Framed: Democrats Are Not Traitors

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Democrats Are Not Traitors

The following attacks require an immediate response:

  • “Democrats care more about protecting terrorists than they do about protecting Americans.”
  • “Democrats don’t want to give the President all the tools he needs to fight the war on terror.”
  • Comments about Democrats “blame-America-first attitude”
  • Comments about “aiding and abetting our enemies”

Certain Republicans believe they can vilify Democrats by arguing that the Constitutional protections for our freedoms have prevented and will prevent our government from detecting and thwarting terrorist attacks. They believe that they can paint Democrats as traitors for resisting their attacks on the Constitution.

Democrats must respond to this pernicious meme by reframing the argument from the war on terror to the War for Democracy. This is the war to defend American freedoms from all enemies, and it is characterized by adherence to the essential freedoms of a democracy as represented in the Constitution of the United States.


If you or someone you know encounters any of these attacks, please go immediately to Forward Framing for repairs. The Constitution defines what it means to be an American. Anyone who does not support the Constitutional guarantees of freedom is un-American and certainly not a patriot. They have no standing to question your patriotism—or anyone else’s.

If you can reframe any of the above yourself, do so!

Example of use (don’t emulate):

  • “I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people. … They certainly don't want to take the terrorists on to defeat them.”-- A GOP leader takes terror swipe at Dems (House Republican leader John Boehner quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 2006.)
  • “You shouldn't do it with such divisive and blame-America-first methodology, and that's what she does, which aids and abets our enemies.” Likely Challenger Lashes Out at Clinton (John Spencer about Hillary Clinton saying that there are proper ways to criticize the war in Iraq, February 13, 2006.)
  • “The struggle we are in -- the consequences are too severe -- the struggle too important to have the luxury of returning to that old mentality of ‘Blame America First.’”-- Address to American Legion by Donald Rumsfeld (Address at the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 29, 2006.)
  • “Every passing week, it becomes more apparent that disgruntled leftists in the intelligence community and antiwar crusaders in the mainstream media, annealed in their disdain for the Bush administration, are undermining our ability to win the War on Terror.” -- Stop The Leaks (National Review Online editorial, June 26, 2006.)
  • "To those ... who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends." (Attorney General John Ashcroft, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, December 6, 2001.)
  • “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.” “News” by Jonathan Allen (Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), in debate over reauthorization of the Patriot Act, December 19, 2005.

Here are additional quotes from Donald Rumsfeld’s speech to the American Legion:

  • “Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided. It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies.”
  • “We face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.”
  • “Can we really afford to return to the destructive view that America, not the enemy, but America, is the source of the world's troubles?”
  • “In some quarters there's more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats.”
  • “It's a time when Amnesty International refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay … as "the gulag of our times." It’s inexcusable.”
  • “That is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.”

In response to Rumsfeld’s address, see Keith Olbermann’s response in this Countdown Commentary.

The Problem

Certain Republican-leaning pundits and others accuse liberals of being un-American, traitors or unpatriotic because we are resisting efforts to undermine guarantees of rights in the Constitution of the United States. This is intended to rally deeply patriotic Americans to vote Republican by painting Democrats as weak, on the premise that voters favor those who will strongly defend U.S. citizens from physical attacks.

If Democrats fail to answer these accusations successfully, then we stand to lose not only the short term prospects of taking back Congress in the next election, but of further cementing in the public’s mind that liberals are all of these repugnant things: un-American, unpatriotic, spineless traitors. This problem is made worse by past failures to aggressively defend liberalism and the patriotism of liberals.

The Cost/Benefits of Responding to Attacks on Our Patriotism

The primary cost of responding to these attacks is that many people view negative responses as unattractive. Successful response to these accusations requires a negative response because any positive response (like pointing out what good guys we are) will be seen as further confirmation of our weakness. In the short term, this means that many people who are predisposed to think badly of us will think very badly of us.

The benefit of responding is that we can get a small short-term boost and a large long-term boost. In the short term, it will eliminate the advantage that Republicans have with people in the middle by reminding them that patriotism is not solely a Republican preserve. In the long term, it will help repair the damage sustained to liberalism by repeated republican attacks, which will strengthen Democratic candidates across the board.

Realigning the Frame

Adherence and support of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution is the most important defining characteristic of Americans. All important officials in this country swear to uphold the Constitution when they are sworn into office. The rights in the Constitution are the rights that the original founders of the republic fought and died for in establishing the United States. All of the brave soldiers who fought in the United States military over the last two-hundred-plus years fought for those rights. Immigrants to this country must learn about these rights (and other factors) before they can become citizens.

An attack on the rights guaranteed by the Constitution is un-American by definition. Patriots are those who defend our country, which is literally defined by the Constitution. To attack the Constitution in any material way is to attack the United States and is a treasonous act on its face.

Therefore, anyone who seeks to limit the rights enumerated in the Constitution is, at best, unpatriotic, and at worst both un-American and a traitor. In fact, in that they don’t want to put themselves in harms way to defend our inalienable rights, they are cowards.

The Republicans, lead by George W. Bush, have attempted through numerous legislative initiatives to restrict or eliminate rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The President has also violated these rights in many cases, going so far as to ignore and abridge rights guaranteed by the Geneva Convention and order (or accept without stopping) torture of persons, both U.S. citizens and non-citizens, under U.S. control.

When you talk with anyone admitting to be a Republican, you need to find out if they understand and accept the degree to which the Bush Administration and his Republican backers have attacked the fundamental rights of Americans.

Rights Enumerated in the Constitution

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of the Press
  • Freedom of Assembly
  • Right to Petition the Government
  • Right to Bear Arms
  • Freedom from Military Use of Homes
  • Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
  • Protection from Legal Proceedings Not Supported by Probable Cause
  • Freedom from Fishing Expeditions
  • Rule of Law
  • Freedom from Unfair Use of the Law
  • Fair Compensation for Property Taken
  • Due Process of Law
  • Impartiality of the Law
  • Right to Trial by Jury
  • Priority of Juries to Find Fact
  • Freedom from Excessive Bails, Fines and Torture
  • Individual Rights, Not Enumerated
  • Limits to Federal Power
  • Prohibition of Slavery
  • Right to Citizenship by Birth
  • Federal Guarantees to Protect Rights from Abuse by States
  • Right to Equal Protection Under the Law
  • Right to Fair Representation in Government

Balance of Power

In addition, the basis of government in the United States was constructed to achieve a balance of power between various stakeholders. This includes a balance within the branches of the federal government, making each of the three branches (executive, legislative and judiciary) independent. It also includes a balance between federal, state and individual power. It also includes a balance between governmental power and the power of the press.

Ways in Which the Current Administration Has Weakened the Constitution and Violated the Laws

The most fundamental way in which radical Republicans have violated the Constitution is by a continued program of undermining the balance of power. They have used terrorism to give the President unprecedented powers to do virtually anything he wants.

This is similar to the power in ancient Rome given to a “dictator.” In Rome, the dictator was appointed for a limited time to solve a crisis, and was expected to return power to the Senate when that crisis passed. In some cases, dictators did their job and returned power. In other cases, they stayed on and tried to keep power until they died. Democracies from ancient Greece on have done this, sometimes with disastrous results. The German Reichstag appointed Hitler dictator. This is the danger of dictators, a danger that is incalculably more dangerous in the modern world with the power of electronic surveillance. It is not clear that a dictator in the modern world could ever be forced to give up power and return the country to democratic rule.

The Bush Administration and its supporters have also used their majorities in Congress to abuse the rights of the minority by threatening to end Senate rules that permit that group to filibuster legislation they oppose. They have also used their power to try to pack the Supreme Court (and lower courts) with biased appointees, threatened to de-fund courts that don’t agree with them, and launched public attacks on the power of the courts (by labeling judges they oppose as “activist judges.” These efforts are designed to weaken the judiciary so that Republican control of the other two branches will be unchecked by a truly independent judiciary.

Other areas where radical Republicans have attempted to restrict rights guaranteed by the Constitution:

  • Freedom of Speech: By setting up a separate propaganda machine, with talk radio and TV networks under conservative control.
  • Freedom of the Press: By intimidating the MSM with threats that anyone seeking to limit the Bush agenda will be labeled a traitor.
  • Freedom of Assembly: By setting up restrictive searches at airport terminals, so that citizens can only travel with extensive government surveillance and approval.
  • Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures: By conducting searches of airline passengers without a specific reason to suspect them of a crime. By conducting searches based on forced testimony obtained through torture. By conducting searches without warrants. By conducting searches in which warrants did not state the particular places to be searched.
  • Protection from Legal Proceedings Not Supported by Probable Cause: By setting up electronic surveillance of phone calls, e-mail messages, bank accounts and other methods without any evidence that the people under surveillance have committed or are about to a crime.
  • Rule of Law: By ignoring the Constitutional prohibitions, as well as violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Note: violating FISA is also an example of trying to destroy the balance of power between the federal branches.)
  • Freedom from Unfair Use of the Law: By compelling suspects to be witnesses against themselves. By not providing many thousands of suspects speedy and public trials, seeking to hold them indefinitely and hiding their identities and trials from the public. (“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”)
  • Fair Compensation for Property Taken: By taking property for public use in several countries without just compensation.
  • Due Process of Law: By depriving suspects of liberty without due process of law.
  • Impartiality of the Law: By seeking to set up military tribunals in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
  • Freedom from Excessive Bails, Fines and Torture: By holding people indefinitely. By torturing people by waterboarding them and other cruel or unusual methods.
  • Right to Equal Protection Under the Law: By treating non-citizens as if they do not have rights under the Constitution.

In all of these, the abuse of prisoners taken by the U.S. under the label of “enemy combatants” is the most troubling. This is because it not only violates the Constitution and represents criminal behavior by the executive branch, but it also creates a publicity nightmare in the international community, where the U.S. has long been seen as the gold standard in human rights. The current administration has traded all this for a type of treatment that produces, at best, questionable information. In fact, generally, all of these violations are illegal, ineffective and unnecessary. The United States is not under any threat from terrorists to its existence. As Joseph J. Ellis pointed out in an op-ed in The New York Times, on January 28, 2006:

My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Ellis goes on to list the War for Independence, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis as examples of serious challenges to our survival as a country. He goes on to say:

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

(Quoted from How Would a Patriot Act? by Glenn Greenwald, pages 99-100.)

What Progressives Value and Want

Fairness. The standards of conduct should work for all people. Neither males nor females should get preferential treatment by governments or institutions open to the public. Sustainability. Our beliefs and values about sex must be sustainable in the modern world. Consistency. The rules should be internally consistent so that they work regardless of the situation. This implies flexibility that takes into account real-life situations.


  • “Democrats care more about protecting terrorists than they do about protecting Americans.” Democrats are protecting Americans. The threat of curtailing rights granted in the Constitution is not to terrorists because it is Americans whose rights are threatened. The only patriotic thing to do is to defend these rights, even if we risk our lives in doing so. Cutting back on freedom is the coward’s way of responding to terrorists.
  • “Democrats don’t want to give the President all the tools he needs to fight the war on terror.” The President has all the tools he needs defend us from attacks. He has the same tools that Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan had to defend us against the much more dangerous threat of Communism. The tools he’s seeking aren’t to defend the United States, they are more likely to defend himself from criminal charges that could be brought because of his lawless behavior.
  • Comments about Democrats “blame-America-first attitude” Democrats rightly blame Republicans first, because they have demonstrated over the last five years exactly how wrong they can get it when given a chance to lead the country. They blindly followed a leader who has shown himself to be wasteful, arrogant, and misguided. As a result, we are bogged down in an unnecessary war in Iraq that has piled up massive debt and seriously weakened our operational military while totally ignoring the very real security threats from rogue states with nuclear weapons and the looming crisis with China.
  • Comments about “aiding and abetting our enemies” The biggest enemy of freedom is cowardice in the face of attack. Instead of strengthening our freedom by reasserting all the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, this President has abrogated those rights and attempted to sell them wholesale. The founders of this country would be apoplectic if they thought that, despite all their carefully written instructions for our government, one of our leaders saw fit to throw over the balance of power and seize dictatorial powers for himself using fear as his main tactic. They foresaw this danger and warned that it would come. The Bill of Rights was written specifically as a tripwire to sound the alarm when our leaders would abuse their powers. All the sirens are going off.
  • “Democrats will lose the war on terror.” I’m much more worried about the War for Democracy, which Bush is losing. The essential underpinning of our society—probable cause, due process, privacy, freedom of expression, and balance of power—are all being undermined by the administration. Terrorists are not the only threat. What about the threat of bad buys inside the government? Who’s protecting us from them?
  • “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.” That’s a particularly selfish attitude. The civil liberties that George Washington fought for have mattered a great deal for more than two centuries after he died. If I have to die to defend them, it will matter to those who live on. These freedoms are what thousands of soldiers have died for. Only a coward would abandon them when so many lives have been lost defending them.

Counter—Phrases To Use in Place of the Banished Terms

These phrases are cleared for the list of policy terms. Feel free to add and elaborate.

  • “Blame America first” is really “blame Republicans first” because they deserve blame. They have misled the country.
  • “Protecting the terrorists” is really “Protecting Americans first” because the rights in the Constitution are protections first of all for American citizens. And, by the way, the protections are not written as specifically for citizens. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights that limits their application to Americans. Anyone under U.S. jurisdiction is protected by the Bill of Rights.
  • “War on terror” is not a war. This is a wholly bogus term used to suggest that terrorism can be fought with military force. Defending us from terrorists is a normal function of government, a function that the Bush Administration failed to perform early in its first term when the U.S. was seriously attacked by terrorists, and a duty that the administration has been shirking by waging war in Iraq.

What does treason mean? See "treason" vs. TREASON by Clammyc for definitions of “treason” by various pundits.

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Remember: In order to be a patriot, you need to defend the fundamental American freedoms as represented in the Constitution. Anyone promoting the curtailment of those rights is attacking the United States and is un-American. Do not accept the implication that they are more patriotic than you and call them on their unpatriotic behavior.

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