Why the Chris Matthews smear matters
The anger over Chris Matthews’ comment that Osama bin Laden in his new video sounds like Michael Moore, and the resulting campaign demanding that Matthews apologize, arises from much more than a single comment, and has little to do with Moore himself. The Matthews smear illustrates the fact that it has become routine in our national political dialogue, and among our nation's journalists, to equate opposition to George Bush with subversiveness, treason, and support for Al Qaeda.
The national media has truly adopted this dissent-quashing dichotomy created by the Bush White House: one is either a follower of George Bush who praises his war and terrorism policies, or one is an enemy of the United States who is on the side of Al Qaeda. That is not hyperbole. This is the manipulative and decidedly un-American view that is re-enforced again and again
. In the lead-up to the 2004 Presidential elections, it became the conventional wisdom of prominent "journalists" like Matthews that the bin Laden was rooting for Kerry to win. The bin Laden video which emerged in the days before the election was described by these journalists as proof that bin Laden was endorsing, and even campaigning for, John Kerry. Every cable news show, including Matthews', featured commentary equating bin Laden’s video with the Democratic Party’s foreign policy views.
This is all part of a broad, ongoing and potent campaign to equate opposition to George Bush with being pro-terrorist, and the origin of this campaign is the Administration itself. Bush himself thus uses the language of treason -- treason -- to instruct us that we are permitted to criticize his policies only on the narrowest grounds and with the utmost respect, otherwise we are guilty of aiding the enemy:
Yet we must remember there is a difference between responsible and irresponsible debate -- and it's even more important to conduct this debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas. . . . When our soldiers hear politicians in Washington question the mission they are risking their lives to accomplish, it hurts their morale. In a time of war, we have a responsibility to show that whatever our political differences at home, our nation is united and determined to prevail. . . . So I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account, and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy -- not comfort to our adversaries.
From the NSA scandal to the war in Iraq, the President and his followers repeatedly accuse those who oppose the President of aiding the terrorists and being on the side of Al Qaeda. And it is this smear – that anyone who opposes Bush is not just weak on national security but literally a supporter of the terrorists – that is the only “argument” which Bush followers have and it’s the only one they’ve needed. They have won two straight national elections wielding this McCarthyite filth and with the 2006 elections approaching, they are bidding for a trifecta:
Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, gave nervous Republicans here a preview on Friday of the party's strategy to maintain its dominance in the fall elections . . . And he left little doubt that in 2006 - as in both nationwide elections since the Sept. 11 attacks - he was intent on making national security the pre-eminent issue.
Mr. Rove called for civility in politics in his speech to the Republican National Committee, and then for 26 minutes offered a lacerating attack on Democrats . . . "The United States faces a ruthless enemy," Mr. Rove said, "and we need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."
Rove's strategy has repeatedly worked because our national media “stars” -- even the ones like Chris Matthews who are held out as objective journalists -- propagate the repugnant smear that opposition to George Bush’s terrorism and war policies puts one on the side of Al Qaeda. That's why it's so vital to aggressively protest such comments when they come from "journalists" like Chris Matthews.
At its core, this tactic rests on a glaring double standard. As Bush himself decreed, and as the national media have ingested, only the most restrained and respectful criticism of “the Commander-in-Chief” is appropriate. When it comes to the President, any rhetoric beyond the most tepid is considered shrill and unhinged. Whether it be Al Gore, Howard Dean, Moveon.org-- anyone who aggressively criticizes the President is immediately relegated to the far fringe of the political mainstream, where they are decreed to be unfit for good company, "on the other side," and even of questionable mental health, literally. While the media stars vigorously condemn such comparisons when applied to Bush, it is a virtual consensus that to oppose George Bush’s terrorism policies is tantamount to sounding like Osama bin Laden. Indeed, this Matthews episode a few days ago is not the first time Chris Matthews has equated opposition to George Bush with support for Osama bin Laden. When the bin Laden video surfaced days before the 2004 election, here is what he asked Democratic Sen. John Breaux:
"What happens, Senator Breaux, if it looks like Al Qaeda is playing cards here, playing a game of trying to get people to vote Democrat for president to basically make their case worldwide? Doesn't it put your party in a terrible position of having Al Qaeda rooting for you?"
The assertion that al Qaeda was rooting for Kerry, and that bin Laden espoused Kerry's views in his pre-election video, was a predominate theme in the days before the election. Dick Morris wrote a column in the New York Post entitled "Terrorists for Kerry" in which he asserted: "It is obvious that Osama and his allies all want Bush out." And here is John at Powerline, reporting on his television appearance on Kudlow & Cramer:
A partial translation of "Osama bin Laden's" video is here. I said on Kudlow and Cramer this afternoon that reports of bin Laden's speech made it sound as if he had absorbed the Democrats' talking points quite well. . . .
This is, of course, pure Michael Moore. Obviously bin Laden has seen Fahrenheit 9/11, or at least heard about it from other terrorists who have seen it. Just as obviously, they approve of Moore's movie.
Do you suppose there are any Democrats honest enough to be embarrassed that Osama bin Laden has enthusiastically adopted their campaign themes?
Well before bin Laden's video emerged, CNN "reporter" Kelli Arena told this to Wolf Blitzer: "[T]here is some speculation that Al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House." And right before the election, Peggy Noonan spewed out this on Fox:
This is a man on the run who got into a studio, got a camera on him and tried to act like he was a big, strong guy. This guy is half finished, and the reason is George Bush. Do you think he wants George Bush to have a nice day on Tuesday? I don't think so.
This tactic of equating Democrats with bin Laden is designed to eliminate dissent and to stigmatize Bush’s opponents as traitors. That the GOP has transparently wielded this tactic almost from the moment the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center is reprehensible enough. But it is simply no longer tolerable for the media – which was intended to serve as a Fourth Estate check against government propaganda of this type – to continue to be the primary instrument for the dissemination of this smear.
There are few things more important than combating this notion, so prevalent among the Chris Matthews of the world, that opposing George Bush is tantamount to supporting Al Qaeda, or relatedly, that it's perfectly acceptable to equate Bush opponents with bin Laden but it is terribly crass - even treasonous - to aggressively criticize the President.
Those are the smears which Karl Rove is relying on, as he just made clear, to scare Americans once again into supporting Republican control even while the most comprehensive scandals and disastrous polices engulf them. Sitting by and passively allowing these comments to go unchallenged is to allow them, yet again, to settle in as conventional wisdom, and that's exactly what Bush opponents can't afford to do.
--posted by Glenn Greenwald