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So Now Dissent Is Patriotic!

Besides, since when did hoping for the failure of ideological agendas you disagree with become unpatriotic? ~Jonah Goldberg

It was somewhere around 2003. It is rich to hear these complaints now from many of the same people who nodded along with Frum as he dubbed antiwar conservatives would-be collaborators with jihadism and specifically declared them to be “unpatriotic” people who had “turned their backs on America.” Here was Frum almost six years ago: “Since 9/11, by contrast, the paleoconservatives have collapsed into a mood of despairing surrender unparalleled since the Vichy republic went out of business.” By “despairing surrender,” of course, Frum meant that we did not want to invade another country on the other side of the planet without cause. In this warped thinking, non-aggression was counted as surrender.

For years mainstream conservatives have denounced people who hold different policy views on the war, anti-terrorism and treatment of detainees as “anti-American” and worse, and not because they actually wished for Bush’s failure but because they opposed government policy, questioned the honesty of its leaders and condemned its illegal and immoral acts. In other words, these critics dissented and tried to hold the government accountable, and for the most part the people now trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of patriotic dissent ridiculed and denounced them for claiming that their dissent was patriotic. In much the same way, loyalists who defended one executive usurpation after another have started to transform almost overnight into vigilant watchdogs worried about an overreaching President. The principles involved are valid ones–checking abuses of power, holding government accountable, and refusing to endorse policies that you know will probably only make things worse. The problem is that many of the people now “rediscovering” them have a lot of nerve to lecture anyone else about them after all the things they have justified and enabled.

Opponents of the war did not wish for Bush to fail in matters related to national security, but rather wished for him not to make colossal blunders that would undermine national security, weaken and strain our military and needlessly compromise constitutional protections and the nation’s reputation. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that Bush’s critics on the war wished that he not embark on a course of action that was bound to fail on the administration’s own terms. When Mr. Bush ended his second term as a failed President, it was his supporters who continued to back him in every bad decision he made who had ensured that he failed. In other words, in resisting the policies the President wanted and implemented his critics were actually serving the President’s best interests, and he would have been wise to heed their warnings. Perhaps then he would not have left office as one of the most-loathed and discredited Presidents in history. Obviously, Limbaugh has never argued anything remotely like this, and even if he does mean something other than what he said his statement will not be received that way.

Of course, it is possible that when someone expresses the desire for Obama to fail, he means to say that he believes the President’s current course is ruinous and will make matters worse, but to say simply, “I want the President to fail” is to make it seem as if one wants the country to endure yet another four years of the sort of failed leadership we have experienced for the last eight. It may be the case that this is what we will have, but this is not something that any of us should want.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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