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In his foreign policy speech last week, Mitt Romney replayed the deepest theme of Republican politics this year— President Obama, in particular, and Democrats, more generally, are traitors to the United States. Romney repeatedly employed the concept of betrayal to characterize the Obama administration’s foreign policy. He accused the administration of intentionally leaking classified secrets for political gain.

obama south lawn

Romney expressed the most outrage at leaks which revealed information about the assassination of Osama bin Laden and about the computer worm that damaged Iranian computers controlling its enrichment of uranium. He hopes to transform some of Obama’s greatest foreign policy successes into evidence of treason.

“Betrayal” is pretty strong language, but Romney is careful to let other Republicans push this idea into territory reminiscent of Joe McCarthy. In July, Michele Bachmann and four other Republican lawmakers recently demanded a federal investigation into whether radical Muslims have infiltrated the U.S. government. Bachmann accused Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist group whose leader just won the presidential election in Egypt. Bachmann claims the State Department has taken actions favoring radical Islamists.

John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and a spokesman for Romney, opened an official campaign conference call two weeks ago by saying, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”

The anti-American theme is nothing new for Republican politicians. In 2008, Bachmann suggested that Obama and other Democrats in Congress were anti-American. Last December, Rick Santorum accused Obama of “absolutely un-American activities.” He didn’t specify what he meant, because this idea was so commonplace by then, that no evidence is needed to appeal to conservative voters by saying that our President is a traitor.

Lurking behind the un-American charge lies the non-American lie. The birther conspiracy mongers, now led by Donald Trump, still proclaim that Obama is not an American at all. Romney’s embrace of Trump and his billions lends his weight to this fantasy.

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If Romney did not believe that these accusations would help his chances to win the White House, he would distance himself from them. I can’t see how he could believe they help our country, now or in the future. But that has been characteristic of his campaigning thus far.

In my lifetime, no party has so thoroughly incorporated into their normal politics the charge that the other party’s policies are treasonous as today’s Republicans. Joe McCarthy was an inveterate liar and a self-promoting creep. Mitt Romney’s embrace of these tactics shows how desperate he is to win this election.

Some typically patriotic voters may be turning against this political abuse of patriotism. In 2004, polls showed that 57 percent of veterans voted for George Bush. In 2008, 54 percent voted for John McCain over Obama. But a May poll by Reuters showed Obama with a seven-point lead over Romney among veterans.

Veterans and other Americans may have come to an important realization. Those politicians who identify only themselves as true Americans, who call the other party’s political leaders traitors, and thus the other party’s voters co-conspirators, do damage to our consensus-based democracy.

Steve Hochstadt

The more the Romney campaign imitates Joe McCarthy, the more voting for him becomes itself a betrayal of our American values.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Posted: Tuesday, 31 July 2012