The Hill columnist Niall Stanage reports that Democrats have been calling conservatives and Republicans “un-American” in their political debate.
Stanage claims that this habit of attacking others’ patriotism is “mainly a weapon of the right,” but that liberals are now also using the tactic.
In his piece, Stanage presents some history on use of the word “un-American” and its companion “anti-American” tracing it all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who was considered “un-American” for supporting France over England in the days of our Quasi-War with France.
But even earlier than that, both John Adams and George Washington were sometimes labeled as an enemy to the country, Adams for being too enamored of the trappings of the monarchy and Washington for his use of the military against American citizens during the Whiskey Rebellion.
Of course, the country was essentially founded on the idea of being “un” something. The founders felt that they were being more British than the British and that the mother country was being the “uns.”
Stanage notes that in recent years several Republicans have used the epithet. Rep. Michele Bachmann, New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, and Sarah Palin have all indulged the accusation he writes. He also says that use of the accusation typically invokes the anti-communist campaign of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
But The Hill columnist then reports that President Obama, Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have all recently began calling their political opponents un-America.
While those who are right of center usually use the term to mean that opponents are violating American first principles, Stanage points out that liberals are using the term to attack “the rich.” Where the term once had a mostly “geo-political” tone to it, liberals have given it a populist, anti-capitalist flavor with the term being applied to “the rich” by those on the left.
Stanage quotes one university professor, though, who shows a total inability to understand what conservatives mean when they say it is possible to be un-American.
“You have the right to any thought,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University. “This country is the marketplace of ideas. So if you want to be a communist, or a socialist, or a Nazi then–as long as you don’t want to violently overthrow the United States–that should be your right.”
The prof conflates two things, here. No conservative is saying that Americans don’t have the right to be a communist. What conservatives are saying is that it is un-American to be a communist, that it is an essential violation of American principles, not that it shouldn’t be “allowed.”
Stanage ends his piece pointing out that the term isn’t going away any times soon. “It is, after all, almost as old as the nation itself,” he wrote.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org