Friday, February 02, 2007

Say you wanna resolution/ well, you know/ we all wanna see the plan...

Call it whatever you want – a moderate/liberal split, a realist/purist split – but the bottom line is that the Democrats, as always, remain divided over how best to stand up to President Bush. This was glaringly obvious this morning, as a succession of ’08 presidential hopefuls auditioned in front of Democratic National Committee members at the party’s annual winter confab in Washington.

At issue right now is the pending Senate resolution - hatched primarily by Republican John Warner and now endorsed by Democrat Carl Levin, with considerable backing from Levin’s colleagues – that seeks to criticize Bush for his Iraq escalation plan. This resolution, slated for debate next week, would signal symbolic opposition to Bush (a milestone of sorts, given the Senate’s timidity over the past five years), but it doesn’t compel Bush to change his ways, nor does it suggest alternatives to the Surge, such as reductions of U.S. troop levels over time.

Sensing perhaps that antiwar Democratic voters in early primary states will consider the resolution to be an exercise in spinelessness, several of the candidates today sought to characterize the resolution is those terms. Connecticut senator and long-shot candidate Chris Dodd said that, in the wake of the ’06 midterm elections that served as a thumbs-down referendum on Bush’s war performance, Americans deserve more than symbolic senatorial dissent. Actually, Dodd was blunter yesterday, during an interview with The Hartford Courant: “(The resolution) will not send a message to the White House. They intend to ignore whatever we do. Why not force them to pay attention to what we do (by enacting a substantive bill)? This is the U.S. Senate. This is not a City Council somewhere."

This is a good issue for a candidate who wants to plant his flag on the party’s left flank. Markos Moulitsas, the blogging impresario at Daily Kos, is assailing the resolution this way: “Kill this piece of crap dead….Let’s make a real statement on the war, not empty platitudes and rhetoric.”

Which brings us to candidate John Edwards, the former one-term senator, who followed Dodd this morning: “It is a betrayal not to stop this president’s plan to escalate the war when we have the responsibility, the power, and the ability to stop it. We cannot be satisfied with passing non-binding resolutions that we know this president will ignore. We have the power to stop the escalation of this war…Opposing this escalation with all the vigor and tools we have is a test of our political courage.”

But, shortly thereafter, the message from Hillary Clinton was very different. It may have been my imagination, but I get the feeling that she sees herself as a workhorse, and the flashier Edwards as merely a showhorse who could use a few lessons in practical politics. Clinton praised the impending “resolution of disapproval,” and said: “There are many people who wish we could do more, but let me say that if we can get a large bipartisan vote to disapprove this president’s plan for escalation, that will be the first time that we have said no to President Bush, and began to reverse his policies.”

Moments later, she pointed out that the Senate Democrats barely have a majority, which means that they must “create coalitions,” and collect the 60 votes necessary to block Republican filibusters, in order to get anything done. She said: “Believe me, I understand the frustration and the outrage. You have to have 60 votes to cap troops, to limit funding, to do anything…” She just as easily could have said that Democrats actually need 67 votes, to sustain any Bush veto.

She did feel the need, however, to nod leftward several times, promising that she would end the war if elected, that she would like to see the troop levels capped now, and that she’d like to warn the Iraqi army to shape up now or lose its U.S. financial assistance. She was, after all, outflanked on the left this morning not just by Dodd and Edwards, but by Barack Obama, who reminded everyone that he (unlike certain unnamed rivals) had opposed the Iraq war “publicly, frequently, consistently before the war began.”

It’s a crowded chessboard; as I noted here the other day, candidate Joe Biden, perhaps seeking to stake out ground as a sensible centrist, has already attacked Edwards for the latter’s troop pullout proposal. All told, it will be fascinating next week, during the resolution debate, to hear not so much what Senate Democrats say about the Bush war team (predictable stuff), but what they are prepared to say (albeit indirectly) about each other.


One final thought: There was one eye-rolling moment at the close of Dodd’s pitch this morning. He said that he has young kids, and that one daughter is five years old. He started to tell a story about how she was dressing for school the other day….and I just knew (from long experience) that we were heading for another Amy Carter Moment.

Back in 1980, as President Carter neared the end of his debate with challenger Ronald Reagan, he said this: “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry -- and the control of nuclear arms." Amy was 12 at the time. Most people who saw the debate thought Carter looked foolish playing the Dad card, putting forth his daughter as the font of wonky wisdom.

Anyway, Dodd told his story today: “…She said to me, in exactly these words, ‘Daddy, what sort of life do you think I’m going to have?’”

And I thought: Either he was making up that quote, because it was just too perfect…Or she really did say it, whereupon he clicked into candidate mode and told himself, "I’m gonna use that." Either way, it doesn’t speak well for the Dad card.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Joe Biden and the perils of candidate spontanaeity

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today, having already spent much time writing a Sunday print column about the impending Bush-Congress constitutional clash over Iraq. Brevity seems appropriate; after all, I would not want to wrest the award for loquacity away from Joe Biden.

Biden, who is either the ninth or 90th Democrat to announce a presidential candidacy, is truly God’s gift to political writers, because he provides such a verbal cornucopia. He has barely begun to formulate a thought, and it’s already tripping off his tongue without any editing in between. (Maybe he’s better suited to be a blogger than a candidate.) The odds are that he won’t be in the race long enough to require extended scrutiny, so it seems wise right now to briefly examine the remark he made yesterday about Barack Obama.

You’ve probably read it already; if not, here it is, one of many remarks in an interview with the New York Observer: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s storybook, man.”

I think this is what Biden was intending to say: Obama has charisma and a good personal story - assets which give him a serious shot at becoming the first black president.

But this is what Biden, by his verbosity and phrasing, seemed instead to be implying: None of the other black candidates (congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Rev. Jesse Jackson, former senator Carole Moseley Braun, and Rev. Al Sharpton) were articulate or bright or clean.

Nice move, Joe. A Democratic candidate is doomed unless he or she can draw substantial black support in the post-New Hampshire primaries…yet here was Biden seemingly implying that none of the candidates prior to Obama were articulate or bright. Which is another way of appearing to say, “This guy, at least, is a credit to his race.”

It’s more complicated than that, however. Biden inadvertently uttered a truth when he implied that Obama, unlike his predecessors, was at least “clean.” It happens to be a matter of record that Jackson fathered a love child, Sharpton championed a young black girl who made false rape charges against a white guy (Sharpton was successfully sued for defamation as a result), and Moseley Braun lost her 1998 re-election race amidst charges of financial improprieties. But for Biden, there was no percentage in implying (albeit unwittingly) that those preceded Obama lacked cleanliness.

Biden has already apologized (a modern ritual), and gone on Jon Stewart’s show that he has a sense of humor about himself (another modern ritual). All told, not a great first day for a new candidate. But I have some sympathy for Biden, as well:

We typically complain that political candidates are too scripted, too wedded to talking points and the message of the day. We plead for “authenticity.” Yet if candidates do something spontaneous and authentic or unexpected, they risk being savaged by the 24/7 scrutiny that voters now expect as their birthright. For instance, the other day in Iowa, Hillary Clinton sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in a voice that makes Yoko Ono sound tuneful, and this prompted a round of YouTube mockery from coast to coast.

One can argue that Biden will need to choose his words more carefully if he expects to be a serious candidate, yet still give him a few points for defying the narrow dictates of modern political discourse and instead being true to his authentic, loquacious self.


Biden is more adept in his natural habitat, the U.S. Senate. Today, he commented on the important news that key Republican senator John Warner will work with Democrats to forge an anti-troop escalation resolution, thereby forcing every senator to go on record in support of, or opposition to, President Bush’s “surge.” (By the way, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has now determined that Bush's troop hike is much larger than he has publicly indicated. Whereas Bush has told Americans that the figure is 21,500, the CBO concludes that, once the necessary additional support troops are counted, the real escalation tally is somewhere between 35,000 to 48,000.)

Anyway, here’s the key Biden remark: “Now we have a real opportunity for the Senate to speak clearly. Every Senator will have a chance to vote on whether he or she supports or disagrees with the President's plan to send more troops into the middle of a civil war. If the President does not listen to the majority of the Congress -- and I expect the majority of Congress will vote for our resolution -- if he does not respond to a majority of the Congress and a majority of the American people, we will have to look for other ways to change his policy.”

Wait, didn’t Biden just recently contend, on a Sunday talk show, that Congress really couldn’t do anything substantive to stop Bush’s troop hike? (Biden, on Jan. 7: "We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, ‘You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece’…he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.”) Rest assured that what Biden said today will not be his last word on the matter.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The GOP and Iraq: Voting for conscience over loyalty

I suggested recently that Republican angst over Iraq would be the top political story of 2007, and the evidence continues to mount:

It is clear, from the latest reports, that members of the Senate minority no longer have any desire to replicate past behavior and march in virtual lockstep behind their commander in chief. Quite the contrary, in fact. While trying to decide what kind of statement they should make about President Bush’s troop escalation strategy, it now appears that they are running in as many as seven directions.

There’s the Democratic-driven Senate resolution which declares that hiking the troop tally is “not in the national interest.” There’s a Republican alternative which says much the same thing, albeit in softer language. And there are perhaps five different drafts, offered by Bush loyalists, which seek in various ways to express support for the latest White House strategy, while, in some cases, still acknowledging that Iraq is a mess. The loyalists aren’t enthused about Bush’s troop hike, either; their aim is merely to persuade their restive GOP colleagues to stay away from the toughest anti-escalation statements.

It’s rare, in the Bush era, for Republicans to be splintered in this fashion (and there’s also a faction that is unhappy with the war, unhappy with the troop hike, yet skittish about voting for any resolution). The key remark was uttered yesterday by Trent Lott, the Mississippi senator whose job, as minority whip, is to count heads. Thinking ahead to the Senate debate on Iraq slated for next week, Lott said that he would not try to rally his colleagues to support one single approach; rather, he’ll tell them to “vote their conscience.”

That’s a stunning comment. For six years, the congressional GOP leaders had typically decreed that senators (and House members) should vote as the Bush White House wanted them to vote. But now Lott is essentially saying, “You’re under no obligation to follow Bush over a cliff, if that is your concern. Go do whatever you have to do, in order to save your own political skin back home.”

The same message was voiced yesterday by the GOP leader in the House, where pro-White House discipline reigned supreme until the ’06 election debacle. The word now, from John Boehner, is that, after the Senate takes action and the Iraq debate moves to the House side, “we’re going to let our members vote they way they want to.”

The Bush loyalists in the Senate are trying to rally their colleagues by offering all kinds of palliatives, including a draft resolution from New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg that would draw a line in the sand with Democrats, by declaring that any future cutoff of money to troops in the field should be deemed unacceptable. (By the way, this is the same Judd Gregg who, on Oct. 4, 1993, deemed it quite acceptable for the Senate to take strong action while President Clinton had troops in the field in Somalia: “I hope that we, as a Senate, will proceed to discuss the issue of Somalia….in the immediate future, before any more American lives are lost; and that we shall put into definition and some focus what is our purpose there and, most importantly, how we intend to disengage - or, if it is our decision, how we intend to engage pursuant to the laws which we, as a nation, have as a constitutional democracy.”)

But perhaps the GOP’s predicament can be most easily gauged by looking at the pro-Bush resolution being readied by John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They want to condition their support for the troop hike with yet another round of “benchmarks” designed to get the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to finally shape up. The problem is, this kind of language is being undercut by events, because even Bush administration surrogates admit that existing benchmarks haven’t been working.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Admiral William Fallon, the nominee to run U.S. forces in the Middle East, testified: “Maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a bit and do something that’s more realistic in terms of getting some progress…Time is running out.” And elsewhere, Democrats released a letter from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that the Iraqi government has already flunked a number of U.S. benchmarks, such as the need to share power and oil wealth with the Sunnis.

In other words, for many of the Republicans searching for safe haven, McCain’s approach might look like a dead end, the equivalent of investing money in a lousy stock. And on the political front, it’s clear that defending Bush, and doing it unsuccessfully, is hurting McCain’s political stock; damaged by the exodus of independent voters who once saw him as a “maverick,” he now trails Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards in early presidential polls.

But speaking of the Democrats, it’s also hard to chart their Iraq stances without a scorecard. Clinton says she wants the troops to leave by January 2009, Obama said yesterday that he wants the troops to leave by March 2008, Edwards says he wants 40,000 of those troops to leave right now; Clinton and Obama currently oppose an immediate cutoff of troop escalation money, while Edwards (who doesn’t have to actually vote, since he’s an ex-senator) wants a cutoff right now…it’s a crowded field on the center-left.

Which brings us to Joe Biden, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman and ’08 presidential hopeful, who demonstrates, in a newly-posted interview, the traditional Democratic appetite for intramural combat (the kind of combat that Republicans are traditionally more adept at avoiding). He dismissed Clinton’s Iraq ideas as “very bad,” he dismissed Obama as “a one-term,” and then he went after Edwards’ proposal for pulling out 40,000 troops right away:

“John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think, ‘I want us out of there,’ but when you come back and you say, ‘O.K., John, what about the chaos that will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region?’ Well, John will have to answer yes or no. If he says yes, what are they? What are those interests, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you are completely withdrawn? Are you withdrawn from the region, John? Are you withdrawn from Iraq, John? In what period? So all this stuff is like so much Fluffernutter out there.”

You’ve gotta love those mocking references to “John.” That’s Biden’s way of saying “the pretty boy left the Senate after only one term, so he doesn’t deserve to be addressed as ‘senator,’ whereas I’m the guy with the status and foreign policy know-how.”

Stay tuned for the Democratic candidate debate scheduled for New Hampshire in early April, with CNN in attendance. The Republican candidates, who will also debate, are still arguably the bigger story, because it’s their guy who has run this war. But the Democrats, hewing to the old Will Rogers line, will probably put on the better show. Starting with the fact that they won't be all white guys.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Updating Mark Twain for the 24/7 disinformation era

The emails are still showing up in my inbox. Thus far, there have been dozens. Here’s yet another typical entry, received today:

“I keep hearing, but I can’t seem to confirm, that Barack Obama’s religion is Muslim and that as an impressionable youngster overseas, he was taught radical Muslim doctrines at a Muslim school abroad. If this is true, how can anyone think that a Muslim can be elected president, much less taking an oath on the Koran? Why aren’t you writing about this?”

Well, I know this is going to sound like a quaint notion, but I try not to write about rumors that have no basis in fact. Call me crazy, but I generally try to avoid being infected by the germs that move so rapidly through the nation’s 24/7 disinformation bloodstream.

But every once in awhile, at the risk of aiding and abetting this lamentable contemporary phenomenon, I find it expedient to pay attention, if only for the purpose of putting in a plug for traditional journalistic standards. You know, for the antiquated stuff like truth and accuracy.

I did this back in February 2004, when I wrote how conservative media outlets had managed to spread a rumor that future Democratic nominee John Kerry had dallied with an intern, despite the dearth of empirical proof. (That one managed to stay alive for nearly two weeks, and it foreshadowed the Swift Boat strategy by about six months.) Similarly, it’s now worth assessing the persistent (and false) rumor about Barack Obama’s pernicious doings in elementary school, if only as an indicator of how the purveyors of unsubstantiated factoids can be expected to operate during the long ’08 presidential campaign.

Mark Twain once wrote that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes," but that was so 100 years ago; today he would be saddened to discover that a lie can traverse the globe in a millisecond before the truth is even clued in.
The Obama case is Exhibit A; for those of you who haven’t tracked this “story,” here’s a brief recap:

On Jan. 17, a web site called, a remnant of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s conservative media empire, posted a report that young Obama had attended a radical Muslim religious seminary – in other words, a madrassa – while living in Indonesia. The web site, which is run by a former Republican policy staffer, said: “Today most of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government, and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.” The web site also said that the information about Obama had been unearthed by Hillary Clinton’s dirt-digging campaign operatives. (In other words, this report was a twofer, casting both Obama and Clinton in a negative light.)

On Jan. 19, three conservative talk-show hosts (Rush Limbaugh being the most prominent) picked up the report. On that same day, two different shows on Fox News aired segments about the report. There were no indications, on either show, that Fox News had attempted to verify the accuracy of the report. There no indications that Fox News had sought to determine whether the school that Obama attended 35 years ago had taught the Wahhabi doctrine.

Instead, host John Gibson offered this commentary: “Americans have a visceral reaction to the word 'madrassa.' In our world, a madrassa is where zealots train your Muslim kids to hate America, to hate the West, and to be killers. Saying Obama attended a madrassa is tying Obama's name to terrorism, and that is real political hardball in action, especially when Obama himself said in his own book that he attended a predominantly Muslim school as a youngster in Indonesia." (His reference to “real political hardball” was aimed at the Hillary Clinton dirt-diggers who supposedly found the goods on Obama.)

The New York Post, which, like Fox News, is part of the Murdoch media empire, also picked up the story…even though it soon began to fall apart. By Jan. 20, the Obama camp had condemned the Insight report as “a complete contrivance,” reiterating Obama’s own previous statements about being a committed Christian since he was in his twenties. And the Clinton camp had stated that it had no role in the report. (Over the past week, nobody at Fox News, and none of the talk-show hosts, have offered any information linking the Clinton camp to the rumor.)

And on Jan. 22, CNN put the kibosh on the story the old-fashioned way: the network actually sent a reporter to Indonesia to check things out (unlike, which says it doesn’t have the money to send out reporters). CNN’s on-the-scene conclusion: the school that young Obama attended was basically a secular public institution that offered religion classes only once a week; and the school was not influenced by radical Wahhabism anyway - especially at that time, when Indonesia was widely known to be a highly secular Muslim nation.

It speaks volumes about this “story” that not even The Washington Times, nor the web-based Drudge Report, saw fit to pass it along. It has also been debunked by ABC and the Associated Press. And there was this confession, reported two days ago, from a senior veep at Fox News: “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about. They reported information from a publication (Insight) whose accuracy we don’t know.” (He also might have added that any report that fails to distinguish between secular Muslims and radical Muslims is basically playing to the widespread American ignorance of foreign cultures.)

But back to the updated Mark Twain rule: Even though the Insight rumor has been discredited, I am still receiving these emails from inquiring readers. Here’s another: “Osama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.”

In other words, there are many ways to perpetuate rumors; even after they die on the air, they can still be circulated under the radar, freed from the dictates of empirical testing, until they are ubiquitous. This morning, I casually mentioned the Obama rumor to a Penn student, and she immediately replied, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that.”

I also find it interesting that I was deluged with these emails right after I wrote a print column which argued that Americans are now “ready” for a qualified black president. The message, as I interpret it, is this: If Obama detractors can’t persuade people to oppose a black man, maybe they can persuade people to oppose a (falsely depicted) black Muslim man. It is for such purposes that the 24/7 disinformation phenomenon is ideally suited.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dissent in wartime: the tide has turned

Over the past five years, it has been difficult to determine exactly what form of dissent the Bush war team deems acceptable. Administration officials have repeatedly dangled the carrot (we welcome a full and vigorous debate) while applying the stick (any full and vigorous debate will give aid and comfort to the terrorists).

But let’s give them points for sheer consistency. Even though dissent on the Iraq war has now become the centrist position in America, even though 64 percent of Americans (and 69 percent of independents) believe that Congress has not been sufficiently assertive about challenging President Bush on the war, Bush and his surrogates are still contending that any deviation from unity (as defined by the Decider) is tantamount to doing the terrorists’ work. Bush recently said in an interview that he is sleeping well at night, but it’s hard to imagine he rests comfortably knowing that most of his fellow citizens have become seditious coddlers of the enemy.

That’s the administration message about wartime dissent, not withstanding Bush’s latest attempt at carrot-dangling (from his Jan. 23 State of the Union speech: “I respect you, and the arguments you’ve made”). Last Friday, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with reporters and said that any congressional resolution opposing the Bush troop escalation “certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries. I think it’s hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to these folks.”

Gates was merely repeating the line laid out by Bush spokesman Tony Snow, at a White House briefing 10 days earlier. NBC correspondent asked the key question – “What is an appropriate way to dissent?” – and Snow replied: “You just take a look at what ramifications (dissent) may have. That’s all I’m saying….The question again is, does this send a signal that the United States is divided on the key element of success in Iraq.”

Yesterday, the line was picked up on the Sunday talk shows. Bill Kristol, the neoconservative Fox News fixture, said that the people’s representatives on Capitol Hill would be best advised to “do nothing” about the troop escalation plan, because doing or saying anything “can only encourage our enemies.” Over on ABC, Republican Senator Dick Lugar, while sounding quite unenthusiastic about the latest Bush strategy, nevertheless argued that dissent is not a luxury we can afford: “I don’t believe it’s helpful right now to show there’s disarray (in the Senate). We really need, at this point, to get on the same page.”

And back on Fox News, semi-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman put his own caveat on the First Amendment, contending that any effort by the Senate to express dissent right now “will discourage the troops, who we’re asking to carry out this new plan, and it will encourage the enemy.”

This argument has actually been around since the 2002 midterm election season, when the Republicans successfully employed it to enforce silence. That autumn, Bush contended that Democrats who questioned his prewar claims about Saddam Hussein were clearly “not interested in the security of the American people.” Then, in the autumn of 2004, Bush warned that dissenting comments about the war in Iraq “can embolden the enemy.” Then, during the 2006 midterm election season, House Majority leader John Boehner (who was on his way to becoming House Minority leader) said of Democratic dissenters, “I wonder if they’re more interested in protecting terrorists than in protecting the American people.”

Call it consistency, or perhaps sheer stubbornness, but it’s certainly striking that the Bush surrogates persist in making this argument even after being repudiated by the electorate. According to figures supplied by the nonpartisan National Journal, Republican House candidates in two-party races garnered only 45.9 percent of the vote last November – the worst GOP showing since Bush arrived on the national scene (see Jan. 19 for full statistics). And the latest polls chart the administration's ebbing credibility; yesterday, the Newsweek survey reported that 67 percent of Americans (including 70 percent of the pivotal independents) now feel that Bush is primarily guided only by his personal beliefs, not by "what the facts are."

Indeed, this shift in public mood explains why war dissenters now feel so emboldened about confronting the administration.

It says something about the way Iraq is reshaping our politics that a conservative senator and favorite of the religious right – that would be ’08 presidential candidate Sam Brownback of Kansas – now seems positioned to the left of Joe Lieberman. Brownback fired back at Lieberman yesterday on Fox News, basically contending that if anything is emboldening the enemy, it is the disaster on the ground on Iraq, and not the words of dissent being uttered back home:

“I don’t see this enemy as needing any more emboldening or getting it from any resolution. They’re emboldened now. I was there two weeks ago in Iraq. I was in Baghdad. I was in northern Iraq. This is a very aggressive situation. You have sectarian violence of Sunni and Shia. I was in the Kurdish area. They were talking about we have to get the Sunni and Shia together. I talked with the head of the Kurdish group. He said he wouldn’t vote for more troops because you have to first force the Sunni and Shia to sit down and talk about a political accommodation and that’s not happening.”

Over on CBS, Democratic Senator James Webb said simply that lawmakers have already given Bush four years to perform competently in Iraq, but that their patience is now exhausted – which is why it “borders on irresponsibility” for anyone to contend at this point that dissenters are hurting the troops and aiding the enemy. He was soon seconded by Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who contended that dissent in wartime is “the price worth paying in a democracy.”

But perhaps the best argument for wartime dissent was not articulated on any of the Sunday shows:

“The president is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. 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. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

That was former President Theodore Roosevelt, then and now a hero to his fellow Republicans (notably John McCain), writing at the height of World War I, while hundreds of thousands of American troops were in harm’s way.