Friday, January 10, 2003

The Orcinus principium

A core operating principle of this blog:

Americans who accuse their fellow citizens of sympathizing with the enemy merely for dissenting from the nation's war aims are objectively anti-democratic.

As I mentioned below, the anti-dissent rhetoric from the right since Sept. 11 has grown increasingly worrisome. If you're Patty Murray or Tom Daschle, you already know that raising thoughtful questions about the administration's handling of the "war on terrorism" will bring swift accusations of being unpatriotic.

Probably the keynote for this theme was sounded by John Ashcroft in December 2001, when he warned in testimony before the Senate: "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."

Since then, this line of attack has become a staple of conservatives. It's a standard feature of Rush Limbaugh's schtick, not to mention other right-wing ideologues like Michael Savage. We've already seen plenty of this in the Blogosphere, led notably by Glenn Reynolds' contention that antiwar folk are "objectively" on Saddam's side.

Let's be clear about this: Democracy is not a sport. We are not rooting for a football team here. Questioning the behavior of our leaders, and declining to support their every action, doesn't make you a traitor.

In a democracy, we are best served by having an open and lively debate on the direction we take as a nation. This does not change in wartime. Indeed, in a war such as this one, where our democratic institutions are being directly challenged by right-wing religious fanatics, it is even more important to preserve the right to speak freely.

It's quite clear that those who accuse dissenters of "aiding the enemy" are interested primarily in quieting any dissent, and shutting down any kind of thoughtful debate. They argue, like football cheerleaders, that it's more important to present a unified front than it is to keep core democratic principles alive and vibrant. (At least, this is their argument, though in the case of Bush supporters, one can't help but believe their core motives are base partisanship.) They're the same kind of folk who try to claim that "America is a republic, not a democracy" -- thereby revealing their own animosity to democracy itself.

Put another way, they are actually aiding and abetting those terrorists who hope to destroy America's democratic institutions.

The truth of the matter is that an open debate enables Americans to participate in the direction the nation takes, so when we do take action, it deepens our resolve, and makes our unity genuine instead of artificially imposed upon us.

Many on the American right like to compare G.W. Bush to FDR. But during World War II, FDR was under regular attack from those on the right who questioned his every move. It began with the right-wing demands to intern Japanese-Americans, to which FDR quickly acceded. It continued throughout the war, with regular accusations that FDR's administration was infiltrated by communists, and later, that it was coddling Japanese-Americans because the administration had failed to make life in the concentration camps severe enough for their tastes -- they wanted the "Japs" to be punished. Perhaps the most bellicose of these was Martin Dies, the founder of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Importantly, neither FDR nor any of his cronies ever accused Dies or the administration's many other critics of being "anti-American" or "pro-Nazi."

But then, that's perhaps because FDR was a real president.

No comments: