President Plays Partisan Politics with Patriotism

Statement by Ralph G. Neas, President, People For the American Way Foundation

This week, President Bush suggested that senators who differ from his position on the Department of Homeland Security or policy toward Iraq are “not interested in the security of the American people.”

Seeking political gain by attacking the patriotism of one’s fellow Americans is a shameful tactic with a sordid history. It is meant to squelch debate by intimidating people who disagree into silence. Smothering dissent is not the American Way. Unfortunately, it is clearly a favored political strategy for the Bush administration.

Last fall, Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to bully Congress into passing the administration’s anti-terrorism bill without taking time for debate; when the bill did not move as quickly as he wanted, he suggested that members of Congress would share responsibility for making America vulnerable for future acts of terrorism. In December, Ashcroft brazenly suggested in congressional testimony that people who raised questions about the impact of the administration’s actions on Americans’ civil liberties were aiding terrorists and giving ammunition to the nation’s enemies.

Unfortunately, the impulse to silence questioning about plans for war in Iraq is not limited to the administration. Some members of Congress and political strategists seem to be reading off the same talking points. While debating U.S. policy toward Iraq on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” this week, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) repeatedly accused Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) of harboring “hatred of America.”

Preserving our democratic principles and constitutional liberties while waging war – whether on terrorism or in Iraq – is a policy question with immense consequences for the American people. Public officials should welcome and encourage reasoned and informed debate. It is both sad and outrageous that so many of our political leaders are choosing the opposite course.

In the wake of last year’s attacks on our country, Americans were reminded that love of country knows no political boundaries. President Bush should be ashamed for abandoning that principle and falling back on a dishonest and divisive strategy. He owes the American people an apology.

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