Michael Gaynor
September 6, 2006
Not ALL your critics are patriotic, Mr. President!
By Michael Gaynor

"America is not what's wrong with the world. The struggle we are in is too important to have the luxury of returning to that old mentality of 'Blame America First.'" So said President Bush's Secretary of Defense. Donald Rumsfeld. No wonder Democrats want him to resign.

Dissent: difference of opinion.

Decent: conforming to standards of propriety, good taste or morality.

Dissent should be decent, and the decency standard is higher during wartime.

Thomas Jefferson DID NOT say: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." That's a myth spread by leftists like Alan Colmes.

Howard Zinn crafted that silly slogan in an attempt to give respectability to the unrespectable: opposition to the War on Terror.

Thomas Jefferson DID say: ""The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then."

Note that qualification: "on certain occasions."

Jefferson appreciated some dissent, but did not excuse aiding and abetting the enemy and treason.

In 1807, Jefferson had Aaron Burr arrested and tried for treason. (Burr was acquitted.) He did not think that Burr had been engaged in "the highest form of patriotism."

Jefferson's bill for proportioning crimes and punishments, written in 1778 (Papers 2:492-504), stated in part:

"If a man do levy war against the Commonwealth or be adherent to the enemies of the commonwealth giving to them aid or comfort in the commonwealth, or elsewhere, and thereof be convicted of open deed, by the evidence of two sufficient witnesses, or his own voluntary confession, the said cases, and no others, shall be adjudged treasons which extend to the commonwealth, and the person so convicted shall suffer death by hanging, and shall forfeit his lands and goods to the Commonwealth."

"Whenever sentence of death shall have been pronounced against any person for treason or murder, execution shall be done on the next day but one after such sentence, unless it be Sunday, and then on the Monday following."

Aiding and abetting the enemy was not Jefferson's idea of patriotism. He would not have applauded The New York Times for disclosing the terrorist surveillance program or the monitoring of international banking transactions, key tools in the War on Terrorism that have kept the American homeland safe.

Sharon Basco, Tom Paine.com's executive producer, interviewed Mr. Zinn.

Zinn's position: "While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we're exercising that right to dissent, it's a patriotic act."

But shouting fire in a crowded theater is not a patriotic exercise of the right to free speech. Not every form of dissent is patriotic.

Mr. Zinn helpfully pointed out that during war the parameters of permissible dissent narrow, whether the President is a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican: "I mean Lincoln suppressed dissent during the Civil War. In World War I, Woodrow Wilson (who was a liberal, a Democrat; I mean, just to show that dissent is not limited to conservative Republicans like Bush). But Wilson, a liberal Democrat, passed legislation just as Bush has passed legislation, the Patriot Act; and in Wilson's time, the Espionage and Sedition Act, which sent 1,000 people to jail. And it was under Wilson that they rounded up thousands of non-citizens and sent them out of the country without due process. I mean, civil liberties were really smashed under Wilson."

The Constitution is not a suicide pact. The Fourth Amendment bars only unreasonable searches and seizures.

Unfortunately, these days President Bush seems to be saying that ALL his domestic critics, although wrong, are patriotic.

That is much two sweeping a generalization. Many of those critics are patriotic, of course. But NOT ALL!

Some want war to be continuously successful, bloodless, swift, inexpensive and mistake-free. It is not. Iraq proved to be the "long, hard slough" Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld warned it would be. NOT because deposing Saddam Hussein was especially difficult. Because Iraq became the central front in the War on Terror and democratizing Iraq is difficult. Still, all things considered, it's much better for America to be doing good work in Iraq than to be the central front in the War on Terror. (Al Qaeda attacked America in America BEFORE America liberated Iraq from the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein, who terrorized his own people, financed homicide bombers who attacked Israel, and pursued weapons of mass destruction (albeit not as effectively as he wanted, especially thanks to Israel in the 1980's, the first President Bush in the 1990's and the second President Bush in the 2000's).

Addressing the American Legion National Convention, Secretary Rumsfeld braved the massive mainstream media misinformation campaign to put the situation in Iraq in context:

"The extremists themselves have called Iraq the 'epicenter' in the War on Terror. They mean it. And our troops know how important completing the mission is.

"A Soldier who recently volunteered for a second tour in Iraq, likely captured the feelings of many of his peers. In an e-mail to friends he wrote:

'I ask that you never take advantage of the liberties guaranteed by the shedding of free blood, never take for granted the freedoms granted by our Constitution. For those liberties would be merely ink on paper were it not for the sacrifice of generations of Americans who heard the call of duty and responded heart, mind and soul with "Yes, I will.'"

Political opportunists will continue to "take advantage," of course, but they should be branded as what they are instead of treated as patriotic.

Secretary Rumsfeld continued:

"Someday that young man may be a member of the American Legion, attending a convention such as this. I hope he will be. And one day, a future speaker may reflect back on this time of historic choice remembering the questions raised as to our country's courage, dedication, and willingness to continue this fight until we have prevailed.

"I believe the question is not whether we can win. It is whether we have the will to persevere."

It will be easier to persevere if there is no pretense that ALL critics are patriots. The wheat must be separated from the chaff. Telling the ignorant and the confused that the President's most vociferous domestic critics are great patriots instead of dangerous political opportunists reinforces ignorance and exacerbates instead of dispels the confusion.

As Secretary Rumsfeld explained:

"We find ourselves in a strange time:

  • When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib who was punished for misconduct, than mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror;

  • When a senior editor at Newsweek disparagingly refers to the brave volunteers in our Armed Forces as a 'mercenary army';

  • When the former head of CNN accuses the American military of deliberately targeting journalists and the former CNN Baghdad bureau chief admits he concealed reports of Saddam Hussein's crimes when he was in power so CNN could stay in Iraq; and

  • It is a time when Amnesty International disgracefully refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay, which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare, as 'the gulag of our times.'

"Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths, and lies, and distortions being told about our troops and our country."

Mr. President, it behooves YOU to heed the sage advice of Secretary Rumseld: "[S]peak out against these kinds of myths, and lies, and distortions being told about our troops and our country."

Let America know that your critics who charge that you deliberately lied to the American people are not patriots, but the deliberate liars. Not well-meaning patriots.

Let America know that it was despicable for Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to crow that Democrats had killed The Patriot Act.

Let America know that the United States Supreme Court Justices who ruled that the Geneva Conventions protect terrorists were wrong.

Let America know that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision to stop the terrorist surveillance program (fortunately stayed) was deplorable, not within the bounds of respectable jurisprudence.

Let America know that you and your Administration did not jeopardize Clinton ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife by "outing" her as a CIA operative in order to intimate your critics.

Mr. President, Chris Matthews plays "Hardball" five nights a week and throws bean balls at you regularly.

Much of the mainstream media does the same,

Joseph Goebbels was right about the effect of repeating a big lie often enough: people come to believe it. Leftist Democrats who whine about being aptly compared to pre-World War II appeasers seemed to have learned THAT much.

Mr. President, Election Day 2006 will be here soon.

For America, Election Day 2006 will be high noon.

Please confront your critics daily instead of swoon,

And stop singing that silly "they're all patriots" tune.

© Michael Gaynor

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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