Unacceptable rhetoric

Via Unfogged, I came upon the amusing, but rather frightening American Traitor. This page is made up photos of Democratic or liberal politicians, media figures, and other people who are left of center. Next to the photo it lists some of their political views. Due to these views it classifies them as traitors. Reading the blurb for Wesley Clark, it becomes entirely clear that opposing the re-election of President Bush is a sufficient reason to call someone a traitor. Here's what they have to say about Clark: General 'once removed' -- and "Madonna's Choice" -- Wesley Clark is one of that rare breed: A military man who claims to be a Democrat. Sure, there are military Democrats -- just as some German Jews surely voted for Hitler in the 1930s. The man who couldn't effectively run a "police action" in the Balkans dares to criticize a sitting President for ineffectively battling terrorism? He must have those General's "stars in his eyes" because Bush vanquished two regimes (so far) and caused a third (Libya) to change sides. And that's just for starters!

I also recommend their very reasonable descriptions of Hillary Clinton (
Liberal NY Carpetbagger She-Devil Senator), Michael Stipe (Athens GA Hate Rocker), and George Soros (Satan Personified). I'm not going to make the claim that calling your political opponents traitors shows how degraded our poltical discourse has become, since someone could probably go back and find one of the Founding Fathers calling another Founding Father a traitor, or some similar historical example of respected figure X calling respected figure Y a traitor. But I do want to suggest that anyone who does it should be ignored, shunned, and otherwise kept out of any discussion. If I were to call someone a traitor, my meaning would include, "That person should be tried for a crime, the potential penalty for which is death" (see 18 USCS §2381). Now these people hopefully don't honestly believe that their political opponents should be executed, but then they shouldn't be eager to throw around the term traitor so casually. Doing so makes it harder to describe someone who, "owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere." ( 18 USCS §2381). You'd probably have to call such a person "double plus traitor," since you've decided that traitor just means, "Advocates ideas I am opposed to."

Because I'm wary of turning a blind-eye to rhetorical problems on the left, I should note that if you're willng to call members of the administration "War Criminals," you're accusing them of a very serious crime and suggesting that putting them to death would not be out of the question. This is an equivalent rhetorical excess unless followed up by citing the specific war crimes that you think administration members should be charged with and the evidence which would be used to convict them. Using myself as an example, I take it that most liberals are pretty far from thinking that George W. Bush should be jailed, let alone anything more serious than that. Therefore, don't call him a war criminal. Same goes with describing political opponents as murderers. Sticking to "idiots" or "evil" or "liars" or "power-mad" doesn't have these particular problems, though depending on who you're describing that way there could be other difficulties.

Google has about 75,300 hits for ("John Kerry" traitor) and about 55,400 hits for ("George Bush" "war criminal"). If you're willing to accept that these are equally factually inaccurate and that zero of the hits are referring to Bush 41 (which is pretty unlikely), and that this measure is a proxy for the right's rhetorical excess versus the left's, you find that the right is only 1.36 times worse. Surely we can do better than that. Or you can just deny that one or both of those claims is un-true, but to do so sincerely you have to be committed to imprisoning the person, and possibly to executing them. So don't do that.