Oct 112013

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

— US Constitution, Art III, sec 3

Treason is a serious crime in the United States, that can be punished by death. It is also the only crime that the Founders felt necessary to define and restrict in the Constitution, presumably because they understood that it was too easy for kings to punish as traitors people who merely criticized the king or opposed his policies.

So it’s disappointing to see internet pundits tossing out accusations of treason without really meaning it. Right-wing pundit Jamie Kirchick, for example, earned a pat on the head from John Podhoretz for his article condemning journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill for failing to condemn vigorously enough what Kirchick thinks ought to be condemned — Edward Snowden’s leaks and Bush/Obama counterterrorism policies — by accusing them of “treason-chic.” “They are not traitors themselves, but they serve as public-relations coordinators of treasonous actors. They are working to make traitorous actions seem valiant. Call it ‘treason chic.'”

Kudos to Kirchick for recognizing that these journalists he doesn’t like aren’t actually traitors, but since Kirchick thinks that “far more than a drop of treason courses through their veins,” he ought to state explicitly what he thinks ought to be done with Scahill and Greenwald and their ilk. How many drops of treason in your political opponent’s blood are too many? Sadly, Kirchick has never engaged with this question, preferring instead to accept his pat on the head from John Podhoretz and to continue on with his responsibility-free punditry.

Sadly, Kirchick isn’t the only pundit from whom accusations of treason trip too easily from the tongue. Robert Reich, upset about the House Republicans who disagree with him about the threat posed by Obamacare, easily and quickly concludes that these legislators “have begun sounding like” traitors. Reich imitates Kirchick at his worst, when he praises our system of government and then says of his political opponents “If they don’t stop their recklessness, they’ll be out of the game.” Does Reich mean to suggest that these legislators be punished for some quasi-treasonous crime? Presumably he’s too smart to say that. But I wish that if Reich really means to level an accusation of treason against these congressmen that he’d be explicit about what ought to happen to them. How much would they have to “sound like” traitors, to actually be traitors?

Kirchick and Reich are understandably very angry at the people who disagree with them, but they’re lazy and reckless to make pseudo-accusations of treason without explaining for us what consequences they think should follow when their political opponents skirt too close to a crime which can still be punished with death in this country.

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