Joe Conason's Journal

Why conservatives get a free pass for "treason" -- but liberals don't.

By Salon Staff
Published November 20, 2002 11:07PM (UTC)
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Where "treason" gets a free pass
In many quarters on the right, doubt about war equals hatred of America or worse. This sort of hysteria now pervades the propaganda operations of David Horowitz and Christopher Ruddy, while similar emotions erupt in conservative publications such as the National Review and the Weekly Standard.

Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine features "The Fifth Column," where political adversaries are smeared with treason. (Even Andrew Sullivan has more or less renounced that ugly trope.) Like many right-wingers, he insists that anyone who doesn't enthusiastically support an invasion of Iraq must despise America and love Saddam. Anyone, that is, except for the antiwar skeptics on the right -- who somehow escape being branded as traitors.


While Horowitz and company focus on easy targets like Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark, their deeper aim is to depict anyone who doesn't line up behind Bush as soft on terror. Aside from scamming a few quick bucks "Help David Expose the Leftist Plot to Control America's Young Minds!" -- that is in fact their only purpose. (Despite its capitalist form, this enterprise strongly resembles communist methods of enforcing the correct line. You can take Horowitz out of the CP, but you can't take the CP out of Horowitz.)

What exposes the underlying partisan motivation of this crusade is how scrupulously its agitators avoid criticizing, or even mentioning, the prominent right-wing critics of Bush's war policy.

Over at the Cato Institute -- which generally functions as an adjunct to the Republican Study Committee and boasts several prominent GOP funders on its board -- they're wringing their hands about Iraq like a bunch of San Francisco liberals. Cato's Web site currently promotes a lengthy essay by the institute's director of defense policy studies, rather provocatively titled "Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism?" The paper seeks to demonstrate that "terrorist attacks on the United States" often occur "in retaliation for U.S. intervention overseas," and says, "The United States could reduce the chances of such devastating -- and potentially catastrophic -- terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of military restraint overseas." Wait a minute. Doesn't that kind of argument offer aid and comfort to America's enemies?


Doug Bandow, a writer associated with Cato, goes still further, virtually challenging the conservatives to attack his patriotism. (He probably knows they won't, because he shares their obsession with tax cuts, Social Security privatization, and the rest of the right's domestic agenda.) Bluntly opposing war on Iraq as a diversion from the war against al-Qaida, he mocks all the right-wing chatter about "appeasement." Then he tweaks the superhawks again, declaring that "opposition to the administration's dangerous aggressiveness is simply good sense." Wow. Isn't "dangerous aggressiveness" the kind of "anti-American" rhetoric that supposedly enrages good, patriotic conservatives?

Perhaps the most prominent conservative dissenter is Robert Novak, dark prince of the hard right, who voices serious misgivings about the war so many of his fellow conservatives are so eager to begin. On Monday, the "Crossfire" host told a group of students at Northwestern that he is worried by the prospect of a long and painful war. "If we attack Iraq, hatred would continue," he said. "If we don't, we are told [Saddam Hussein] will stockpile weapons. But I don't think Saddam is suicidal. I think he likes the good life." Hmm. Doesn't Novak sound as if he blames the United States for arousing anger in the Arab world, and thinks we should just leave Saddam alone?

Yet he enjoys complete immunity, for a simple, cynical reason. "War" is a political weapon that Republicans have been using against Democrats since Karl Rove openly declared this strategy last winter. Ideological enforcers like Horowitz are instruments of Rove's strategy, which succeeded brilliantly in the midterm election. Rove's aim is to destroy Democrats, not libertarians, whose support he will be seeking on domestic issues next year.


That's why Novak, Bandow and Cato -- usually allies rather than adversaries of the White House -- get a free pass no matter what they say about foreign policy. And that's also why the "patriotic" bullies of the right will angrily assault any liberal or leftist who dares to say exactly the same things.
[12:39 p.m. PST, Nov. 20, 2002]

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