« Alienating Poland | Main | oops. »

Friday, September 18, 2009



"I am still waiting for a genuine case where someone in the Bush Administration made the claim that anyone who questioned the war or criticized Bush policies was unpatriotic, let alone guilty of treason."

Well, since you asked: http://www.brendan-nyhan.com/blog/gop-dissent-attacks.html


A.I.: Turn about is fair play.

The blogger you quote from twists the facts. This kind of behavior disturbed you when you thought posters on this blog were doing it, but suddenly, twisted facts have become worth referencing.

Take the first scenario the blogger gives:

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."
In this quote, Ashcroft didn't say anything about "people who disagree with the administration's anti-terrorism policies." The blogger added that part. Ashcroft did not talk about the administration's anti-terrorism policies at all. Nor did he say anything about those who disagreed with those policies.

He talked about people who pitted others against immigrants and citizens against non-citizens. Now, I may be wrong, but it looks to me like Ashcroft was referring to those who became critical of Muslims in America after 9/11. Some of those, no doubt, would have supported the Patriot Act. I think the second statement is the same. The last sentence refers to people who "scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty." Nowhere does Ashcroft say that anyone who disagrees with his position falls into this category. Nor does he call anyone a traitor. Rather, he asks people who engage in specific behaviors that he believes weaken the union to stop, because he feels that by dividing the nation, they are helping America's enemies. Basically, he's saying, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

There is a difference between saying, "Hey, those Democrats are traitors because they disagree with me!" and saying, "Hey, let's not attack and scare one another, because it causes division and that helps our enemies."


Thanks to A.I. as always for rising to the occasion, and to Ms. Flint for her able defense on that particular example from Mr. Nyhan's list. It would have been helpful if Nyhan had provided links so we could evaluate the original context more easily. But what I find remarkable about the list is how much on it has nothing to do with the thesis. Saying that Democrats who oppose the President's Homeland Security Legislation are prevent the President from protecting Americans is like saying that people who oppose the President's healthcare reform legislation are preventing the President from providing healthcare to needy Americans. Either one may be quarreled with, but both look like good democratic fisticuffs to me.

There is an interesting issue here. People used to say that politics ends at the water's edge, something that both parties used to try to live by. That is long gone, but there was a point to it. Suppose someone said: if casualties continue to rise in (insert counterinsurgency theater here) then we ought to pull out" might surely encourage our enemies to double their efforts. Words might lead to more dead American soldiers. Most of the items on Nyhan's list were about such consequences of speech as this.

That said, I will concede a point. The President and other Republicans occasionally used the language appropriate to cases of treason when making their point. It's clear that they didn't literally mean it. Did the President sick the FBI on Daschle? Did Republican congressmen call for investigations of their fellows over this? Nonetheless, the language was inappropriate and way out of line. It was stupid and reprehensible to employ it in this context.

But here I repeat my point: isn't is just as reprehensible to tar the opposition to the President's healthcare agenda and his economic policies as racist? Unlike the mixed bag of quotes that Nyhan produces, the accusations of racism on the part of President Obama's critics is not the least bit ambiguous nor is there any question of context. Whatever moral ground the Democrats might gain from Nyhan's quotes altogether evaporates under the hot moist voice of Jimmy Carter.


For the sake of argument KB, and also because it may be true, lets take a little closer look at Carter's quote. He said: "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American," Carter told "NBC Nightly News."

You cite the "overwhelming portion" part of his quote to imply he is taring the bulk of opposition to Obama's policies as being racially motivated. You do not cite "intensely demonstrated animosity" which might be interpreted to mean an extreme portion of the whole. Thus, he would be saying an overwhelming portion of a subgroup within those protesting/objecting, (those demonstrating intense animosity) which might be a rather small portion of the whole, is racist.

That would make what Carter said similar to your quote: "I have no doubt that some of those who march in protest against the President and his party, and create offensive posters, are motivated by racism."

If I interpret Carter correctly, and I'm quite certain I interpret you correctly, I would agree with both your statements.


Miranda, I'm reminded of the old Meatloaf song: "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad". The first two things Ashcroft referenced weren't bad, the third is questionable. It is reasonable to believe he used the term "phantoms of lost liberty" to say the Patriot Act was no threat to privacy rights and concerns expressed by critics were not legitimate--arguably false statements. But rather than defend the act, he simply said those opposed to it were aiding terrorists. Considering that giving aid and comfort to an enemy of the U.S. is a treasonable act, that really wasn't a very nice thing to say.


Interesting. You excuse Ashcroft's condemnation of those who pit citizens against immigrants, but you are upset that he criticized those who he felt stirred up phantoms of lost liberty. Perhaps, then, it is only wrong for him to condemn those who disagree with him if you agree with them.

In any case, the claim was that individuals in the Bush administration said that "anyone who questioned the war or criticized Bush policies was unpatriotic or guilty of treason." And it isn't true. Not even if you're right about what Ashcroft meant.

To illustrate why it isn't, let's look back at our argument on Ezekiel Emanuel. I thought it was reasonable to conclude that Emanuel was an ageist from his article that encouraged favoring the youth over the elderly in end-of-life situations. You argued that I couldn't assume that, since his writing referred only to certain, specific cases.

Fair enough. Ashcroft's statement is similar. Nowhere in it does Ashcroft indicate that _anyone_ who disagrees with Bush's policies is unpatriotic. He takes issue with a few select groups and particular behaviors. That isn't at all the same thing as saying that _anyone_ who disagrees with him is unpatriotic. And it still looks to me like he was condemning actions, rather than people. It reads to me as a plea not to behave in behaviors that divide and scare Americans.

He does not, in this quote, name any names or condemn any particular political group. Rather, he says that those who engage in certain activities that he finds harmful are hurting the nation. And some of those he condemns no doubt supported the act. So it isn't a blanket statement condemning those who oppose Ashcroft or Bush.


Just so we understand there are examples of racism against Obama: http://www.americablog.com/2009/09/its-not-racism-its-being-american-gop.html. And there are plenty more.


A.I.: Your link didn't work, but no one doubts that there are examples of racism among Obama's critics. I made the comparison with the anti-war rallies. One of the main organizers of those rallies was ANSWER, a pro-communist group fond of N., Korea and Cuba, and vehemently anti-Israel. Does that mean that "an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward" the war and Bush was pro-communist and antisemitic? Of course not. Someone who made such an argument would be exploiting facts about the most extreme elements of a coalition to discredit the coalition's cause. Most people who showed up at anti-war rallies were as American as apple pie, and were motivated by an honest opposition to the war.

I think that most of the 75,000 plus who showed up in Washington (and on page 32 of the New York Times) to protest Obama's policies were honestly opposed to the President's policies. They were angry at the President now just as conservatives were (disproportionately in both cases, as I see it) angry at President Clinton for much the same reason in the early 90's. Clinton was White.

Jimmy Carter has never been able to grasp the fact that honest and intelligent people can disagree with him. He made his comment because he wanted to discredit a popular opposition movement. But if you are going to accuse a lot of people of racist motives, you had better have some evidence of widespread racism. Carter had none.

The comments to this entry are closed.