11/14/2005 05:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Patriotism and Dissent

BUSH CONTENDS PARTISAN CRITICS HURT WAR EFFORT, ran the headline in the New York Times last weekend. In suggesting that wartime critics are deficient in patriotism, President Bush contradicts the historic leaders of the Republican party.

For example, Theodore Roosevelt -- no greater superpatriot -- said in 1918 during the First World War: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

During the Second World War, within a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor, Senator Robert A. Taft, "Mr. Republican," took the same line: 'I believe that there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government..... Too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think it will give some comfort to the enemy.... If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country more good than it will do the enemy, and it will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur."

TR and Taft are everlastingly right -- see other examples in the chapter "Patriotism and Dissent in Wartime" in my book War and the American Presidency (to which a new chapter, "Religion and the American Presidency," has been added in the paperback edition).