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Thomas Jefferson's Love of Dissent.--

Mark Steyn has been tracking down a quotation widely misattributed to Thomas Jefferson: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." (Tip to Betsy and Tim Blair)

From my research on Lexis and Westlaw, it appears that Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and ACLU head Nadine Strossen are quoting views on dissent, not of Jefferson, but of Dorothy Hewitt Hutchinson, a dissenter and strict pacifist who opposed World War II as immoral, but who made a point of ignoring dissent when it was directed toward herself. To her critics and those who dissented from her views, Hutchinson's response was not to "budge one inch."

Here is Steyn in the Chicago Sun-Times on those who are misquoting Jefferson:

John Kerry announced this week's John Kerry Iraq Policy of the Week the other day:

"Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to deal with these intransigent issues and at last put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military."

With a sulky pout perhaps? With hands on hips and a full flip of the hair?

Did he get that from Churchill? "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, at least until May 15, when I have a windsurfing engagement off Nantucket."

Actually, no. He got it from Thomas Jefferson. "This is not the first time in American history when patriotism has been distorted to deflect criticism and mislead the nation," warned Sen. Kerry, placing his courage in the broader historical context. "No wonder Thomas Jefferson himself said: 'Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism.' "

Close enough. According to the Jefferson Library:

"There are a number of quotes that we do not find in Thomas Jefferson's correspondence or other writings; in such cases, Jefferson should not be cited as the source. Among the most common of these spurious Jefferson quotes are: 'Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.' " . . .

It was the Aussie pundit Tim Blair who noted the Thomas Jeffefakery. American commentators were apparently too busy cooing that "Kerry may be reflecting a new boldness on the part of liberals to come out and say what they believe and to reclaim the moral high ground on patriotism" (CBS News) to complain that KERRY LIED!! SCHOLARLY ATTRIBUTION DIED!!! Instead, KERRY MISQUOTED!! MEDIA DOTED!!!

Indeed, America's hardboiled newsmen can't get enough of the Thomas Jefferbunk. The Berkshire Eagle used it as the headline for last year's Fourth of July editorial. Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press thundered:

"We need to stop slicing this country in half, and saying those who support this act or this politician are 'good' Americans, and the rest are not. Sometimes 'dissent is the highest form of patriotism.' I didn't make that up. Thomas Jefferson did."

Er, no. You made up that he made it up. But former Georgia state Rep. Mike Snow uses it, and Miranda Yaver of Berkeley wore it on a button to the big anti-war demo in Washington last year, and Ted Kennedy deployed it as the stirring finale to his anti-Bush speech:

"It is not unpatriotic to tell the truth to the American people about the war in Iraq. In this grave moment of our country, to use the words of Thomas Jefferson, 'Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.' . . . "

As far as I can tell, it was Nadine Strosser [sic], the ACLU's head honcho, who cooked up the Jefferson fake. At any rate, she seems to be the only one who ever deployed it pre-9/11.

I researched Lexis and Westlaw and found that Nadine Strossen used the fake Jefferson quote several times in the 1990s on Fox News and CNN. The earliest attribution to Jefferson that I found is a June 2, 1991 Boston Globe interview with Strossen:

Q. Shortly after your election as president you told The New York Times you wanted to emphasize the "American" in American Civil Liberties Union. Can you elaborate on that?

A. I think that the ACLU really got a bum rap, in particular from George Bush, during the last presidential campaign when he was able to associate the ACLU in people's mind, first with the "L" word - and I think that's an unfair label, because it is an organization that is not ideological, that is not partisan, that doesn't have a liberal or conservative agenda, but a neutral civil-liberties agenda. But even more, I think there was a suggestion that it's somehow unpatriotic not only to be an ACLU member; Bush went even further and suggested there's something inherently unpatriotic about free speech. That we're in favor of flag-burning, and therefore must be anti-American. And I do think that what Thomas Jefferson said is true, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." I don't even think what we do is dissent. We are defending the core rights on which our country was founded. I think that could equally well be described as a conservative foundation, and certainly as a very patirotic foundation for an organization. So that is the bottom-line message I would really like to have come across.

To read about who might have originated the words misattributed to Jefferson, click to

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Kerry on Jefferson on Dissent.--
  2. Thomas Jefferson's Love of Dissent.--
steve k:
To me the interesting question is: Is it possible to make an anti-patriotic statement? What would it be?
5.2.2006 5:41am
Perseus:
What an odd notion of patriotism. Dissent may be consistent with patriotism, but only in the Republic of Letters could dissent be regarded as the highest form of patriotism.
5.2.2006 5:58am
Dave G:
The thing that always got me about that quote was that even if dissent qua dissent is to be valued, that doesn't mean that the content of any particular dissent isn't misguided, stupid, or just plain evil. David Duke dissents all the time, after all, as do the various Stalinist/Maoist/Trotskyite neer-do-wells you can find in your nearest radical bookstore. Those who use that quote are usually palming a card, as commonly their patriotism isn't being questioned because of the fact that they dissent, but because of the content of their dissent.
5.2.2006 6:05am
Smithy (mail) (www):
Dissent is one thing but the left's attempts to bring down the president while the nation is at war are not principled dissent. They are the treasonous actions of those who place party before nation. I don't think Thomas Jefferson would have thought too highly of Howard Dean, Ward Churchill, and Cindy Sheehan.
5.2.2006 7:23am
Medis:
So what about these quotes attributed to Jefferson?

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

And particularly this:

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive."

That last almost sounds like the misattributed quote.

I think that is why this misattribution has proved sticky--even if Jefferson didn't say it, it certainly sounds like something he could have said.
5.2.2006 8:41am
Medis:
Jefferson on the subject of war:

"I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind."

"Nations of eternal war [expend] all their energies... in the destruction of the labor, property, and lives of their people."

"The most successful war seldom pays for its losses."

"War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses."

"Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government."

Of course, Jefferson was not quite a pacifist:

"It is our duty still to endeavor to avoid war; but if it shall actually take place, no matter by whom brought on, we must defend ourselves. If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it."

But elective wars? Not really his thing.
5.2.2006 8:48am
Wilbur Larch (mail) (www):
I agree with Steyn in the sense that dissent for its own sake is useless and unpatriotic. As a Fulbright Alumnus I like Senator Fulbright's understanding of patriotism. He described criticism as a compliment and a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation.
5.2.2006 8:50am
Medis:
Dave G,

I don't think the sentiment expressed by Smithy is entirely uncommon. The basic idea seems to be that tough criticisms of the President during times of war is indeed per se "treasonous".
5.2.2006 8:52am
Jared_:
Medis:

The latter quote (which you refer to as similar to the mis-attributed line) is from a letter to Abigail Adams, and I believe the previous two are legitimate, but I have serious doubts about the first, as it sounds remarkably like a spurious quote often attributed to Edmund Burke. An admittedly brief search yields a number of instances of the quote as attributed to Jefferson, but no sourcing. I am quite open to correction on this point, but I suspect that it is spurious as well.

Also, I'm not convinced that what Jefferson really said ("The spirit of resistance to government..") is that similar to the claim that "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism," nor that those who employ the latter would readily embrace the term "resistance to government" for their cause.
5.2.2006 8:55am
PersonFromPorlock:
Is it possible to make an anti-patriotic statement? What would it be?

"Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels." ~ Samuel Johnson.

But note that what Johnson meant by "patriotism" is what we'd call 'jingoism'.
5.2.2006 9:00am
Medis:
Jared,

I got all of those from brainyquotes, and I have no independent confirmation that they are correctly attributed. But my basic point was that the sentiment in the misattributed quote really is something I could imagine Jefferson expressing.

Incidentally, it seems fruitless to me to argue about degrees of similarity. Personally, I think the relevant expressions are similar because they express the notion that opposition to government (whether called "dissent" or "resistance"--I'm not sure what you think is important about that difference) can be highly valuable. And I take it that is usually the point that people are trying to make when they invoke the misattributed quote--they are trying to say that they believe that their dissent provides a valuable service to their country, does not constitute an attempt to undermine their country.
5.2.2006 9:22am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Uhh who cares?

Political discourse is hardly scholarly research and it's a good sentiment even if jefferson didn't say it. In fact this whole idea that it matters that a founding father said something is just whooy. I mean no one takes the quotes about the dangers of direct popular elections or rule by the masses seriously despite the fact that the founders said them (though in this case I think they should).

Also was the bit about how Hutchinson didn't budge when someone disagreed with her supposed to be an accusation of hypocripsy or something. I just don't see the relevance of this point unless you just want to show she is strong willed. I mean she didn't say the highest form of patriotism is being convinced by dissent and since she is hardly issueing a recieved view disagreeing with her doesn't cound as dissent in the sense used here.

To answer an earlier poster, yes it is possible to make an anti-patriotic statement. Try something bigoted and ill-reasoned that disses liberty and freedom and demands for short sighted emotional reasons that we take away free speech and the right to a jury trial.

Obviously no one believes ALL dissent is patriotic. It isn't patriotic to just stubbornly insist that a meter is exactly 2 feet even though that is a dissent. Presumably what they mean is something like questioning or raising thoughtful objections is patriotic not simply being a disagreeable ass.
5.2.2006 9:23am
Lawrence F (mail) (www):
In response to logicnazi, about "who cares?" I'll bet a whole bunch of people at the University of Virginia care. I have a lot of friends there at law school and undergrad. The whole town of Charlottesville is obsessed with TJ. It's hard to blame them; I mean, the man did start UVa. I believe this quote is actually on a building or two. Quite funny, if you ask me.
5.2.2006 9:31am
rickb (mail):
This line about the pacifist is repeated twice in this post:


Thus, it appears that these misguided politicians are quoting, not Jefferson, but Dorothy Hewitt Hutchinson, a strict pacifist who opposed World War II as immoral and who ignored dissent when it was directed toward herself and her ideas.


I don't understand the last part. Does someone who believes in the value of dissent also have to change their views when someone dissents from their dissent? That doesn't make any sense.
5.2.2006 10:00am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
What I think is going to be interesting is how high this makes it on the right side of the blogosphere. I am just waiting until someone like Ann Coulter responds to the quote that, no, it doesn't come from Jefferson, but rather, Nadine Strosser of the ACLU, in one of those talking heads discussion on TV.

Of course, it all depends on context, the "conservative" pundit being first prepared, secondly, be confronted by the misquote, and third, being quick and articulate enough to use it. So, it will be interesting to see how long it takes until someone who uses it is confronted by the fact that instead of quoting one of the greatest presidents of this country, they are instead quoting a president of the ACLU.
5.2.2006 10:10am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Another reason that it will be interesting is that a lot of those opposing the war right now are using this as cover. After all, how can we attack them, if it came from Jefferson? But if it came from the ACLU, and before that, a committed pacifist, then maybe it isn't quite as honorable. Just a thought.
5.2.2006 10:13am
Felix:
What a crude and sniggering piece of invective Mark Steyn's column is. "Sulky pout?" "A full flip of the hair?" I take it he's trying to call Kerry a queer, though for some reason he won't come right out and say it. Is Steyn thirteen years old?

And -- like Logicnazi and rickb -- I have no idea what Prof. Lindgren means by suggesting that it is hypocritical to support the freedom to dissent against your government while still holding your own views as an individual strongly. Did Hutchinson call for the suppression of pro-war speech, or did she just not agree with it? Is it hypocritical to say that I disagree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it?

(Which is of course another catchy paraphrase that gets mistakenly attributed as a direct quotation; it's not an uncommon occurrence).

(See also "Emma Goldman's" line "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution," which apparently comes from a '70's T-shirt slogan inspired by her work, but which she definitely would've said if she'd thought of it.)
5.2.2006 10:14am
Dave G:
What a crude and sniggering piece of invective Mark Steyn's column is. "Sulky pout?" "A full flip of the hair?" I take it he's trying to call Kerry a queer, though for some reason he won't come right out and say it.

I just took it to be saying that Kerry is a vain, self-absorbed, and overly dramatic. Based on the last campaign and his previous history, that doesn't strike me as being too much of a stretch.
5.2.2006 10:22am
David Matthews (mail):
Medis:

"But elective wars? Not really his thing."

Depends on how you count his war on the natives.

"To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.... Should any tribe be fool-hardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation."

(from a letter to William Henry Harrison, February 27, 1803)
5.2.2006 10:24am
Rational Actor (mail):
Without question, this proves that Kerry is unfit for the presidency!

And to all of you Leftists dragging out real quotes from Thomas Jefferson to support your treasonous, unpatriotic views, I remind you that Thomas Jefferson lived in a pre-9/11 world, and 9/11 changed EVERYTHING.
5.2.2006 10:24am
Dave G:

I don't think the sentiment expressed by Smithy is entirely uncommon. The basic idea seems to be that tough criticisms of the President during times of war is indeed per se "treasonous".

I'm not going to put words in Smithy's mouth, but I read his comment as saying that putting partisan point-scoring ahead of national security was 'treasonous', not partisan point-scoring per se. While treasonous is not a word I would use in that context, I don't have any real problem calling such behaviour unpatriotic.
5.2.2006 10:28am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think from my last post, that one of the reasons that it is important that this is a misquote is that it is being used as cover for attacking the conduct of the war in its midst. Arguably, those like Kerry, who appear to be giving aid and comfort to our enemy are wrapping themselves in this flag, and it is turning out to be like the emperor's new clothes.

I don't want dissent to end, because it does have its place. But Kerry's suggestion that we cut and run if the Iraqis don't have their act together in, now, two weeks, I think is going too far, esp. given that he just lost the presidential race 1 1/2 years ago. I think he goes too far, if for no other reason than some of our enemies see that waiting out President Bush's second term is a viable strategy. One who has articulated this is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. The question is whether it is shared by al Qaeda leaders, notably OBL, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab Zarqawi, and I think that there is some evidence that they do get access to CNN and plan their strategy accordingly. In other words, part of the risk of accepting this sort of criticism as legitimate is that our enemies will believe from it that all they need to do to succeed is to wait Bush out until he is replaced, in the natural order of things, with someone else. And, in the end, that most likely means more American lives lost.
5.2.2006 10:28am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The problem with calling this an elective war is that most of our wars have been to some extent elective. Off the top of my head, I wouldn't consider the War of 1812, the Civil War, and WWII elective. But as you can tell, there are some pretty big gaps left there for elective wars, and you could also argue that even in the case of WWII, there was a fair amount of election there. We had embargoed the Japanese after some of their conquests, and we were actively supplying the British across the Atlantic. To some real extent, we pushed those countries into either attacking us or declaring war against us.
5.2.2006 10:39am
Medis:
David M.,

Indeed, Jefferson had some (in my view) appalling notions when it came to what to do with the Native Americans who he perceived as standing in the way of growing the nation, although paradoxical, he often seemed to sentimentalize and sympathize with Native Americans.

But anyway, the quote you relate does not exactly describe an elective war, or conquest in the traditional sense. His preference was for a peaceful trade of land for goods, and for using military force only if a tribe first rose up. But as you note, he does suggest that in the event military force was needed, it would provide an opportunity to further his plan of eventually obtaining all land east of the Mississippi.
5.2.2006 10:41am
Cornellian (mail):
"It was the Aussie pundit Tim Blair who noted the Thomas Jeffefakery. "

How embarrassing. You'd think an American would have spotted it first. We have what, about 19 times their population?
5.2.2006 10:42am
Jerry Mimsy (www):
While I agree that this quote is likely spurious, I think it does Jefferson a disservice to argue against the quote and imply then that Jefferson did not support dissent for the sake of encouraging dissent. Jefferson supported leniency for armed rebels whose rebellion he disagreed with, "so as not to discourage" rebellion in the future. That's a fairly extreme form of dissent.

"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. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." That is from his letter to Abigail Adams of February 22, 1787; you can find it, for example, in "Voices of the American Past" on p. 62. He was speaking of the Shays' rebellion, and counseling leniency. He wrote at least three letters on the subject, all on the same basic theme that even bad rebellions are good rebellions, because we don't want to discourage rebellion.

His "storm in the atmosphere" is a farming analogy. He used it more fully in his letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787: "Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

See Question Boldly for excerpts from some of the others.
5.2.2006 10:46am
rickb (mail):
What's kinda funny is that in the middle of criticizing Kerry for misattribution, Steyn misattributes the quote to Nadine Strosser.

Steyn also shortened the Jefferson Library quote to make it appear they were responding directly to Kerry's "Dissent . . ." line. It's on their website. Also, one of the quotes listed in a comment above - the one on government fearing people - is also misattributed.
5.2.2006 10:47am
Smithy (mail) (www):
I am not criticizing all dissent during a time of war. Much of the criticism aimed at LBJ over at Vietnam or at Clinton over Bosnia was certainly warranted. And the fact that we're at war now doesn't mean that you can't disagree with the president about tax policy or gay marriage and not be a "good American". But what people like Ward Churchill, Russ Feingold, and Howard Dean are doing goes well beyond that. They want to destroy this president because they don't agree with him. Destroying a Commander-in-Chief for political reasons while the nation is at war is the very definition of treason.
5.2.2006 10:48am
David Matthews (mail):
Medis,

Jefferson's Native policy gave the natives precisely three options: 1) Assimilate 2) Move or 3) Die, and in any event, yield land.

The notion that if a tribe "picked up the hatchet" in response to wising up and noticing that "when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands," the U.S. response was in any sense "defensive" or even "un-elective" is, simply, hogwash.

I'm not sure what you mean by not being conquest in the traditional sense. Jefferson's policy was taken straight from the Roman conquests. Subjugate a few, make treaties with the others, lend them money at usurious rates, then confiscate their territory.
5.2.2006 10:53am
Medis:
Dave G,

The problem is that I don't see Smithy, and those like him, attempting to distinguish between honest criticisms of the President and "partisan point scoring". Rather, they simply assert that all criticisms of the President coming from "the Left" or "Democrats" are based on partisan sentiments.

And more generally, some also seem to be arguing that because we are at war, even honest criticisms may be unpatriotic. You don't seem to share that sentiment, but as I said, I don't think it is an uncommon notion.

Indeed, Bruce seems to be making an argument along those lines. Suppose someone actually believed that a quick withdrawal from Iraq was in the United States' best interests. According to Bruce, it would seem, advocating this position would still be "going too far" and not "legitimate," on the ground that it might encourage enemies of the United States to wait out President Bush's second term in the hopes of a change in policy.

As I understand it, Bruce's argument in no way depends on whether the advocate of this position actually believes what he or she is saying, or on whether the advocate honestly believes that adopting this position would be best for the United States. Rather, this is an argument to the effect that such advocates should shut up anyway, apparently because the President has made it clear he isn't going to listen to them, and therefore we should not imply to our enemies that the President's policies lack the full support of the American people.

By the way, Bruce, I agree that many US wars could be seen as elective. But do you think Jefferson would necessarily have supported war in all of those cases?
5.2.2006 10:56am
Anon7:
I will disagree with a previous poster in that the War of 1812 was highly elective and opposed by a substantial minority of Americans (and likely a majority of New Englanders). There were a lot of tensions between the U.S. and Great Britain, but the main one was the continued British refusal to revoke standing naval orders that severely interfered with American navigation of the seas.

President Madison signed a Declaration of War on June 18, 1812. The British revoked the orders in question on June 16, 1812, two days earlier. The two ships probably passed somewhere in the Atlantic.

I would not consider the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I (though it had already swung to the Allies by the time American troops arrived), or World War II to be elective.
5.2.2006 11:01am
Monkberrymoon (mail):
"But do you think Jefferson would necessarily have supported war in all of those cases?"

The war against the Barbary Pirates comes to mind. Or was that a "police action?"
5.2.2006 11:04am
Lucas (mail):
If we don't want dissent during wartime, we shouldn't have civilian control of the military.
5.2.2006 11:06am
David Matthews (mail):
By the way, my point in looking at Jefferson's actions is not to demonize him, or his policy. But, in point of fact, while our founding Fathers had a real way with words, and spouted many high platitudes about freedom, liberty, rights, and whatnot, they were, at bottom, pragmatists. Slavery might be wrong, but we can't address it now; the Natives might be admirable, but we don't have room for them in our necessary expansion; talk of standing up to tyrants is grand, until you take power.

This pattern of trying to hold the actions of current politicians to the idealistic rhetoric of past orators, and simultaneously to attempt to reconcile the lofty ideals with the practical uglinesses of these same orators seems, well, pointless. The Founders themselves, were often quite aware of the contradictions between their words and their actions, but it didn't stop them from either.
5.2.2006 11:08am
Medis:
Smithy,

If people disagree with the President's policies, shouldn't they be trying to get him to change his policies?

David M.,

I don't see how you are disagreeing with me. We agree that Jefferson wanted to acquire the land held by the Native Americans. We seem to agree that he also had a preference for peaceful exchanges, but would use military force to clear a territory of Native Americans in the event that a tribe tried to forcibly resist. Whether one wants to call the military actions that resulted from this policy "elective" or not strikes me as a purely semantic issue.
5.2.2006 11:09am
D. Boyer (mail):
I would suggest that this is much ado about not much. Many pols have used the ploy of, "So in the words of [add famous name here]," for rhetorical purposes. They may have it from very credible sources that the quote is real, or it may have been in an elevator when someone mentioned it and they thought it a good point. At the very least, it sounds like a good bumper-sticker quote and they use it.

What does a mistaken quote say of the speaker then? Well, I recall one rather irritiating misquote attributed to a person that I greatly admire. Ronald Reagan "quoting" Abraham Lincoln: "What [Democrats] truly don't understand is the principle so eloquently stated by Abraham Lincoln: 'You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.'"

Lincoln never said that.
http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/29645.html

As for patriotism, it probably correlates very closely to actions and words that the individual believes is in support of their country. In a way it is akin to what one perceives as beauty - the whole 'eye of the beholder' and all.
5.2.2006 11:12am
Medis:
David M.,

We cross-posted, but I again think we actually agree for the most part. I also don't think the practices of the Founders always matched their more idealistic principles, and I agree that they were often aware of the conflict themselves.

But where we might disdagree is on whether such idealistic principles nonetheless serve a purpose. Personally, I think such idealistic principles can provide useful benchmarks, grounds for criticism, and so on, even if we do not always--or even ever--live up to them fully.
5.2.2006 11:14am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Much of the criticism aimed at LBJ over at Vietnam or at Clinton over Bosnia was certainly warranted.

How about criticism of Nixon over Vietnam? Oh, right, Vietnam was a Democratic war, and those are fair game for criticism--but with a Republican in the White House, STFU!

And the fact that we're at war now doesn't mean that you can't disagree with the president about tax policy or gay marriage and not be a "good American".

In other words, feel free to disagree over trivial matters, but, for the life-or-death decisions, disagreement is treason. Brilliant.
5.2.2006 11:17am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Ok, I will admit not knowing enough about the War of 1812 to opine on it, so I left it out. Sorry. But as for the two World Wars, we elected to take sides, and if we were ultimately forced into them, it was because of this taking of sides. In the case of Germany in both wars, we were actively supplying its enemies, and using our "neutrality" to effectuate it. And I think that many in Japan at the time knew it was a mistake to attack us, but felt they were truly pushed into it by our actions, notably our embargo. Again, if we had truly been neutral, is is much less likely that they would have attacked.

Looking back, I have to believe that our leaders at those times fully realized that their actions were rapidly bringing us to war. At a minimum, there appears to be evidence that in the fall of 1941, they believed that war with Japan, at least, was inevitable.

To this day, I still don't fully understand why we had to get involved in WWI. We intentionally took sides there, and the equities there were not nearly as clear as they were in 1941. And it was that intentionally taking sides that got us into the war - the declaration of such was anticlimatic.
5.2.2006 11:17am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
But where we might disdagree is on whether such idealistic principles nonetheless serve a purpose. Personally, I think such idealistic principles can provide useful benchmarks, grounds for criticism, and so on, even if we do not always--or even ever--live up to them fully.
But the problem here is that this wasn't necessarily part of Jefferson's idealistic principles, but rathter was that of a confirmed pacifist, and later, the president of the ACLU.

And I also have to point out that Mr. Jefferson was highly conflicted here. When he wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was some of the Americans who were dissenting, and would continue to do so until they triumphed in our Revolutionary War. On the other hand, he was later president, and at that time would probably more empathize with his successor, Mr. Bush. Is the sort of dissent we see today to the war really equivalent to that of the colonists protesting taxation without representation, etc.? One big difference today is that we do have a popularly elected government chosing to fight this war. The naysayers had their chance, esp. in the last election, and lost. Mr. Kerry could have said what he is saying today, and see if that was the will of the people. But he knew it wasn't, so didn't.
5.2.2006 11:31am
Medis:
Bruce,
You say: "But the problem here is that this wasn't necessarily part of Jefferson's idealistic principles, but rathter was that of a confirmed pacifist, and later, the president of the ACLU."

It is understandable if you haven't been following the entire conversation, but the post of mine you quote was referring to the principles captured in the Jefferson quotes I supplied in my 7:48am comment. Of course, some of those quotes might be misattributed as well, but I wasn't talking about the misattributed quote in the original blog post.
5.2.2006 11:49am
David Matthews (mail):
"But where we might disdagree is on whether such idealistic principles nonetheless serve a purpose. Personally, I think such idealistic principles can provide useful benchmarks, grounds for criticism, and so on, even if we do not always--or even ever--live up to them fully."

I agree with you, this is their proper purpose. When our politicians' actions deviate from the ideals of the Founders, there best be a good reason.

But the more common uses, "Jefferson wouldn't have DONE this, look what he SAID," and "you're not a real patriotic American, after all, you're not doing what Jefferson SAYS you should" are pointless lendings from Sunday School. The arguments may work fine if you put "Jesus" in for "Jefferson," depending on what you believe about Jesus....

Anyway, yes, I think we are in agreement, so I guess I'm just posting because I don't want to get back to grading.
5.2.2006 11:56am
Leland:
If an elective war is one in which the US does need to fight, then I'd say WWII is definitely elective.

If Madis, who suggests the current war in Iraq is elective, believes that the 1991 Persian Gulf war was not elective, then I might consider his definition to suggest that WWII was not an elective war. However, in that situation, I still think one could argue WWII was elective based on the issues related to WWI. After all, if Germany had honored the armistice signed after WWI, then WWII would not have occurred, and no country would have needed to fight it. If Saddam had honored the ceasefire after the Persian Gulf war, then the 2003 Iraq invasion would not have occurred.

This might be a bit off topic, but getting ones definition correct is important. That's why understanding whether or not Jefferson did or did not say something is something to care about. As many have mentioned, people are claiming to use Jefferson's words to add greater credibility to their arguments. Many should look past that issue and truly judge the arguments on their own merit. However, what should be done is certainly not what is always done.
5.2.2006 12:03pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Medis,

One of the reasons that I like this forum is that the commenters are so polite in their rebuttals. There are many blogs out there where the response would have been "you stupid idiot, why didn't you read what I actually said, and not what you think I said".

And I will admit fault here. It is easy, at least for me, to get confused with different threads going on, as to what each participant is really trying to say.
5.2.2006 12:04pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I guess that is part of my point, that this war being more elective than others in our history is debatable. In response to Leland, you could then argue that the 1991 Gulf War was not elective because we entered it in response to an invasion of an ally (did we have a mutual defense treaty too?) And this time around, Saddam Hussein was clearly flaunting his repeated violations of the peace agreement that ended that previous Gulf war.

I think it intellectual dishonesty to assert that Vietnam was our first elective war, and this one is just as elective. My view is that this one comes somewhere in the middle. More elective than the Civil War, but less so than, for example, our war with Mexico (though some will probably try to justify even that for more than just the need for more land). And, yes, I would put it as significantly less elective than Vietnam.
5.2.2006 12:14pm
Medis:
Bruce,

No problem, and I've been similarly confused myself on many occasions--this sort of linear post structure doesn't make it easy to follow conversations with multiple lines of discussion.

Leland,

Honestly, I don't have a particularly precise definition of "elective wars" in mind. In fact, I think one would want at least three categories: (1) wars started when a foreign power directly attacks the United States (or such an attack is actually imminent); (2) wars started when a foreign power directly attacks an ally or other foreign party the United States deems worth protecting (or again when such an attack is actually imminent); and (3) wars started before either (1) or (2) have occurred. And undoubtedly that is still too simplistic.

But I think the general idea Jefferson was expressing in various places is that we should be very reluctant to actually start wars ourself (roughly the scenario in Category 3). That is what I meant by "elective wars". And although I didn't quote him to this effect, he also expressed in various places the notion that we should avoid entanglements with other foreign powers that would lead to the scenario in Category 2.

Anyway, many of our wars would fit into Category 2, such as WWI and the First Gulf War. But our invasion of Iraq stands pretty clearly in Category 3 (although some claimed Iraq was a growing danger, no one--at least now--admits to claiming that an attack from Iraq was imminent). And I think Jefferson's counsel on this subject turned out to be pretty accurate--although people often promote starting wars using arguments to the effect that the benefits will outweigh the costs, those predictions rarely turn out to be true.
5.2.2006 12:30pm
Medis:
Bruce,

What do you make of arguments to the effect that we were right to invade Iraq because Saddam was a brutal dictator and America has an historical mission to spread freedom to the world? Personally, I would say that is an "elective" notion of war, but I am interested in your take.

Incidentally, I might mention that I am not entirely in agreement with Jefferson on these issues. For example, I'm not entirely against military interventions for humanitarian purposes even when the country in question is not an imminent threat to the United States or its allies. But I do think such interventions should be carried out through international bodies, ala the NATO intervention in Kosovo. And that, of course, takes me pretty far from Jefferson in two ways, because as noted he was also not fond of foreign entanglements either.
5.2.2006 12:37pm
KingOfMyCastle:
I've personally never given great weight to indvidual comments of the founding fathers.. I'm more concerned by what they collectively agreed to when creating the framework of our government. The only exception to that is when trying to understand some of the thinking behind the constitution, and even then I don't rely too much on what one person said.

I'm somewhat of a heretic with some of my conservative friends because I don't find the idea of a 'living constitution' to be that bad.. My only problem is the way it evolves rather than the evolution itself. I'm not a big supporter of it evolving by judicial means. If I were 'king for a day' I'd institute a policy of a new constituional convention every decade where the representatives/people evaluated what works, what does not work, and what needs to be clarified. (putting on flame retardant suite and ducking now)
5.2.2006 12:54pm
Dave G:
Medis,

The problem is that I don't see Smithy, and those like him, attempting to distinguish between honest criticisms of the President and "partisan point scoring". Rather, they simply assert that all criticisms of the President coming from "the Left" or "Democrats" are based on partisan sentiments.

Well, Smithy seems to be denying this, but that's his lookout.

For myself, I tend to apply a standard similar to reckless disregard. It seems reasonable to view those whose criticism is both a) untrue and b)likely to degrade national security or embolden our enemies as having a deficiency of patriotism. These are people willing to commit propaganda to their country's detriment, afterall. In wartime, I would expand this to include those who show reckless disregard for the truth or the likely outcomes of their criticism. I feel quite comfortable classifying those who don't care whether what they are saying is propaganda to the detriment of their country's security as unpatriotic. This isn't common, but it does exist. My esteemed representative (spit) Cynthia McKinney fits the bill, for instance.
5.2.2006 12:58pm
Monkberrymoon (mail):
Medis --

I'm a little concerned that Jefferson seems to be hijacked as a latter-day pacifist of some type. As I implied earlier, I think the War against the Barbary States was pretty clearly in what you call category 3, but that doesn't make it any less justifiable. In any event, I don't think you can gin up from the history of Jefferson that he would have always stayed out of, oh, less than "non-elective" (whatever that is) wars.

That's also the first time I've heard of the Kosovo campaign justified on the basis that it was a NATO operation. I don't mean to sound jokey. It's just that most people looking to protest recent wars (like the Iraq War) usually point to the lack of involvement by a multinational organization devoted to finding peaceful solutions (like the UN, allegedly), not a military alliance. After all, the Iraq War was an operation on the part of a military alliance (albeit an ad hoc one).
5.2.2006 1:01pm
KingOfMyCastle:

What do you make of arguments to the effect that we were right to invade Iraq because Saddam was a brutal dictator and America has an historical mission to spread freedom to the world? Personally, I would say that is an "elective" notion of war, but I am interested in your take.

Hi Medis, this wasn't addressed to me (so sorry for butting in..) but here's my take.
I think (or hope) that the talk about invading Iraq to 'spread freedom' isn't the real reason we went to war. If that were the case, there are plenty of other places that we could spread freedom to. I think it was more due to Sadaam's continued beligerance after GW1 and to establish a friendly base of operations that we can prosecute the war from in the future. Now if establishing democracy also promotes some internal problems for some of the other countries in the region that support terrorism, then all the better. :-)
5.2.2006 1:01pm
Rational Actor (mail):
Dave G -
How would you characterize the behavior you describe if, instead of being promulgated by those who opposed or criticized government policy, the "reckless disregard for the truth or the likely outcomes of their [actions]" was promulgated to support the actions of the government?
Is there a patriotic deficiency involved in making obviously untrue statements that damage the credibility of someone who is raising legitimate questions about the current administration?
5.2.2006 1:19pm
Joe7 (mail):
When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body's intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.

Section 18 of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu (Stephen Mitchell's translation):
5.2.2006 1:26pm
Medis:
Dave G,

You say: "It seems reasonable to view those whose criticism is both a) untrue and b)likely to degrade national security or embolden our enemies as having a deficiency of patriotism."

But that doesn't seem reasonable to me unless the person BELIEVES the criticism is untrue (or perhaps, as you suggest, the person shows a reckless disregard for whether the criticism is true--but that requires a conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk). If instead the person believes the criticism is true, then I think you could say that they are mistaken, but you could not necessarily say that they lacked patriotism.

And that seems to be the precise problem with Smithy and those like him: they believe the criticism is untrue, and they assume the critics must secretly share that belief, and so conclude the critics must have some other motive.

Monkberrymoon,

The Babary pirates attacked US merchant vessels, among others. So I think that actually puts them into Category one--although I also would suggest that was not war in the sense of Jefferson.

Anyway, I'm neither speaking for nor defending all critics of the Iraq War. As noted, that was my personal view, which is that humanitarian wars are not necessarily a bad idea as long as they are carried out through an international organization. Unfortunately, although we did put together a coalition of some sort for the Iraq invasion, it did not fit that description, and I think it has severly hurt our efforts in Iraq as a result.

KingOfMyCastle,

I don't think there is a single answer to why we invaded Iraq--it seems to me that different people in the Administration had different reasons and goals in mind. Personally, I think the President himself actually does believe that America has an historic mission to spread freedom in the Middle East, and eventually the world, and that he did in fact see that as a major reason to invade Iraq.
5.2.2006 1:31pm
Monkberrymoon (mail):
Medis --
Well, I guess you could shoehorn an awful lot in category 1. After all, the Iraqi armed forces (under Saddam's command) were attacking US planes during the entire period of the armistice.

I appreciate your point about multinational intervention, but I can't help but think some of the ho-hum attitude toward Kosovo was driven by two things (1) it was a mere bombing campaign (although a pretty devastating and effective one); and (2) the president at the time was not the evil cowboy Chimpy McHitlerburton. Otherwise, I think people tend to forget that it was actually a NATO military campaign.
5.2.2006 1:45pm
Ed Brayton (mail) (www):
I wonder where Steyn is when we hear the founding fathers constantly misquoted in regards to religion. There is a whole series of fake quotations that are circulated among the religious right constantly - they will show up with literally thousands of hits on a google search. To offer just a few: from James Madison, allegedly:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to government ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."


Found nowhere in Madison's writings or speeches. From Patrick Henry, allegedly:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."


Same as above. This one is sometimes attributed to Henry from a speech in opposition to the Stamp Act, which was more than a decade before we declared independence from England and while we were still colonies. Clearly, Henry would not speak of "this great nation" before we were a nation. From George Washington, allegedly:

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.


Also never found. Indeed, we often see quotes from the entirely fictitious "prayer journal" of Washington's, a book that had nothing at all to do with him. I'm all for correcting historical revisionism, but there are far worse and far more common examples than the one Steyn goes after.
5.2.2006 1:46pm
Medis:
Monkberrymoon,

Counterfactually, if our invasion of Iraq had been motivated by our desire to stop Iraq from taking potshots at our planes, then I would agree that it was a Category One war. But that wasn't the case, of course.

As for Kosovo: again, you seem to be talking about what other people might believe, but I was just expressing my personal views on humanitarian wars. Incidentally, of course Kosovo was not just an air campaign--NATO subsequently introduced peacekeepers, and in that phase the NATO occupation of Kosovo was obviously much more of a success than our occupation of Iraq. And one of the many reasons why I think doing such interventions within the auspices of something like NATO is a good idea is that while the participation of other countries may be more of a hinderance than a help to the US when it comes to destroying organized military forces, I think the US has no real advantage when it comes to "peacekeeping" functions. Hence, we could actually use--and indeed arguably need--the active help of something like NATO in that phase of an intervention.
5.2.2006 1:59pm
Dave G:
How would you characterize the behavior you describe if, instead of being promulgated by those who opposed or criticized government policy, the "reckless disregard for the truth or the likely outcomes of their [actions]" was promulgated to support the actions of the government?

I would characterize them as mendacious, and if they were elected, I would be unsurprised. (I expect politicians to lie for the same reason I expect salesmen to lie: if they don't their jobs will be taken by someone who does.) I would not characterize them as unpatriotic unless their lies or reckless disregard for the truth endangered or could reasonably be expected to endanger national security.
5.2.2006 2:17pm
Dave G:

But that doesn't seem reasonable to me unless the person BELIEVES the criticism is untrue (or perhaps, as you suggest, the person shows a reckless disregard for whether the criticism is true--but that requires a conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk). If instead the person believes the criticism is true, then I think you could say that they are mistaken, but you could not necessarily say that they lacked patriotism.


The "willful disregard" part is important. I don't care whether Michael Moore actually believes the Afghanistan campaign was to secure rights to an oil pipeline, or whether Rep. McKinney actually believes that Pres. Bush orchestrated 9/11 to enrich his oil buddies (or even believes the charge worth investigating). The accusations themselves are so outlandishly unsupportable that they meet my standard of willful disregard of the truth (assuming that Moore or McKinney were sane at the time they uttered those accusations). It seems reasonable to me to class those as little different than intentional propaganda against the national security of the US, and slot the utterers as unpatriotic.

Your mileage may vary. I honestly don't see anyone on this thread impugning honest disagreement and good-faith criticism as unpatriotic, and I've only very rarely encountered it in real life. I've certainly never seen such sentiments from any recent (post-Nixon) administration.

(An interesting question arises as to the patriotism of those who issue statements that are 1)true and 2)believed by the utterer to constitute a threat to the national security of their country. Whoever leaked Abu Ghraib, for instance. I don't know that I know how I would judge them.)
5.2.2006 2:36pm
Medis:
Dave G,

I'm not sure I understand your last post. If the government policy in question--the one which is being criticized and defended--involves national security, then isn't there going to be a risk to national security built into the possibility of the government adopting or continuing with a bad policy? And doesn't lying to defend a policy from valid criticisms thus put national security at risk?
5.2.2006 2:43pm
Lumen (mail):
For a quasi academic site, it is sad to see a post that amounts to a long ad homeniem attack. Whether Kerry misquoted Jefferson, based upon attributions from previous writers, is immaterial. Would we all agree to leave Iraq on May 15 if the quotation was correct and aptly placed? I think not. Then why do we care whether he quoted Jefferson correctly (except that it provides an opportunity to call Kerry stupid). I would benefit from some reasons pro/con on the idea of leaving Iraq on May 15. Unfortunately, this post boils down to: "Kerry doesn't know how to quote people, nah nah nah."
5.2.2006 2:44pm
SLS 1L:
I look forward to Lindgren's debunking of bogus right-wing quotes.
5.2.2006 2:48pm
Medis:
Dave G,

Sorry, we cross-posted. My previous post was actually referring to what turned out to be your second-to-last post.

On your next post:

You say: "I honestly don't see anyone on this thread impugning honest disagreement and good-faith criticism as unpatriotic, and I've only very rarely encountered it in real life."

Again, I direct you to Smithy's posts. Smithy isn't just talking about Michael Moore. He also includes Cindy Sheehan, Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, and "the Left" in general.

Now, maybe you think all the criticisms offered by all those folks "are so outlandishly unsupportable that they meet my standard of willful disregard of the truth," and you really believe all these folks are fairly called "unpatriotic" as a result. But if that is what you believe, then I do indeed think your standards for "reasonable belief" are being dictated simply by conformance with what you personally believe, and you are not giving sufficient room for the possibility of reasonable disagreement.

Second, I again direct you to Bruce's posts. If you can find any way in which his arguments depend on the criticisms being dishonest, or even false, please identify them for me.

In short, I really think you are misconstruing the arguments offered by other people on this subject. And so I think you are missing why some people do indeed think it necessary to stand up for the value of honest dissent, in light of what Smithy and others are arguing.
5.2.2006 2:56pm
Dave G:
If the government policy in question--the one which is being criticized and defended--involves national security, then isn't there going to be a risk to national security built into the possibility of the government adopting or continuing with a bad policy? And doesn't lying to defend a policy from valid criticisms thus put national security at risk?

Sure, but then we're back to your point, where it would only be unpatriotic if the official knew they were lying to support was a policy that was against national security, or had reckless disregard of that fact. At that point, it probably does go beyond merely being unpatriotic and becomes felonious. I don't believe I've heard anyone accuse this administration of intentionally trying to weaken American security, or even simply not caring about their actions effects on national security, but there may have been some. Rational folk simply see a whole bunch of policy disagreements and unexpected setbacks, at worst. Worth turfing the bastards out, if you are so inclined, but hardly unpatriotic.
5.2.2006 3:00pm
Rational Actor (mail):
Dave G -
I am not impugning the motives of our leaders, but I find it hard to accept that the many "setbacks" were "unexpected." For example, I don't think General Shinseki would express a great deal of surprise at the security situation in Iraq, given his initial estimate that several hundred thousand troops were needed.
5.2.2006 3:15pm
Medis:
Dave G,

But your standard is reckless disregard of the truth, and I think a lot of people would be willing the accuse the Administration of adopting exactly that stance, at least once a decision had been at the highest levels.

In other words, consider the following purely hypothetical scenario: during planning for the invasion of Iraq, a decision is made at a high level to use relatively few troops during both the invasion and subsequent occupation. Let us assume the person making this decision does so in good faith.

But as news of this decision circulates, people both inside and outside the government start to criticize the decision, offering various arguments as to why it is a poor decision. But because the decision has already been made, and because those at the highest levels of the government do not wish to reconsider that decision (eg, perhaps because it would jeopardize the public case for war, which depends in part on relatively low estimates of the associated costs), those critics are initially ignored.

But the critics refuse to go away, and they continue to advocate their position. So, someone at a high level decides to go on the offensive, and they start attacking these critics, and more actively defending their decision. And in the course of doing so, they start shading the truth, or perhaps even lie. And because they are unwilling to seriously consider the merits of these objections--because the decision has already been made and they are building a public case based on that decision--one might suggest these actions show a reckless disregard for the truth.

Again, I offer this as a hypothetical scenario, but is it so unrealistic? I think the precise problem is that once a decision has been made, reconsidering that decision is no longer just a merits issue--it also can become a political issue. And therefore it is not unlikely that political actors will sometimes show a reckless disregard for the truth when defending prior decisions.
5.2.2006 3:39pm
Leonard Smalls (mail):
Regarding "treasonous" dissent during wartime, do those who find the "propaganda" of Howard Dean et al. to be irresponsible feel the same way about Representative Abraham Lincoln's "Spot Resolution" in protest of President Polk's elective war against Mexico?
5.2.2006 3:45pm
Medis:
Dave G,

By the way, I want to emphasize that I agree with you when you say: "Rational folk simply see a whole bunch of policy disagreements." I just think that notion applies equally well to both the vast majority of the proponents and the vast majority of the critics of the policies involved in the Iraq War. Accordingly, I see no sense in questioning the patriotism of the various parties--my interest is in assessing their arguments on the actual merits.
5.2.2006 3:53pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
I'll believe the ACLU's claims of non-partisanship the day they take a Second Ammendment case.
5.2.2006 3:57pm
Dave G:
Medis,

And therefore it is not unlikely that political actors will sometimes show a reckless disregard for the truth when defending prior decisions.

How could such retroactive defensiveness be said to effect national security. In this case, the actions in question with respect to national security have already been taken. All that the lying does is potentially damage the critics, an action which may be either deplorable or not, but certainly isn't unpatriotic. Moreover, you're stretching the definitions of "truth" here, raising the critics pre-war opinions to the level of post-war fact. Ignoring an opinion is not the equivalent of denying reality, nor is rebutting an argument.

I expect politicians to lie about their opponents. I expect politicians to lie about the likely effects of their policies. I expect their opponents to lie right back. I expect the public to sort it out. What I don't expect is that people will try to criminalize good-faith policy disagreements, or even try to declare them unpatriotic. I'm saddened I see the democrats attempting to do so, and the administration pointedly not doing so. I'm not sure why any of this is hard to understand.
5.2.2006 3:59pm
davod (mail):
Can we agree that it is wrong to misquote famous people.
Can we agree that if George Bush had used the same quote the MSM would never let us forget.
5.2.2006 4:05pm
Medis:
Dave G,

Perhaps my hypo was unclear. I was talking about a scenario which would occur after a decision about troop levels in Iraq had been made, but before the invasion had begun, with there being the possibility of reconsidering that initial decision. In that case, recklessly disregarding the possible merits of the criticisms would jeopardize national security insofar as those critics might be right about the consequences of using too few troops.

And I realize that in this scenario, one could not say these people were "denying reality". Again, though, your proposed standard is weaker: it only requires "reckless disregard" of the truth, and in this hypo, I would suggest that ignoring those criticisms would in fact constitute exactly such recklessness.

Finally, I again suggest that you consider Smithy--and those like him--before claiming that only "the democrats" engage in questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with them. In fact, you yourself implied the same of Michael Moore and Rep. McKinney. Again, though, I guess you think your assessments don't involve "good-faith" disagreements--but are you willing to agree with Smithy that Dean, Feingold, and "the Left" in general are not disagreeing in good faith?

Again, I would suggest that if none of these people can pass your "good-faith disagreement" standard, then you really aren't giving any serious room to the possibility of such good-faith disagreement.
5.2.2006 4:16pm
Rational Actor (mail):
Davod - I think we can agree on the first point. On the second, I'll just assume that the rags you read are more liberal than the ones I get here in New York.
5.2.2006 4:17pm
Rational Actor (mail):
Dave G
With all due respect, I have to say that you are decidedly wrong if you think that Democrats are the only people labeling their adversaries as unpatriotic. What else would you call the broadbased campaign to discredit John Kerry for "providing aid and comfort to the enemy?" More to the point, the genesis of this thread was an article which, rather than try to find an objective criticism of the policy suggested by Mr. Kerry, sought to focus on the fact that he misattributed a quote while working in a smear implying that he is more interested in windsurfing than effective policymaking.
Seriously, to imply that the democrats are the offenders here is poppycock.
5.2.2006 4:29pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
Just a short comment on elective war...the early history of the United States was full of them. The undeclared war with the French was indeed opposed by Jefferson, insofar as it resulted from the Jay Treaty and other actions of a francophobe Federalist administration. However, the conflict with the Barbary Pirates was the epitome of an elective war, one which occured during Jefferson's Presidency. Simply put, The ruler of Tripoli wanted to be paid off so as not to prey on US merchant shipping, the US refused, raised a fleet, and sent the navy and the marines (thus the song "to the shores of Tripoli"). While we certainly had good reason to go to war, it was by no means necessary, and indeed it would have likely been cheaper to have just paid off the Libyans.
It's worth noting that some thought that some of Jefferson's party thought he had betrayed his own and their party's ideology with the Barbary war and the Louisiana purchase . But to say that Jefferson would disapprove of "elective war" is to ignore history.
Seperately, the war of 1812 was arguably even more optional, but that question is severely clouded. Many, myself included, feel that it was somewhat ineveitable in light of questions left open with the original Treaty of Paris, and that the only thing which kept it from happening much earlier was The Jay Treaty. Either way, it happened after Jefferson's presidency, so it's not directly on topic.
5.2.2006 4:33pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
Oh, and a source for more on the Barbary war.
5.2.2006 4:39pm
Dave G:
Medis,

In that case, recklessly disregarding the possible merits of the criticisms would jeopardize national security insofar as those critics might be right about the consequences of using too few troops.

No. In a situation where there are a multitude of different viewpoints, it's not "reckless disregard" to decide to downplay some of them. In fact, not doing so is a recommendation for paralysis. There will always be someone who disagrees with you, and many of them will come with tales of potential doom if they are ignored. Once you've listened to them you are still allowed to disagree with them, and ignore their advice. In fact, if you're put into a position of responsibility, you are actually required to do so on a regular basis. If you allow every small faction who foretells potential doom to have veto power over your actions, nothing ever gets done.

In the case of Feingold, he certainly went out of bounds by offering the censure motion over war policy differences, but I would put that down to stupidity and partisan grasping rather than lack of patriotism. Dean's been cagier, and again stupidity and power-lust fit better than lack of patriotism. Plus, he has done so much damage to the Dems that I can't even begin to imagine a thoughtful Republican complaining about him. As for 'the Left' in general, I have no idea what that could possibly mean.
5.2.2006 4:42pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):




For a quasi academic site, it is sad to see a post that amounts to a long ad homeniem attack. Whether Kerry misquoted Jefferson, based upon attributions from previous writers, is immaterial. Would we all agree to leave Iraq on May 15 if the quotation was correct and aptly placed? I think not. Then why do we care whether he quoted Jefferson correctly (except that it provides an opportunity to call Kerry stupid). I would benefit from some reasons pro/con on the idea of leaving Iraq on May 15. Unfortunately, this post boils down to: "Kerry doesn't know how to quote people, nah nah nah."


I have to disagree with your characterization. The story isn't about Iraq and whether or when we should leave but about a specific quotation used to bolster the opposition and how it has been misattributed by so many and about the actual history of the source and the misattribution of the quote. Considering the Conspirators frequently post about quotations and historical trivia and how memes work their way into our political discourse, I don't see it surprising to see an entire story or series of stories about one that has become so prominent.

As far as Kerry goes, I don't see that any particular emphasis was put in Lindgren's post on Kerry's misattribution other than it being one of the most recent and prominent folks to do so. Granted there are probably a lot of people who here who don't like Kerry for being somewhat over-bearing and indulged in a little bit of schadenfreude but it's wasn't the focus of the story.
5.2.2006 4:43pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
With all due respect, I have to say that you are decidedly wrong if you think that Democrats are the only people labeling their adversaries as unpatriotic. What else would you call the broadbased campaign to discredit John Kerry for "providing aid and comfort to the enemy?"


I'd call it payback by some PO'd POW's and veterans for the way that Kerry conducted his anti-war activities and the reckless disregard he showed for the way that his Senate "testimony" about "war crimes" was being used as propaganda by the enemy.

But I don't know if I would call it a "broadbased campaign" even though there seemed to be an awful lot of them.
5.2.2006 5:00pm
Dave G:
With all due respect, I have to say that you are decidedly wrong if you think that Democrats are the only people labeling their adversaries as unpatriotic. What else would you call the broadbased campaign to discredit John Kerry for "providing aid and comfort to the enemy?"

And these would be which Republican policy makers, exactly? Which administration officials, Republican senators or congresspeople? I'll be more than happy to vote against them!

Oh, you mean it was just some guys from Kerry's past with no political ambitions whatsoever? Why didn't you say so! I'll be happy to vote against them too!
5.2.2006 5:10pm
Medis:
Dave G,

I'm not talking about listening to criticism, evaluating it on the merits, and then deciding not to follow it. I agree that is something all decision makers have to do. I'm talking about actually ignoring criticism because a decision has been made and reconsidering the decision might have adverse political consequences. I trust the difference is obvious, as is the possibility for reckless disregard of the truth to the detriment of national security in the second scenario.

By the way, I am puzzled by your statement about Feingold's censure motion. You attribute it to "war policy differences," but Feingold actually believes that the President has broken the law, and that is the ground for his censure motion. Or are you suggesting that Feingold does not actually believe that the President has broken the law?

Anyway, it seems clear to me that you wouldn't go as far as Smithy when it comes to Dean, Feingold, and "the Left". But I still don't understand why you seem to be denying the very existence of people like Smithy.
5.2.2006 5:11pm
Dave G:
Or are you suggesting that Feingold does not actually believe that the President has broken the law?

Yes, that seems the most reasonable hypothesis.

But I still don't understand why you seem to be denying the very existence of people like Smithy.

Not their existence, just their importance.
5.2.2006 5:18pm
Medis:
Dave G,

On what grounds do you rule out the possibility that Feingold believes that the President broke the law? I might note that many legal commentators have reached the same conclusion. Are you really claiming that Feingold could not possibly agree?
5.2.2006 5:22pm
Medis:
Dave G,

Also, a quick search turned up one Republican you can vote against. In early 2002, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), then head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, claimed of then-Senator Daschle that his "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."

What had Daschle said? When asked if he thought the success in Iraq to that point had been overstated, Daschle had replied:

"I don't think the success has been overstated. But the continued success I think is still somewhat in doubt. Whether we continue to succeed depends on whether we get the right answers to the questions Senator Byrd was posing yesterday. ... I will say that at this point, given the information we've been provided, I don't think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date. I think it has been successful. I've said that on many, many occasions. But I think the jury's still out about future success, as I've said."

So, I don't know if you are located in Virginia, but it appears that Rep. Davis is a good target for your electoral wrath.
5.2.2006 5:26pm
jvarisco (www):
I always saw Jefferson as the radical leftist who was sort of ignored by the framers, somehow got power, and nearly managed to ruin our economy. But kids in school are taught how amazing he is, and don't even learn about Hamilton. Why is that?
5.2.2006 5:28pm
Medis:
Oh, and Senator Lott said of the same Daschle comment: "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field. . . . He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united."

This seems to be an example of Bruce's argument, and as I noted, it does not seem to depend in any way on the criticism in question being in bad faith, or even untrue.
5.2.2006 5:32pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
jvarisco, that's not really accurate. Jefferson was Minister to France (a very important post at the time) during the writing of the constitution, and was made Washington's first Secretary of State (with Hamilton as the Secretary of the Treasury). He was taken seriously by more or less everyone, even those who disagreed with him (note his long and mutually respectful friendship with Adams after the antagonism cooled until their death on the same July 4), and Madison, the most important of the framers in terms of, well, framing the constitution, was both an ally and something of a follower.

He was a bit of a leftist, but his politics don't translate well into modern terms (neither does the Federalist crypto-monarchism which Hamilton held). I will agree that Hamilton and other Federalists (notably Adams) are given short shrift as intellectuals though in basic American history.
5.2.2006 5:45pm
Medis:
It is tough to summarize Jefferson's thought with a single label, but I think most would agree that he believed in reason, individualism, natural rights, liberty, limited government, self-governance, and vigilance with respect to possible abuses of government power.

And it strikes me as a sad commentary on contemporary politics that it is difficult to find a place on either "the Right" or "the Left" for someone like that.
5.2.2006 6:06pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Also, a quick search turned up one Republican you can vote against. In early 2002, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), then head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, claimed of then-Senator Daschle that his "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."


Do you have a link to a transcript of the full remarks of Representative Davis and Thomas Daschle (not just the juicy excerpts which may or may not tell an accurate picture) so that we can see them in context? Also there is nothing in the comment which constitutes questioning someone's patriotism -- only their judgment about the political remarks they make and the effects they may have.
5.2.2006 6:07pm
Medis:
Oh, and Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence, which is not a bad claim to fame.
5.2.2006 6:08pm
Medis:
Thorley,

Nope, I don't have a transcript (I just did a quick google search). If you can find one, that would be great--I'd love to see it.

Incidentally, I was responding to Dale G's 4:10pm post, where he did not seem to be requiring a direct reference to patriotism or the lack thereof. But I would note that "giving aid and comfort to our enemies" is an element of treason, so that is not exactly a neutral charge.
5.2.2006 6:13pm
Rational Actor (mail):
Dave G -
I don't really care who you vote for, and if you determine that abuse of the "unpatriotic criticism" is a reason not to vote for a candidate whose positions you support, that's your call. However, it is somewhat disingenuous for you to say that the likes of Smithy are "unimportant" while allowing them to smear those whose political views you dislike.
And, since you don't seem to be able to find any examples for yourself, try reading the transcripts of any of Scotty McClellan's press gaggles to see your elected Republican representatives making partisan commentary. Oh, and have you ever heard of Jean Schmidt?
5.2.2006 7:40pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Coming back after a computer crash (I think I need a new power supply in this machine), I think we went down this elective war road because of the question of what is the level of dissent that is appropriate for a given war, before it becomes giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And some believe that this level has been crossed as to the present war. This question was to an extent triggered by the observation that the level of dissent has been justified by many for this war by wrapping themselves in the flag of Jefferson's now discredited quote. After all, if one of our most important founders would have approved of the dissent, then it must not be unpatriotic to do so like this.

I should note that it appears that Medis tried to make an argument that Jefferson would still have approved of the dissent here, even if he hadn't made this precise statement about dissent. Not sure if that was part of what Medis was trying, or how successful he was. In the end though, without the direct quote, I don't see it being that important, since it was the pithy quote itself from one of our Greats that was important as a sound bite.

The problem is that arguably some of the dissent has been taken as aid and comfort by the enemy. For example, would disclosure of the NSA international surveilance program have been acceptable in other wars (aid)? Or, for example, it is clear from how closely their released speaches track what our own dissenting politicians say, that OBL and al Qaeda are listening closely to the debate here. Also, the newly elected president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has stated that he intends to wait out President Bush's second term for a president here he can intimidate. Might OBL, et al. be reading things similarly, and, indeed, taking heart that if they just keep sacrificing men in Iraq, the next president here will pull out (comfort)?

Finally, let me suggest that Kerry is being highlighted here for two reasons. Obviously, he is probably the most prominent politician (having just lost in his run for the presidency) to use this quote as a fig leaf for his attacks on the Administration. But he has additional baggage. This isn't the first time for him. Rather, he was also a prominent critic of the Vietnam War, in particular in his testimony before Congress about alleged (and later discredited) atrocities there, and there is some evidence that the North Vietnamese did take comfort from his actions, and those of the other anti-war protesters, then, hung in there, and reattacked successfully in 1975 after the anti-war sentiment here had triumphed. And, I seem to remember some news item indicating that for his actions during that war, Mr. Kerry is considered a hero in N. Vietnam.

Kerry's run for president did a lot to salve the wound of losing the Vietnam War. But there are still a lot of people who are bitter about squandering the 57,000+ American lives lost there, and blame him, in particular, for the loss.

For those of you rushing to Mr. Kerry's defense, this wasn't intended as a condemnation of him, but rather as an explanation of why his dissent against this war is considered by many on the right as again being beyond the pale. It is that they think that he was one of the biggest causes of our losing the Vietnam War, and don't want the same thing to happen again.
5.2.2006 8:54pm
Medis:
Bruce,

No one can know what Jefferson would have thought if he were alive today (other than "I'm incredibly old!"). That was never the point. Rather, the point--which I do think is supported by actual Jefferson quotes--is that Jefferson saw a great deal of value in encouraging and protecting opposition to the government.

And that is what is missing from your calculus of dissent. You consider how dissent might provide "aid and comfort" to the enemy (which I again note is a highly loaded term, since that is an element of treason). But nowhere do you consider the possible value of dissent. In particular, I see no consideration of the possibility that the criticisms might actually be TRUE, and no consideration of the fact that the TRUTH might be important, and indeed vital, to making the ongoing decisions required in war.

Frankly, Bruce, that is a pretty scary approach to this issue. I think not only Jefferson, but all of our Enlightment-era Founders, would find it astonishing that one could think a Republic could function without a great deal of value being placed on the people's ability to speak the truth to the government.

So, seriously Bruce, I urge you to think about this subject a little more. I won't ask you to stop worrying about how our enemies perceive us (although I would note that it is playing into their hands to give them that much power over the conduct of our affairs). But you really do need to consider the possibility that your worries about what they are thinking should be outweighed by the benefits of encouraging what has been described as a free marketplace of ideas. And if you don't see any such benefits--well, then exactly what is it about America that you see as worth defending?
5.3.2006 9:56am
Jerry Mimsy (www):
[i]No one can know what Jefferson would have thought if he were alive today (other than "I'm incredibly old!").[/i]

Hey. Reminds me of an old Letterman joke. What would Abraham Lincoln be doing if he were alive today?

a) writing his memoirs
b) advising the president
c) clawing desperately at the inside of his coffin.

Jerry
5.3.2006 11:00am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Medis,

Maybe my post came across a bit more black and white than I intended, which is why I think yours did too. I don't see this as a black and white issue, but rather one of finely shaded grays. Yes, some dissent is good and appropriate, but I also think that there is a possibility of too much. And, I suspect that you and I are on opposite sides of that divide, and whether Jefferson said what he supposedly said or not, or whether he would or would not have approved of some of what is going on right now, probably would not change either of our minds.

But where the quote comes in is where the line is drawn in the public's mind. Probably not by much, maybe inches, but I still expect that there will be an effect if it gets out that this supposed quote by Jefferson was not his, but that of a former ACLU president. And that is because the quote was being used as a sound bite that moved the line a little in the direction of greater publically allowed dissent. After all, if Jefferson, one of our greatest founders, would have approved, it must be ok. It is much less impressive to most Americans if it was originally said by the head of the ACLU.
5.3.2006 12:58pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
steve k, I can think of an antipatriotic statement. Very fresh, too.

Someone who says, 'Of course I support freedom of speech, but you cannot insult my prophet.'
5.3.2006 4:42pm
Medis:
Bruce,

My guess, frankly, is that the vast majority of people wouldn't be interested in this topic at all.

Anyway, define for me "too much dissent". And does it matter whether the criticisms in question are true?
5.3.2006 6:54pm