Wednesday, September 30, 2009


When does political hyperbole rise to the level of treason? That is my question for today.

First, it started with the Birthers, those who sought to undermine the legitimacy of a newly elected President with fabricated conspiracy theories about the authenticity of his birth certificate and the legality of his presidency.

Next came the Tea Baggers, followed by the town hall hooligans, followed by gun-toting thugs at presidential rallies, followed by GOP Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst of “Liar!” before a special session of Congress, followed by GOP Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann calling for armed resistance against Obama’s legislative agenda, followed by GOP Congressman Trent Franks threatening a Birther lawsuit against Obama and calling him an “enemy of humanity,” followed by GOP Governor Rick Perry calling for Texas to secede from the union, followed by Newsmax columnist John Perry dreaming of a military coup against President Obama, followed by a FaceBook poll asking: “Should Obama be killed?” Get the picture! A daily diet of demonization and vituperation.

For months, we have heard the repeating rhythms of Obama the Communist, Obama the Socialist, Obama the Islamofascist, Obama the Jihadist … and the steady and relentless drumbeats of a GOP run amuck driving us towards civil disorder and insurrection.

There was a time when the party out of power was termed the Loyal Opposition. We called them “loyal” because there was always a tacit assumption that the losing party would accept the results of a fair and decisive election, would always accede to the will of the people, would recognize traditional standards of civility and protocol, and always play by the rules. No longer.

The party out of power has devolved from the Loyal Opposition Party to the "Grand Obstructionist Party" to the "Oppositional-Defiant Party,” and now the “Grand Insurrection Party.” The time-honored art of political compromise and consensus is dead. The GOP has opted out of participatory democracy.

Samuel Johnson once said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Your humble Octopus disagrees. The U.S. Constitution affords plenty of mud-wiggle room for scoundrels. If patriotism is the first refuge, the First Amendment is the next, where cowards assert their bigotry and stupidity by saying anything they want under Constitutional protection, or so they think. The Second Amendment offers yet another refuge: When reason and civil discourse fail, the malcontents and misfits of the GOP invoke this Amendment to incite others to violence by proxy, or so they think. The fear-mongering, hate-mongering scoundrels of the GOP overlook a fundamental point.

We have the same rights. We won the last two elections. We have a mandate to reverse the failed policies of the GOP whether they like it or not. With each passing day, the GOP has pushed political discourse beyond the fringes of civilization, and the time is long overdue to hold them accountable before more people get killed. I will defend my politics, my principles, and my person with words as I must and with arms (all 8 of them) if necessary. Octopus hath spoken.


  1. The definition of treason seems narrow, as we might expect, given that the founders didn't want anything like the sort of inflection of that offense you'd find in monarchic Britain, where, at one time, talking on a street corner with a few friends might just get you accused of "murmuring against the King." The clause portion below seems geared to acts of war rather than to speech. Well, I suppose it depends on how one interprets that phrase "giving them aid and comfort." I get the sense that it applies only or at least almost exclusively to things like providing weapons of war and such. But I'm just a dumb dino, not a constitutional scholar.

    Here's the key language from Article 3, Section 3:

    "Clause 1: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort...."

  2. Gee, I was hoping for something more ... definitive ... like inciting mob violence, plotting to overthrow the government, domestic terrorism, conspiracy to commit murder, etc.

  3. Octo,

    No, I think it has to be something quite overt, something that can be dealt with in open court (see Article 3, Clause 2 on the Library of Congress site). The controversy over the Sedition Act of 1798 is another thing worth considering, though I haven't the expertise to deal very well with it.

    I suppose one could conjure up extreme examples of rhetoric that might get a person in trouble (such as might be found in a violence-advocating website that's pretty clearly not about "just venting"), but the charge would almost certainly be something other than treason. For anything but the worst stuff, something like communal ostracism is probably be the only legitimate way to deal with it: i.e. "that's crazy talk and out of bounds for civilized people; we won't speak with you or listen to you anymore unless you stop it." Obviously, accomplishing that level of ostracism in today's climate is no easy matter since it's easy to form entire communities of self-reinforcing, bloody-minded imbeciles.

  4. I was going to quote the same passage from the constitution, with its narrow definition of treason.

    I suppose that you could make the case that, if anyone in the military actually acted on this suggestion, they would legitimately be considered enemies, and the writer of this article would be guilty of "adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Until there is a significant overt act against the government, however, I'm afraid they can get away with all of the blabbing they can spew out. Until then, we need some other word to describe this kind of disloyal betrayal.

  5. Speaking of John Perry's coup dreams and self-reinforcing, bloody-minded imbeciles, see this (and do not skip the comments section).

  6. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the link -- yes, that site is amazing. It's chock full of hopelessly insane, breathless conspiratorial offal, each brainless effusion building on the last, and the comments are full of -- well, exactly the sort of "now we all know that up is down and wrong is right" smugness one expects from right-wing yokels.

    One prefers to think that people like that are a tiny, uninhibited minority who ALL speak up the minute a quarter-baked thought drifts through their heads, whilst saner folk just keep quiet more often than not. But how many of them does it really take to stir up serious trouble in "the material world"? It all goes towards creating a climate of obscenity and outrage, which cannot come to good.

  7. Yikes! I couldn't help but notice that the neo-nuts call this "a blog for those who take Reality seriously!"

    It seems they can't make a distinction between delusional thinking and voices in the head. No matter. I am too tired tonight to offer cognitive therapy to the psychotic, and even if I had the energy, the exercise would be pointless.

    Let them enjoy their hallucinations. We can always take them away in a paddy wagon later.

  8. Octo - you have a rare gift for being most eloquent when you are most riled. Powerful post.

    If we were 5th century BCE Athenians we would simply ostracize those politicians AND OTHERS who were currently acting in an "obstructionist manner" (to put it mildly!). We wouldn't bother with hauling them into court on whatever constitutional charge. We wouldn't call out the shrill media (such as shrill Aritostophanes) - no - we would simply, calmly tell the miscreants to pack there bags and leave. For 10 years. And, after 10 years, when said ostracized person had learned their lesson (or not) then we would allow them to return into the welcoming fold of our democracy with no hard feelings.

    AND - while the ostracized obstructionists were absent - we would actually get done what needed to be done and things stewing in turmoil would cool!

    A brilliant strategy on the part of my beloved Athenians - no? A savvy way in which to diffuse a tense societal situation before things get ugly. Sadly, our modern democracy has never adopted this enlightened, bloodless, civilized practice.

    Unfortunately, if we were to adopt such a practice, the list of possible ostracizees who don;t know how to play well with others would be lengthy.

  9. πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται:
    ἀλλ' ἡμεῖς αὐτοῖς οὐ διαμειψόμεθα
    τῆς ἀρετῆς τὸν πλοῦτον: ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἔμπεδον αἰεί,
    χρήματα δ' ἀνθρώπων ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει.

    Ironic that Solon himself was ostracized. It cuts both ways.

  10. Thanks Elizabeth for the link...

    Just when I had thought I had seen everything with the Perry/Newsmax article.

    One of the great 'benefits' of the internet was supposed to be that information and knowledge could easily be shared and would be readily available.

    With all the right wing trolls, and the various blogs that I stumble upon regularly all I can say is that Americans aren't as bright as I had I had assumed...

    Or maybe its all just a joke, where people, when given a chance to hide their identities start up blogs and then post the most bizarre stuff that they can think of just in an attempt to alleviate their boredom at work?

    I like that....its all just a big joke!

  11. I like SQUID's idea of true ostracism, but I prefer the ancient Greek practice of the pharmakos, where a couple of pharmakoi (human scapegoats) are lead out of the city to be beaten and stoned as expiation to purify society.

    Just a thought...

  12. As long as ours is a society that engages in victim blame, the pharmakoi will always be the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, victims of injustice, those without health insurance, wage-earners whose incomes have declined under supply-side economics, those who have lost jobs and homes, those who have lost savings and retirement accounts, those who are the victims of K Street lobbyists who continually rape the economy while working people suffer. Meanwhile the Grand Insurrection Party advocates for the privileged and the wealthy and seeks to rip off working people even more ... while refusing to acknowledge the human toll caused by their extremist ideology.

    I have no sympathy for the GOP, the GIP, whatever we call them. As far as I am concerned, they are little more than criminals and should be treated as such. I seek economic and social justice, not scapegoats.

  13. Little more than criminals? I don't know why you included that "little more than" part.

  14. Of patriots and scoundrels, I turn your attention to Nashville's own "grey eyed man of destiny." Doctor, lawyer, pirate, and president of Nicaragua--briefly, until he got crossways with Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was executed by firing squad in Honduras.

    Seems like in the past some of our nuttier citizens have been able to find an outlet for their imperialistic dreams in places like Central America, Africa, the Middle East. Now that those outlets have been cut off, we're stuck with these nutballs at home.

  15. I wrote something related to this, Octo.

    We already had one guy strung up. How many more?

  16. Octo,

    I came to this blog from American Power, they had a link to this article, and after reading what you have to say, I'm glad I showed up.

    Please understand, I totally and completely disagree with you, but your writing style and words are exceptional and intelligently writ.

    It's nice, now and again, to read a leftist article that doesn't denigrate itself to: Bush..Blah..Blah..Nazis..Blah..Blah..Fascists..War in Iraq..Blah..Blah!!

    Nicely done, Octo, nicely done.

    Cheers from CT!

  17. Welcome, but "leftist"? As a certain tennis star of yore would say, "You cannot be serious!" There is scarcely anything worthy of the appellation in the US & A "in the here and the now of the land of the space of today."

  18. Thanks to Southern Beale for the William Walker link -- fascinating stuff!

  19. Southern Beale, the William Walker link struck me as rather Kiplingesque. Would it be too cynical to say that he was a pioneer of our Central and South American foreign policy? Many thanks.

  20. Pelicanmarsh68, cheers from our tropical paradise. Admittedly, I am not the best Bush basher among liberal bloggers. A modest cephalopod avoids the sandbox logic of “you started it first.”

    I suppose one should be flattered to have our ah-steamed Professor Douglas quote me. I haven’t read his post and don’t intend to. He is known in these waters as a troll-fish and has tried to goad me into conversation for over a year by leaving comments, as a stray dog leaves unwelcome gifts. Although my instinct is to ignore him, perhaps it is fitting and proper that I quote him in kind:

    Donald Douglas (americanpowerblog - Thu, Aug 27, 2009 6:54 pm): “Good going, Octo-Creep!”

    Donald Douglas (americanpowerblog - Wed, Dec 17, 2008 10:38 pm): “Sounds like a self-description, Foggy Butt!”

    A class act, our ah-steamed Professor Douglas. This is not to suggest that we don’t have conservative friends. We do.

    We engage our conservative friends in conservative causes like keeping our beach clean and conserving our environment. Welcome to our beach, and please accept this good will gesture.

  21. Octo,

    Your good will gesture was happily received. Alas, I have none to offer you, but if it's any consolation, in honor of your name, I will refrain from eating Octopus at my local sushi joint for a week.

    I did not know Mr. Douglas and you had a history. Very interesting.

    Thanks for not flaming me or deriding me or calling me ridiculous names as has been done on other sites by less than honorable liberals. True, we will not agree on a plethora of issues, but politeness and respect are always regarding warmly in my world. I hope to post again and I will endeavor to follow your blog.


    Donald in Bethel, CT

  22. OCTO, I think the word you're looking for is "sedition."

  23. Matt, you are right about the right word being "sedition," but as Bloggingdino points out (first comment), outrageous political behavior enjoys constitutional protection (and reprehensibles know this). Our recent conservative visitor to the Zone would probably accuse me of being a heretic in the Temple of Free Speech … with some justification.

    Perhaps “Psy-Ops” might be a better term. Like all forms of propaganda, its purpose is to subvert and demoralize. As citizens of a participatory democracy, our expectation is to hold an honest and open debate. “Psy-ops” breaks the rules and derails the debate. It offends us on many levels.

    We are especially offended by political dissembling, not just because we regard it as fundamentally dishonest, but because it is used to cheat us from pursuing our democratic aspirations.

    We are offended when political adversaries draw an uncomfortably thin line between constitutionally protected speech and incitement. Behaviors considered legal are not always ethical or moral, and there will always be scoundrels who deny a causal link between rhetorical excess and outright violence.

    We are offended when community standards of civility and decorum are pushed further into the wilderness, i.e. when a “new political reality” sinks to a new low.

    How vulgar our culture had become was impressed upon me years ago while I was living abroad. There were citizens of that fair land who befriended and mentored me in their ways. Oftentimes, I heard these expressions: "That’s just not done." "That's just not said.” “That’s not our way.”

    Norms of social behavior are not ensconced in law but are generally understood. There is always a tacit understanding about what constitutes decorum, proper manners, and protocol.

    We have lost these traditional modes of conduct. Politics has polarized us; Internet anonymity has made verbal combat fashionable. Politeness is no longer valued. In fact, it has turned into a liability.

    What a shame! Politeness is peaceful. Verbal violence is only a micron away from real violence, and there seems no way of turning back the clock to a more gracious time.


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