For 60 years, liberals have had the unenviable task of defending our loyalty and patriotism from right-wing attack dogs who claim that we hate America. In the Jewish community, we have witnessed a parallel phenomenon. Too often, those with dovish political views toward Israel have had to defend their stances against claims that they are insufficiently attentive to the fundamental threat to Israel and the United States from Islamic terror.
Now, longtime critics of Israel's advocates are appropriating these right-wing tactics to question the loyalty of their ideological opponents. The clearest case of this is Stephen Walt's recent essay in Foreign Policy. In criticizing those who have challenged the fitness of Chas Freeman to serve as the Chair of the National Intelligence Council, Walt states, "[a] journalist [Jeffrey Goldberg] whose idea of 'public service' was to enlist in the Israeli army is challenging the credentials of a man who devoted decades of his life to service in the U.S. government. Now that's chutzpah."
For years, Walt has complained about the intimidation of Israel's critics. Suddenly, Walt, himself, is trying to intimidate his own critics by questioning Goldberg's loyalty to his country. It is especially ironic, apparently unintentionally, given that the title of Walt's essay, "Have they not a shred of decency?", echoes the famous line uttered by Army Counsel Joseph Welch to shame Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 for his anti-communist witch hunts. Tail-gunner Joe would have been quite proud of Walt's use of patriotism as a means of sliming his opponents.
Walt is not the only one playing the patriotism card. On TPM, M.J. Rosenberg recently blogged, "Unlike his [Freeman's] critics, he is not driven by politics. He's sometimes right and sometimes wrong but he is motivated by his belief in what is best for America." I hope Rosenberg is not implying that all of us who question Freeman's suitability for this job don't care about what's best for America?
Of course, some security hawks also play this game of "who is a patriot." I recently had to endure a lecture from one who was emphatic that a dovish Jewish group was "traitorous." Throughout the 2008 election, we had to suffer the know-nothings who endlessly questioned then candidate Barack Obama's patriotism.
No side comes out smelling clean when it engages in this mudslinging. However, we progressives should make a particular effort to avoid calling our opponents unpatriotic. Since at least the 1940s, progressives have undergone endless attacks from conservatives questioning our loyalty to America. Rightly, we have resented these demagogic attacks and have reserved our greatest scorn for the purveyors of such slime. We recognized that, no matter how strong our opinions might be on a given issue, it degrades our democratic culture when we resort to questioning opponents' patriotic motivations.
The late eighteenth century essayist Samuel Johnson had it right when he mused about this use of loyalty as a political weapon. Dr. Johnson declared: "[P]atriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."