THE BLOG
03/28/2006 04:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Differing Opinions and Other Acts of Hateful Barbarism

It's one thing for a politician to risk speaking out against war. Hey, you criticize, you takes the heat. That's what open debate is all about. (Also free speech, but why quibble?) It's something else, though, for an opponent to take the concept of disagreement and repeatedly turn it into treason. That requires the pure artistry of a political Van Gogh. (Genius, but crazy enough to cut off your own ear.)

Witness decorated Vietnam veteran John Murtha calling for a Iraq troop withdrawal and being branded by a fellow Congressman as a coward who would "cut and run." Or Russ Feingold asking for a vote of censure on illegal spying, having yet another Congressman paint the Senator as in league with terrorists.

Hey, Congress is a tough audience. Especially if you're an opening act. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

(The President even finds himself having to dance the fine line, now acknowledging out of one side of his mouth that honest differences of opinion are fine, "but..." The "but..." part can be roughly translated into English as, "Unless those differences are with me." That is dishonest disagreement.)

Those who consider disagreement traitorous, unpatriotic or disloyal do always have a reason. Not necessarily a good reason, mind you, but you have to start somewhere. "America, Love It or Leave It" remains the classic Golden Oldie. This sentiment stems from the Founding Fathers, who history shows agreed on everything. The downside is if others take such an admonition seriously. As did the Confederacy before they seceded.

It was therefore noteworthy to read of a courageous first-term Congressman who, a while back, introduced a blunt but little-reported resolution. It addressed an unprovoked war against a country which he noted had made absolutely no attack on the United States, demanding the President provide proof that the foreign nation "herself became the aggressor by invading our soil in hostile array."

Calling the President's actions "from beginning to end, the sheerest deception," he floridly charged that the Commander-in-Chief was attempting "to escape scrutiny, by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory...that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy." Referencing the changing facts and justifications for the war, he ratcheted his rhetoric up (okay, even by political standards) and called the endeavor "the half insane mumbling of a fever-dream...running hither and thither, like some tortured creature, on a burning surface, finding no position, on which it can settle down, and be at ease." Hey, extravagant hyperbole is the price of free speech.

Needless-to-say, these brutal comments got the Illinois State Register to charge him as a "Benedict Arnold" with a "treasonable assault" on the President. The Congressman responded that to blindly accept the Administration's wishes was to "allow the President to invade a neighboring nation...whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary."

For a first-term Congressman to attack the President so forthrightly about a popular war was a career-ending risk. And indeed he was not re-elected.

Fortunately the smears of treason didn't stick, and the Congressman didn't ruin himself or his political future. Abraham Lincoln went on to become President.

What had so-concerned Lincoln was the Mexican War, started under President James K. Polk in 1846. A detailed description can be found in Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful "Team of Rivals." Oddly enough, the very point of the book is that by putting together a cabinet of his political rivals - men of different political parties who not only disagreed with Lincoln, but often openly disdained him - all they ended up doing was save the Union.

Go figure. Discord and disagreement, divergent ideas being a good thing. What a concept.

One can only wonder how traitorous many current Republicans would call the Father of their Party today, for his scurrilous blasts against a President starting an unjustified war. It would at least be a comfort to Lincoln knowing that this time around the majority of the country actually agreed with him.

Sometimes, father actually does know best.