Glenn Greenwald has a great write-up on Salon.com today titled Accusing Obama critics of "standing with the terrorists." He makes much of the fact that prominent liberals accused Republicans of siding with the Taliban in criticizing President Obama's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Greenwald rightly points out that during the Bush years it became an all too common occurrence that critics of the president were painted as unpatriotic or of standing with the terrorists. Liberals rightly condemned these accusations of guilt by association and prominent scholar Howard Zinn's statement that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" became a rallying cry and bumper sticker mainstay on Volvos everywhere. But now everything is different. Now the left is in power and it is one of their own that is being criticized, so when prominent conservatives questioned President Obama's Nobel Prize the liberal organization Media Matters issued a statement lamenting, "that the domestic political opposition party would echo the sentiments of one of our nation's fiercest enemies is truly striking."
Greenwald closes with this: "Calling people unpatriotic and comparing them to Terrorists for failing to fulfill their solemn duty to praise the President on his Special Day and mindlessly support his accolades isn't clever or tough politics. It's weak, counter-productive, unprincipled, dumb and dangerous."
I could not agree more. What needs to be understood is that these attempts to stifle dissent at any cost represent the reality of American politics in a hyper-partisan era. The ideological divide between the leaders on the Left and the Right has grown so great that neither can see any common ground. Each side views itself as noble and the opposition as intolerable obstructionists. If yours is the only noble cause then the ends will always justify the means as those who would oppose you serve only to obstruct all that is just. As Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston recently warned, "polarized partisanship creates a climate in which each party is likely to deny any truth or virtue to the other." In such a climate, suggesting that the opposition stands in concert with terrorists becomes a reasonable accusation.
Worse, blind loyalty to party leadership becomes the norm. As chronicled by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann in their book Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, "Members of the majority party, including the leaders of Congress, see themselves as field lieutenants in the president's army far more than they do as members of a separate and independent branch of government. Serious oversight almost inevitably means criticism of performance - and this Congress has shied away from anything that would criticize its own administration."
Sarah Binder, along with Mann and Ornstein, compared the 11oth Congress with 109th and the 104th to see whether hyper-partisanship began to wane after Democrats reclaimed control in 2007 - they found that use of restrictive rules in the House (used to limit debate and prevent the minority from offering amendments) had increased in the 11oth with 88% of all legislation proceeding under restrictive rules, Democratic party unity was at 92% and GOP unity at 86%, in the Senate there was an increase in cloture motions (to end filibusters) which the authors attributed to the fact that because the normal rules of procedure were often bypassed the only chance the GOP had to influence a bill was during final debate. All of these practices took place under the GOP in the 109th Congress - they simply continued and in some ways accelerated under the Democrats.
So hyper-partisanship means stifling dissent and blind adherence to party leaders (the president) - two things that should be fundamentally anathema to a representative democracy. Could anything be more "weak, counter-productive, unprincipled, dumb and dangerous?" I think not.