In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, Congressman Marty Meehan (D- MA) discovered the price of telling the truth. "I don't buy the notion Air Force One was a target. That's just PR. That's just spin," he said, of the White House's official reason for the president's zigzag across the country.
Though hardly treasonous, the Congressman's remarks became a vitriol-battered bone for right-wing pundits -- and death threats ensued. Meehan was vindicated, however, because even though Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer insisted that Air Force One had been targeted by terrorists, by the following week, CBS News was reporting that the story was simply a "misunderstanding" and the Associated Press admitted that "administration officials said they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening the president's plane, Air Force One."
Though this was ominous enough, by the time Fleischer made his infamous remark that "Americans ... need to watch what they say, watch what they do," the era of patriotic correctness had arrived.
Like false piety, patriotic correctness is based partly on Oscar Wilde's definitive "virtue of the vicious" and on Ezra Pound's equation of patriotism with "old men's lies." Those who truly love American ideals cherish the Bill of Rights and defend the First Amendment, even when vehemently opposed to ideas being expressed. These days, however, there is a growing coalition of zealots who openly wish to deny American citizens their First Amendment guarantees -- and are advocating extreme measures to stifle dissent. Michael Savage, for example, is calling for dissidents to be jailed, while Ann Coulter, currently penning a book called Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism has said, "We need to execute people like John Walker, in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors."
Most goose-stepping pundits have targeted the "loony left" for decades. The battlefield has widened, however, with the addition of a new and equally disturbing front. In an article entitled "Unpatriotic Conservatives: A War Against America," former Bush "axis of evil" speechwriter David Frum has tagged Pat Buchanan, Eric Margolis, Bob Novak, Charley Reese and other conservatives with the new scarlet A, the dreaded "anti-American" label. What this means, of course is that the definition of acceptable opinion is narrowing even further -- by the decree of writers whose skills Joseph Goebbels might envy.
Yes, Frum, whose personal ethics enabled him to write a speech specifically designed to "to provide a justification for a war," has no qualms making a list of those who are simply not patriotic enough -- and then charging them with crimes against Mom and apple pie. Targeting "leading figures in the anti-war movement [who] call themselves 'conservatives'" but "deny and excuse terror," and "explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies," Frum speculates on conservatives' darker daydreams. "[T]hey are thinking about defeat, and wishing for it and they will take pleasure in it if it should happen," he writes. "They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country."
Frum seems to be making two mind-boggling assertions here. One, that traditional conservatives (or paleoconservatives, as he calls them) all share the same basic beliefs and that neoconservatives, the GOP and the president somehow represent what America stands for -- despite ample evidence that, if they were alive today, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and other luminaries would be disheartened by those attempting to restrict debate and dictate proper American attitudes. (It is acceptable, in Frum's world, to argue over which country to invade next, but questioning whether America has the right to preventively strike other nations appears to be, in his view, "denying terrorism" and rooting for America's enemies).
Frum fails to understand that there is a spectrum of ethics and morality greater than his own. His assault, described by author Gene Callahan as "one of the most pathetic pieces of writing ever to appear in National Review, composed almost entirely of illogic and ad hominem attacks" is so indecent and over-the-top that Bob Novak was forced to break a 40 year tradition of not divulging "personal controversies" and defend himself. A Korean War Army officer "who has always supported our troops and prayed for their success during many wars," Novak says Frum's "calumnious" attack represents a deeper and troubling agenda. "Frum," Novak writes, "represents a body of conservative opinion that wants to delegitimize criticism. . . . . "
Responding to Frum's shameless charges that paleoconservatives hate America and are buoyed by anti-Semitic and white supremacist underpinnings, an indignant Novak points to Frum's inability to back his assertions, other than citing one Novak column predicting the CIA would not find Osama bin Laden, and three others "criticizing an overly close identification of U.S. policy with Israel (especially the Ariel Sharon government)." Novak also reads between Frum's lines. "Implicitly," he writes, Frum is saying that this is "unacceptable criticism from a conservative."
Indeed, that is what Frum seems to be implying. At a glance, Charley Reese and Pat Buchanan's recent columns are seeped in traditional conservative thought, but certainly not anti-Americanism. Reese, for example, rails against war profiteering and unscrupulous politicians and giving U.S. tax dollars to other countries while plagued by problems of our own. And Buchanan writes that "patriotism commands that when American soldiers face death in the battle, the American people unite behind them." Neither writer seems to be rooting for defeat or siding with our enemies, and quite frankly, the only common links readily evident are that a) both writers express concern and respect for American troops and b) both are critical of Israel. If this is anti-American thought, Frum's list is certain to grow sizably larger.
Of course, David Frum isn't the only one making such lists. In a Nov. 2002 article entitled "Profs Who Hate America," Daniel Pipes insinuates that some college professors are guilty of high treason. "Visit an American university," he says "and you'll often enter a topsy-turvy world in which professors consider the United States (not Iraq) the problem and oil (not nukes) the issue." Pipes fails to mention, however, that much of the world sees things this way, too, which is especially clear now that the nuclear evidence the Bush team was relying on has been proven to have been based on fabrication and forgery.
"What is the long-term effect of an extremist, intolerant and anti-American environment on university students?" Pipes asks, before declaring that "The time has come for adult supervision of the faculty and administrators at many American campuses. Especially as we are at war, the goal must be for universities to resume their civic responsibilities."
Pipe's patriotically-correct pipedream has morphed into an intimidating web site, (http://www.campus-watch.org) that singles out Middle Eastern Studies professors for skewing lessons in ways that Pipes finds unacceptable. Ironically, Pipes has been listed on a website called "Hate Watchers: Fighting Hatred, Bigotry and Extremism for a safer world" and has the distinction of being "only the second individual to fit all of the criteria required to qualify as a Hate Watchers Hater."
Lastly, the American Council of Trustee's post-911 report, "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It" is significant, not only because it rounds out the Axis of Patriotic Correctness, but because Lynne Cheney is one of the council's founding members. Containing a controversial list of 117 anti-American statements by patriotically-incorrect citizens, the report targets Rev. Jesse Jackson for suggesting that the U.S. "build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls," Stanford's Joel Beinin for saying that Osama bin Laden should be brought "before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity" and Wasima Alikhan for saying that, "Ignorance breeds hate."
"'The simple exercise of the First Amendment, of saying that we should be able to criticize our government, is enough to put you on Lynne Cheney's list," Howard Zinn wrote, reminding us of the ominous cloud on the horizon. And now that war is underway, and Gary Hart is warning that "Code Red" is approaching, Fleischer's "watch what you say, watch what you do" mantra is guaranteed to be fortified by neoconservative thugs and government officials alike.
"I came to America because of the great, great freedom which I heard existed in this country," Albert Einstein wrote (right about the time the FBI file was investigating his Communist connections http://foia.fbi.gov/einstein.htm). "I made a mistake in selecting America as a land of freedom, a mistake I cannot repair in the balance of my lifetime."
Anyone who loves this country can't help feel pained by Einstein's words -- especially since they ring with a greater truth and urgency than they have since the days of McCarthyism. Given that the clamps are coming down once again, (The U.S. has even asked Canada's "to muzzle anti-U.S. sentiment"), it's important to remember what others fought for.
"[T]he idea that we would go into any other nation, whether it's Canada or Mexico or Honduras or France or Iraq or China and say, 'We don't like your government; we think it's somehow threatening to our way of life, or our international interest; we therefore are going to topple a regime and either allow, in the chaos that follows, somebody to emerge as the new leadership, or we're going to install a pro-American leadership. . .', that idea would be absolutely appalling to Thomas Jefferson," humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson asserts.
Frum, Pipes, Cheney and other advocates of patriotic correctness don't want you to know this, however, because then it would become all to clear that the ideas and policies they're espousing aren't American at all. And that those they accuse of "anti-Americanism" are often the finest patriots.