Remember back in the dark days of the Bush Administration when liberals were afraid to sleep at night because jackbooted thugs were readying to break down their doors and arrest them for speaking their mind? When printing presses were smashed and internet servers disabled merely for carrying criticism of the then-incumbent president?
When it took great courage for a left-winger to walk down the streets or across a university campus lest he face an angry right-wing mob hurling insults and questioning his patriotism?
Well, those days are long gone. Many liberals survived without serving a jail sentence for expressing their views. And we’ve now learned that the conservatives challenging their patriotism existed on the fringes of the movement and in the imaginations of the left-wing punditocracy and blogosphere.
Well, today, via Byron York, it seems that we’re about to return to those dark days of the “aughts.” New York Times columnist Frank Rich is at the vanguard of a movement to mete out the same treatment to conservatives that liberals experienced in his mind when the diabolical genius George W. Bush held the reins of power with evil henchmen Cheney and Rove controlling the secret police.
In his column yesterday, the one-time theater critic questioned a Navy veteran’s patriotism:
If [Harry] Reid can serve as the face of Democratic fecklessness in the Senate, then John McCain epitomizes the unpatriotic opposition.
As a new dark age emerges, let us hope that media are as vigilant in challenging Rich and his followers as they were in attacking those nameless conservative hordes who faulted noble men such as he for lacking patriotism. York reminds us of Rich’s vigilance:
In the past, Rich has bristled at Republicans who, in his eyes, sought to cast Democrats as unpatriotic. In June 2008, Rich blasted McCain for trying “to create a smoke screen by smearing Barack Obama as unpatriotic.” In August 2007, he hit “the right’s vigilantes” who Rich said “branded [as] unpatriotic” a program on ABC listing the names of American servicemembers who died in Iraq. In June 2006, Rich slammed President George W. Bush for “implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous.” In November 2005, he criticized Bush for giving a “Veteran’s Day speech smearing the war’s critics as unpatriotic.” And in October 2005, he smacked Karl Rove for creating “the rhetoric that would be used habitually to smear any war critics as unpatriotic.”
But, interestingly, in none of those examples cited did Mr. McCain, Mr. Bush or Mr. Rove used the word “unpatriotic” to describe their Democratic critics. And now Rich has used to describe his Republican adversaries.
This era could be even darker than the previous one. Unlike his vigilante forebears, Rich has no qualms about openly using the word to describe the Administration’s critics. In the Bush era, it took vigilant critics like Rich to find the accusation of “unpatriotism” in the penumbrae of right-wing rhetoric.
And now, he believes, he can say it in the open. No one is safe any more. At least not on the right.