The Treason Card
By PAUL KRUGMAN
York Times" -- -- The nature of the right-wing attack
on The New York Times — an attack not on the newspaper's judgment,
but on its motives — seems to have startled many people in the news
media. After an editorial in The Wall Street Journal declared that
The Times has what amount to treasonous intentions — that it "has as
a major goal not winning the war on terror but obstructing it" — The
Journal's own political editor pronounced himself "shocked," saying
that "I don't know anybody on the news staff of The Wall Street
Journal that believes that."
But anyone who was genuinely shocked by The Journal's willingness to
play the treason card must not have been paying attention these past
Over the last few months a series of revelations have confirmed what
should have been obvious a long time ago: the Bush administration
and the movement it leads have been engaged in an authoritarian
project, an effort to remove all the checks and balances that have
heretofore constrained the executive branch.
Much of this project involves the assertion of unprecedented
executive authority — the right to imprison people indefinitely
without charges (and torture them if the administration feels like
it), the right to wiretap American citizens without court
authorization, the right to declare, when signing laws passed by
Congress, that the laws don't really mean what they say.
But an almost equally important aspect of the project has been the
attempt to create a political environment in which nobody dares to
criticize the administration or reveal inconvenient facts about its
actions. And that attempt has relied, from the beginning, on
ascribing treasonous motives to those who refuse to toe the line. As
far back as 2002, Rush Limbaugh, in words very close to those used
by The Wall Street Journal last week, accused Tom Daschle, then the
Senate majority leader, of a partisan "attempt to sabotage the war
Those of us who tried to call attention to this authoritarian
project years ago have long marveled over the reluctance of many of
our colleagues to acknowledge what was going on. For example, for a
long time many people in the mainstream media applied a peculiar
double standard to political speech, denouncing perfectly normal if
forceful political rhetoric from the left as poisonous "Bush
hatred," while chuckling indulgently over venom from the right.
(That Ann Coulter, she's such a kidder.)
But now the chuckling has stopped: somehow, nobody seems to find
calls to send Bill Keller to the gas chamber funny. And while the
White House clearly believes that attacking The Times is a winning
political move, it doesn't have to turn out that way — not if enough
people realize what's at stake.
For I think that most Americans still believe in the principle that
the president isn't a king, that he isn't entitled to operate
without checks and balances. And President Bush is especially
unworthy of our trust, because on every front — from his refusal to
protect chemical plants to his officials' exposure of Valerie Plame,
from his toleration of war profiteering to his decision to place the
C.I.A. in the hands of an incompetent crony — he has consistently
played politics with national security.
And he has done so with the approval and encouragement of the same
people now attacking The New York Times for its alleged lack of
Does anyone remember the editorial that The Wall Street Journal
published on Sept. 19, 2001? "So much for Florida," the editorial
began, celebrating the way the terrorist attack had pushed aside
concerns over the legitimacy of the Supreme Court decision that
installed Mr. Bush in the White House. The Journal then warned Mr.
Bush not to give in to the "temptation" to "subjugate everything
else to the priority of getting bipartisan support for the war on
terrorism." Instead, it urged him to use the "political capital"
generated by the atrocity to push through tax cuts and right-wing
Things have changed since then: Mr. Bush's ability to wrap his power
grab in the flag has diminished now that most Americans no longer
consider him either competent or honest. But the administration and
its supporters still believe that they can win political battles by
impugning the patriotism of those who won't go along.
For the sake of our country, let's hope that they're wrong.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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