Saturday, July 30, 2011

When Obstruction Becomes Treason

July 30, 2011, 7:00 p.m.

There Are Many Ways to Bring Down a Government

In an [October 2010] interview with the National Journal [the Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Senator [Mitch] McConnell was asked what "the job" of Republicans will be if they gain a majority in Congress. McConnell's response was,

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

McConnell could have mentioned any one of a number of other priorities . . . Helping the country recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; Protecting the country from another terrorist attack; [or] Ensuring the success of the United States' missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, McConnell made clear that the Republicans will be thinking about 2012 as soon as the 2010 midterm elections are over. [emphasis supplied]
Ryan Witt, "Republican leader says GOP's number one goal is defeating Obama in 2012,", October 25, 2010.

This was scarcely a casual slip of the tongue. "N2K Top 10: Let Me Repeat; Regrets? Not a One," National Journal, November 4, 2010 ("Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver a speech at the Heritage Foundation that reiterates why making President Obama a one-term president is the GOP’s top priority.").

Although the National Journal article containing the initial interview with McConnell does not appear to be available to the public on the magazine's Web site, the quote has been widely reported -- including in subsequent National Journal articles. Matthew Cooper, "Kaine, Axelrod Fire Back After McConnell's NJ Comments," National Journal, October 26, 2010 ("My colleague, Major Garrett, made news with his interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which the Kentuckian said that making Obama a one-term president was his highest priority. Now Democrats are firing back. DNC Chairman Tim Kaine has issued a statement saying: '. . . the very man who set his Republican colleagues on a course of politically motivated obstruction even before the President was sworn into office -- is promising two more years of politics as usual . . ..'"); see also the related, Major Garrett, "After the Wave; Mitch McConnell wants to learn from history, but his new recruits will not be easily led," National Journal, October 23, 2010; Peter Baker, "Obama Forces Showdown With G.O.P. on Arms Pact," New York Times, November 19, 2010, p. A12 ("Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has said his top priority is to deny Mr. Obama a second term.").

Nor is the mission limited to this one Republican leader. The campaign of one of the Republicans' leading presidential candidates, Congresswoman Michelle Backman, has declared "Rep. Bachmann looks forward to working with the Governor [of Alaska, Sarah Palin] for the common goal of making sure President Obama is a one-term President." Elspeth Reeve, "Palin Rivalry Becomes Bachmann Campaign Strategy," National Journal, June 10, 2011.

Now I do not question the right of what the British call "the loyal opposition" to disagree with whomever happens to be the President of the United States regarding particular legislative and other proposals and programs -- including wars. That's politics, that's democracy, that's governing.

But when the opposition, the party that does not control the White House, declares that "the single most important thing we want to achieve" is for the President's administration to fail, for him to be a one-term president, this risks crossing the line from politics as usual into potentially treasonous territory. When one's "most important" goal is to cause someone to fail, however unseemly if focused on any fellow human, but that someone happens to be the President of the United States, it is in effect a goal to bring on the failure of the United States itself -- as we have seen during the last couple of weeks with regard to the debt ceiling. Not incidentally, President Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times, and President George Bush seven times, with very little if any hoopla from Democrats.

At a minimum, the Republicans' acknowledgement of their "most important thing" calls into question every statement made by the Republican leadership, every legislative proposal, every vote they call for, every filibuster they threaten, every meeting they walk out of, and every charge they level at President Obama. Is it driven by the substance involved, or is it just another tactic in their strategy of presidential failure?

Am I charging some Republicans with a literal violation of our prohibitions of "treason"? No, of course not. Why "of course"? Because Article III, Section 3, of our Constitution was deliberately drafted to define "treason" much more narrowly than its dictionary definition. The Constitution declares that "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." From inside the White House, the Republicans' shelling may sound and feel like "war," but it's not what the Constitution's drafters had in mind.

No, I am speaking of "treason" in its more general dictionary usage:

"1. the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Synonyms 1. Treason, sedition mean disloyalty or treachery to one's country or its government. Treason is any attempt to overthrow the government or impair the well-being of a state to which one owes allegiance; the crime of giving aid or comfort to the enemies of one's government. Sedition is any act, writing, speech, etc., directed unlawfully against state authority, the government, or constitution, or calculated to bring it into contempt or to incite others to hostility, ill will or disaffection; it does not amount to treason and therefore is not a capital offense."

At the outset, there is something troubling about candidates for federal office running against "government" -- as Grover Norquist puts it, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." [Photo credit:]

I certainly support efforts to review government expenditures -- as I did as U.S. Maritime Administrator. Let us challenge what we're spending through the Defense Department (given that there have been retired admirals and generals who say more defense budget cuts could actually improve our national security), earmarks, the shockingly low tax rates for America's wealthiest 1% (who have more wealth than the bottom 90%), hidden corporate tax breaks and subsidies, and so forth.

But to refuse to provide a clean increase in the debt ceiling, as we've routinely done dozens of times before, to insist on cutting food, medical and other benefits for the poor, to refuse to ask for a dime's worth of increased revenue from the wealthy, and to be willing to bring down the global economy and the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in over 200 years -- all in the cause of defeating an incumbent president -- does qualify, it seems to me, under the dictionary (though not the constitutional) definition of treason.

Why? Consider:

It is "acting to . . . harm . . . its sovereign [the president]," "a violation of allegiance," "the betrayal of a trust" [to "uphold the Constitution," to serve the American people and "the public interest"], "disloyalty to one's . . . government," an "attempt to . . . impair the well-being of a state," and it has certainly involved "speech . . . calculated to bring [the government and its president] into contempt or to incite others to hostility, ill will or disaffection." Indeed, that would seem to be the laser focus of the drumbeat of attack provided by the Republicans' television and radio propaganda arms (Fox "News," Rush Limbaugh, et al).

Hopefully, the American people will reflect on the Republicans' behavior this past two and one-half years, and we'll be rid of the lot by November of 2012. But given the number of voters who are seemingly willing to give higher priority to "social issues" over even their own best economic interests, the outcome remains to be seen.

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RubyBluebird said...

Hi Nick, I don't know if you remember me but we met in IC some time ago when I was working with Holly Hart and the Green Party. I liked your blog entry for today so much, July 30, 2011, on treason, that I went ahead and sent it to the President. I have been emailing them very encouraging posts that I see because clearly he is in the battle of his life against creeps. I hope and pray the Republicans will give themselves enough rope to hang them all for the next election.
Take care. Susan Norman in Cedar Rapids aka

Me said...

Where's the "like" button? I need to hit it repeatedly.

elseesea said...

Keep up the good work, Mr. Johnson.

-Former student.

Alex Lavidge said...

I'm curious as to why there's so much anger towards Obama from the Republican right?

An idea I've been playing around with lately has been the redefinition of "national security." More than just a stronger military presence, a broader definition needs to include: education, renewable energy, a vibrant economy, and freedom from debt. Even the definition of "patriot" needs to be discussed in the public sphere at some point?

Given these new inclusive ways of looking at national security, then yes, perhaps it could be considered a form of treason to try to suppress efforts that seek to make progress on a broad range of goals in the public interest?

Nick said...

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