The art of twisting the truth has reached new heights of absurdity, contorting the world into a distorted house of mirrors in which objective reality is nothing but a quaint option. Fact becomes fiction, fiction fact, and the truth collateral damage. Follow along as we deconstruct how Republican have created a novel distortion of space and time.
During the eight year reign of George II, liberals of every persuasion vocally criticized the president for his incompetence and arrogance, which led to economic collapse, torture, and two ill-conceived wars. Republicans countered that criticizing a sitting president during wartime was unpatriotic. When you attack the president you attack the office of the president and commander-in-chief. The GOP routinely, almost daily, accused Democrats of aiding the enemy, hating America and wishing destruction upon our country. We will come back to this shortly. For a moment, though, fast forward to present time. We see Republicans criticizing a sitting president during wartime, claiming that not viciously attacking the president would be unpatriotic.
We can only conclude from this that criticizing a Republican president is unpatriotic, but criticizing a Democratic president is patriotic. That itself is absurd enough, but we have only just begun.
Let's return to the Bush years; and here is where space and time warping commences. While Republicans were openly attacking any Democrats who criticized Bush as unpatriotic, they were simultaneously claiming that Democrats were falsely accusing them of calling Democrats unpatriotic. That is like me beating you to a pulp while I deny beating you to a pulp. There are credibility issues. Typical of this was an article penned by Fred Barnes in the December 5, 2003, issue of the Weekly Standard lamenting that "Democrats routinely complain that President Bush and his political team call them unpatriotic for criticizing Bush on the war in Iraq." Piling on he said, "The claim that Democrats are targets of a political low blow by being labeled unpatriotic has become a Democratic refrain." He then claimed this is all nonsense, and that "nobody called any... Democrat unpatriotic." Really? Really?
December 2001: John Ashcroft suggested that people who disagree with the administration's anti-terrorism policies are "on the side of the terrorists." He clarified by adding, "To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
March 8, 2002: Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss said, "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism?" He accused Daschle of trying to "divide the country." We should not pass up this opportunity to note that when Clinton was president Lott attacked his Persian Gulf policy with the pious observation that, "Real patriots have a responsibility to question policies they believe to be wrong."
What led to Lott's outrage against Senator Daschle? Daschle had said, "We're going to be committing $4.7 trillion for defense over the course of the next 10 years; $600 billion more than what was originally scheduled last year. If we're going to commit those resources, and if we're going to commit those men, those women, those lives, then I think we've got to ask the questions that are required of us." No, Daschle did not call Bush a fascist, or claim he was born in England, or even accuse him rightly of being a war criminal. Nope, he just was asking for some fiscal responsibility and accountability.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay called Daschle's comments "disgusting." Reread Daschle's plea and see if they are disgusting. Four years later DeLay was still at it. In October 2006, DeLay said, "The left has a disdain for the military... They're dangerous... trying to undermine the will of the American people." Tom Davis from Virginia, who led the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that Senator Daschle's comments gave "aid and comfort to the enemy."
Be clear here: the GOP claims that they never accused Democrats of being unpatriotic or un-American. Yet the Republican Senate Majority Whip, House Minority Whip and numerous other senator and representative did just that, in broad daylight, in Congress. I stand in awe that such blatantly false claims can be sustained for so long in the face of black-and-white irrefutable proof to the contrary.
But that did stop Dick Cheney: "While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief."
Nor did Newt Gingrich hesitate. He said, "It's clear that the Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry wing of the Democratic Party has a visceral loathing for the American military and for, frankly, America as a country in the world. Their whole approach is to blame us for what, in fact, our enemies do... I think it tells you how deep the sickness is in the left wing of the Democratic Party." Be clear here that Gingrich is openly accusing Democrats of hating America as a country in the world. This is not ambiguous.
Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, concluded that Democrats who condemned the Bush administration's illegal eavesdropping program "may not be suited to safeguard Americans against terror attacks."
During the election contest between Bush and Kerry, Senator Orin Hatch had this to say: terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry," adding that Democrats are "consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there."
But remember Republicans deny ever questioning the patriotism of Democrats. You know, "The claim that Democrats are targets of a political low blow by being labeled unpatriotic has become a Democratic refrain" with no justification. Obviously rules change when the patriot is a Republican and the president is a Democrat. Which brings us back to the Obama administration.
Republicans openly and viciously attack Obama; continue to deny they ever disparaged Democrats for criticizing Bush (forgetting that Lott, DeLay, Cheney, Gingrich, Mehlman and friends did just that); and suddenly convert to the idea that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Now there is a phrase never uttered by a Republican during the Bush years. And so we arrive at the truly weird. Republicans claim that Obama and the Democrats are hypocrites for defending themselves against obvious lies (death panels, socialism, Kenyan birth), equating such blatantly false accusations to legitimate concerns about the conduct of two wars. Dripping with sarcasm, we now hear GOP representatives say, "so much for 'dissent is the highest form of patriotism'" as if the call for dissent by Democrats when Bush was president was illegitimate because Democrats now do not accept verifiably false statements as true.
Let us recap. When Bush was president, criticism was unpatriotic. Under Obama, any failure to criticize is unpatriotic. Under Bush, no Republican ever touted the idea that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" but under Obama the phrase is repeated often. Republicans regularly attacked Democrats who criticized Bush as unpatriotic, denied doing so, and then complained that Democrats were falsely whining about being called unpatriotic. Republicans delegitimize liberal criticisms of Bush by equating those to verifiably false accusations about Obama. The GOP dismisses complaints against such false accusations with "so much for dissent is the highest form of patriotism" as if Democrats were somehow now abandoning principle.
With no hint of irony, with no shame, with no sense of moral failure, Republicans pile on Obama with abandon, proudly touting their new found love for dissent as an expression of patriotism; and forgetting every word they spoke in defense of Bush while attacking his critics. And in the final distortion of the space time continuum, Republicans are now calling the president himself unpatriotic and openly rooting for his failure. But no, that is not hating America. That is not unpatriotic. Take a deep breath and think about that for a moment. Under Bush any American criticizing the president was unpatriotic because they undermined the sanctity of the office of the presidency and the president's sacred role as commander-in-chief. Now the GOP is not only criticizing the president, which under Bush would have made them unpatriotic, they claim he is anti-American, which under Bush they would have considered treason. But what would be treason is now patriotism.
You doubt that Republicans have called our president unpatriotic or that they wish him ill? In her new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, Sarah Palin used that precise word, calling the president and Michele Obama "unpatriotic."
Michelle Bachman told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that she believed Barack Obama was "anti-American" and that she wished "the American media" would do an investigative exposé to determine "the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America."
Glenn Beck said, "I pointed out all of the Marxist tendencies of President Obama when he was just running... And nobody really seemed to care. People dismissed it. Now, people are going to come out of the woodwork... Look, if that's what you are, then make the point. We are being lulled into this and it's all being denied."
Rush Limbaugh famously told his audience, "I hope Obama fails. Somebody's gotta say it." If that was not clear enough, he went on to say later that, "I want everything he's doing to fail... I want the stimulus package to fail... I do not want this to succeed."
The official Republican website in Sacramento County, California actually read: "The only difference between Obama and Osama is BS." A popular GOP bumper sticker urged people to "Waterboard Barack Obama."
If any Republicans are reading this, I urge you to ask yourself this: if any talk show host, politician, party website, or irate citizen called for Bush to fail, encouraged us to torture him, claimed he was anti-American, called on the citizenry to kill his family (oh, you remember ""Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8"), or questioned his birthplace, would you not claim those citizens to be unpatriotic America haters who disrespected the office of the presidency and undermined the commander-in-chief? You cannot plausibly deny this; you know you would. But you now believe those very acts are not anti-American, in fact believe they are patriotic, when the insults and lies are hurled at a Democrat? And you can sleep at night?
The real problem here is that Republicans want to play under a different set of rules when a Democrat is in the Oval Office. Inconveniences like the Constitution, consistency, objective truth, the law and decency are simply swept away when a Republican becomes president, but those are piously demanded of us the moment a Democrat is elected.
I think Obama should adopt the Republican tactics. He needs to simply declare that unemployment is now 5.5 percent, that we have an annual surplus and that our debt has been retired. Health care is free for everybody while we improve care and extend life. Burritos have no calories. If the GOP can say Democrats "are on the side of terrorists" while in the same sentence deny saying that Democrats are on the side of terrorists, while then accusing the president of being anti-American without themselves being anti-American, we clearly have lost all ability to reason or evaluate absurd claims. So let's go with that, and start claiming the absurd. Apparently nobody will notice.
Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist, former White House senior policy analyst and author of Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World (Jacquie Jordan, Inc). Follow Jeff Schweitzer on Facebook.