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Political Animal

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

By Brian Morton | Posted 3/26/2003

This is America.

Paul Weyrich of the Reaganite conservative Free Congress Foundation, on Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks: "The Dixie Chicks may be entitled to their opinion, but for them to give aid and comfort to the enemy when we are on the edge of war is just outrageous. . . . I guess there's no loyalty to this country any more."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)'s critical statement on the Bush administration's failed diplomacy: The remarks "may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."

Columnist Daniel Pipes in the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post: "Why the Left Loves Saddam (and Osama)."

In the same issue of the Post, the newspaper's gossip column, "Page Six," helpfully gives a list of what it calls "appeasement-loving celebs" whose work should be boycotted: Samuel L. Jackson, Janeane Garofalo, Sheryl Crow, and, of course, Susan Sarandon.

While Sen. Joseph McCarthy is long gone, blacklisting never goes out of style.

Maines never said a word about the troops. She never said a word about "America." She simply expressed the opinion that she and her band were embarrassed that the president of the United States is from Texas.

For this, she earned the wrath of the nation's conservatives, the enmity of a large segment of country music fans (the Chicks are the No. 1 country music act in America), the burning of their CDs, and a demand from the South Carolina House of Representatives that the Chicks perform a free concert for troops from the state and their families.

It's unclear whether pressure from fans, Maines' record label, or conservative media forced her to apologize, even though she really had nothing to apologize for. But you have to wonder what it will do to the Chicks' bottom line when a company that owns 1,233 radio stations in America (including at least two in Baltimore, one being the pop station that used to play the Chicks' song "Landslide" almost interminably) is also financing patriotic rallies where people brought signs blasting the band. (Not that there's any connection, but the aforementioned station conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, also syndicates Rush Limbaugh.)

In case you haven't gotten it yet, here it is in a nutshell. Criticizing the president is not the same thing as criticizing the troops. Criticizing the president is not the same as criticizing America. And criticizing the president is not "giving aid and comfort to the enemy," which is the classic definition of treason, a federal crime that earns felons the death penalty.

So here's a few questions. When the Clinton administration sent troops to quell the ethnic cleaning in Kosovo, we can presume Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) was giving "aid and comfort" to mass-murdering tyrant Slobodan Milosevic when he said, "The administration's campaign has been a disaster. . . . [It] escalated a guerrilla warfare into a real war, and the real losers are the Kosovars and innocent civilians." What a traitor to America.

When then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said of the intervention that "Clinton's bombing campaign has caused all of these problems to explode," we can presume that his criticism of the president's foreign policy provided clear and forthright evidence that DeLay hates America.

You see, "freedom" is funny like that. Of course DeLay and Nickles were no more unpatriotic for denouncing administration policies while U.S. troops were in the field back in 1999 any more than Maines or Daschle are today.

There's no shortage of it, and it's not new to this period of conflict, either. Recall White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's veiled warning after colossal boob Bill Maher remarked on the cowardice of U.S. fighter pilots--that Americans need to "watch what they say."

And remember when critics asked Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett exactly what information the government had prior to Sept. 11, 2001. Bartlett said that asking pointed questions like those "are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do."

Last September, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) posed the ludicrous question, "Who is the enemy here? The president of the United States or Saddam Hussein?"

The simpleminded, the Know-Nothings, the John Birch-style über-patriots like to create a "slippery slope"--a classic logical fallacy--to support their contention that the president equals the troops, which equals the flag, which equals the Constitution, which equals freedom. There's no daylight, no wiggle room, between any of them--as long as it's their guy in power.

There was no shortage of criticism of Bill Clinton during his presidency, and it hasn't abated since he left. The far Right has tried to draw a metaphor from an act of consensual sex to everything from fiscal policy to the refrain that the Clinton administration somehow bankrupted the U.S. military. Funny how this criticism never was seen as treasonous. I suppose it's all depends on whose ox is gored.

When a government seeks to paint any opposition as unpatriotic and any dissent as treason, when it uses its allies in industry and the media to hound skeptics and blacklist celebrities, when it attempts to paint legitimate questions of policy as either a vote for America or a vote for dictatorship, that's not freedom any more.

That's fascism. Smart people know the difference.

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