July 1, 2003

Traitors' Grate

This just in from Declan McCullagh's invaluable Politechbot: a thoughtful and unbiased examination of the fashion of calling this person or that person or some organization a "traitor" guilty of "treason." In it Jamie McCarthy has done a yeoman's job of bringing us up to date on this trend. Informative, but it seems to have an aura of "continuing crisis in civil liberties" underneath it all that I just can't share.

Granted Mc Carthy has done some very worthwhile searching on this issue of treason and I read his citations of blather from the right and the left with interest. Still, I found myself retroactively immune to either alarm or despair.

While I understand that the flinging about of "traitor" and "treason" is a phenomenon more closely associated with the last two years than immediately before, it all in the end strikes me as merely much of a mushiness. Indeed, those who bemoan the treason epidemic seem to be in the same category as those who tout the daily suppression of their free speech - in front of a raft of various media only too ready to lay their plaints before as many of our 300 million fellow citizens who care to listen. Tim Robbins shameless and endless bleatings in front of the National Press Club a few months back come to mind as a sterling example of the unsupressed victim of speech suppression.

In the case of "Treason" as in the case of "Free Speech," I am always left wondering how so many can concatenate the actions of the citizens of the United States with the powers reserved to the Government of the United States.

It seems to me that I can, or you can, or any person can call another a traitor, or say that his or her behavior is treasonous, at any time and on any pretext. At most the speaker risks a suit for libel or slander from his target. Thus it would seem that it is the accuser that is much more at risk here than the accused. The accuser, in this case Anne Coulter, is not - at least as far as I am aware - a lawfully empowered agent of the Federal Government. She is as free to call any individual or group a traitor as, say, James Carville would be to call Coulter a "whacked out bimbo with the political morals of a ferret and an inexplicable attraction to unbald Republicans." Not that such a southern gentleman as Carville would ever utter such a sentiment.

In like manner, those who carp about the suppression of their speech through the criticism of their fellow citizens always make me wonder what part of "Congress shall make no law..." they fail to comprehend.

As a citizen, it seems to me that I am perfectly at liberty to say:

"Declan McCullagh is an American set upon the destruction of this country by consistently filing reports that do not make it comfortable for the powers that be, and for failing to toe the Washington Establishment line in exchange for lots of free lunches with lobbyists. Because of this his web site should be shut down and he should be imprisoned for a very long time in a very small room with a television that only receives Fox News."
I can call for this daily until the sun falls from the sky, and it doesn't seem to me there's much that can be done to stop it. My speech certainly can't suppress Declan's. It may or may not stimulate agreement, but it can't operate like a restraining order or custom-fitted ball gag.

Hence I don't see from what source all the anxiety springs concerning treason and the suppression of speech. As long as these charges arise from individual or organizations with no formal ties to the government, anxiety would seem to be mere paranoia unless it helps raise money from those who are easily startled.

Should the government actively see to put someone on trial for treason, I think they would probably need more than Anne Coulter's observations and assertions. Indeed, the requirements for such a charge are spelled out in some detail in the Constitution, but I won't rehearse them here.

Likewise, should the government attempt to formally shut down Politechbot in response to something transmitted on it, it had better be something akin to childporn or a secret terrorist message embedded deep within that jpeg of Phil Zimmermann on the home page (How very clever would that be?) to avoid a firestorm of protest and the launching of 30 Habeas Corpus packing ACLU lawyers from their underground silos in San Francisco.

Yes, I know, I know about the dreaded Ashcroft, that Eldritch Horror, but I've still to get a real case of Ashcroftitus raising a rash on my brain. In so many places and at so many times, the man has shown himself to be a mere gasbag. A dangerous one to be sure, but it really isn't in what he says, it is in what he can do that counts. And if we compare his pronouncements with his actions we'll see that the former far exceed the latter. Does this mean I favor the evil Patriot Act? Heaven forfend, but that's headed for the Supreme Court with a JATO booster so we shall see what we shall see.

Does Anne Coulter command the Justice Department or the National Guard? Does Bill O'Reilly have the power to shut down the presses of the New York Times? I know it is fun to get all hot and bothered by these professional blatherers, but until such time as they meld into the Government, it might be best for every one to take a deep breath and say, with Glinda the Good Witch: "You have no power here. Begone, before somebody drops a house on you."

Posted by Vanderleun at July 1, 2003 6:56 PM
Bookmark and Share