caused Obama to miss a critical meeting in Asia, allowing China to dominate; an outcome clearly aiding our enemy. How could our enemies not benefit from a weakened and insolvent United States?

Here is the critical point that nobody can argue with: if the situation were reversed, and Democrats were threatening default, the GOP would be screaming bloody murder, yelling at the top of their collective lungs that Democrats hate the United States, and that liberals are traitors to the country. Doubt that? Remember then that whenever anybody criticized George Bush about the Iraq war, the GOP stood up and harrumphed that it was treasonous to criticize the Commander in Chief during times of war. Here are some examples, courtesy of blogger Brendan Nyhan:

December 2001: In response to Democratic plans to question parts of the USA Patriot Act during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, John Ashcroft suggests that people who disagree with the administration's anti-terrorism policies are on the side of the terrorists. "To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."

June 2002: Republican Senate candidate Saxby Chambliss issued a press release accusing Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) of "breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution" because he voted for a successful 1997 amendment to the chemical weapons treaty that removed language barring inspectors from certain countries from being part of United Nations inspection teams in Iraq.

September 2004: As John Kerry steps up his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and the war on terror, Republicans repeatedly suggest that he is emboldening the enemy. Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) says that "while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief." President Bush says, "You can embolden an enemy by sending a mixed message... You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages." And Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claims that terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry," adding that Democrats are "consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there."

January 2007: Appearing on Meet the Press, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that "I think that's a dangerous position to take, to oppose a sitting commander in chief while we've got people being shot at on the ground. I think it's one thing to have a debate and a discussion about this strategy, but to openly oppose, in essence, the strategy, I think that can be a very risky thing for our troops." Senator John Cornyn said, "To offer nonbinding resolutions which encourage our enemies and undermine our allies and deflate the morale of our troops is, to me, the worst of all possible worlds." And Senator Jon Kyl added that "[t]he worst thing would be for the Senate by 60 votes to express disapproval of a mission we are sending people to lay down their lives for."

September 2009: During a town hall meeting, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) calls Nancy Pelosi one of the "domestic enemies of the Constitution" shortly after saying that "[Second Amendment] gun rights are actually critical to prevent treason in America."

But when a Democrat sits in the Oval Office, everything just said above gets thrown out the window, the earth shifts on it axis, and nothing could be more patriotic than to attack the Commander in Chief. This world view is so obviously hypocritical, so absurd, so untenable that one can only hold such a views by untethering all beliefs from any connection to reality. Compare the comments above to GOP attacks on Obama, our Commander in Chief. Again via Nyhan:

January 2010: The New York Post publishes an editorial asking "Whose side is the Justice Department on: America's or the terrorists'? ... [T]he president and his administration also owe the American people an answer: Is the government's prosecutorial deck stacked in favor of the terrorists?" Former senator Fred Thompson also jokes that the US could win the war in Afghanistan if we "[j]ust send Obama over there to campaign for the Taliban."

February 2010: During a conference call with conservative bloggers, Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) accuses the Obama administration of having a "a terrorist protection policy" and conducting a "jihad to close Guantanamo." In addition, based on a superficial resemblance between two logos, Frank Gaffney suggests that President Obama's missile defense policies "seem to fit an increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam and the theo-political-legal program the latter's authorities call Shariah."

April 2010: Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) writes an article for The Daily Caller alleging that Obama is "disadvantaging the United States one step at a time and undermining this country's national defense on purpose."

July 2010: Writing in the Washington Times, former GOP Rep. and third party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo calls Obama "a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda" and "a dedicated enemy of the Constitution," while columnist Jeffrey Kuhner of the Edmund Burke Institute describes Obama as an "usurper" who is creating "a socialist dictatorship" and has engaged in "treasonous" behavior by suing Arizona over its immigration law.

September 2012: Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus alleged in a tweet that "Obama sympathizes with attackers [of the U.S. embassy] in Egypt."

May 2013: When asked whether Obama "actually switched sides in the War on Terror," former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld answered, "You know, I just don't feel competent to answer. I can't tell.

Conservatives are quick to label Democrats traitors, and readily attack the Commander in Chief in the most vile ways; but then like Superman whip out the cape of patriotism whenever a Republican president is criticized or a conservative politician questioned. Here is a summary of the Republican worldview: it is treasonous to attack the Commander in Chief when the president is a Republican; and is treasonous not to attack the Commander in Chief when the president is a Democrat. But this rhetoric and absurd world view does not come close to the actual act of treason in shutting down our government or defaulting on our debts.

Conservatives have gone over the deep end; history will judge them harshly. We can only hope the damage they have done and continue to do will be diminished with the passage of time long after this eruption of lunacy has passed us by.

Posted first on the Huffington Post, posted here with the kind permission of the author.




 


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