Casual allegations of treason

Rick Santorum argued earlier this week, with a straight face, that President Obama has “sided with our enemies.” The same day, Santorum also accused the president of engaging in “absolutely un-American activities.”

The New Yorker‘s George Packer raised an excellent observation about the way in which these allegations were covered. (thanks to D.K. for the tip)

[T]his kind of gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it’s not worth a political journalist’s time to point it out. In 2008, when Michele Bachmann suggested that Barack Obama and an unknown number of her colleagues in Congress were anti-American, there was a flurry of criticism; three years later, when a surging Presidential candidate states it flatly about a sitting President, there’s no response at all.

Certain forms of deterioration … become acceptable by attrition, because critics lose the energy to call them out. Eventually, people even stop remembering that they’re wrong…. How many times and ways can you say that the Republican Party has descended into unreality and extremism before you lose your viewers and readers?

There was a point not too long ago when the standards of our discourse included more meaningful norms. Accusing the president of the United States, leading during a time of war and crisis, of “siding with our enemies” and engaging in “un-American activities” was just about the most extreme accusation imaginable.

Indeed, the phrases themselves suggest that the accuser believes the president is literally a traitor, guilty of treason.

The idea that a leading major-party presidential candidate would throw around such rhetoric without proof was, up until very recently, madness. The idea that such a candidate would face no pushback whatsoever, with journalists barely finding it worth mentioning at all, was unthinkable.

But as the Republican Party has become radicalized, such rhetoric has become routine. GOP officials and their allies have no qualms about using labels like “socialist,” “communist,” and even “fascist” — without any regard for what those words actually mean — and after a while, we just roll our eyes. There they go again, accusing Americans they don’t like of sedition, disloyalty, and national betrayal for no apparent reason. It must be a day that ends with “y.”

But here’s hoping that the tide will eventually turn, that ridiculous accusations will stop being acceptable by attrition, and that Americans will start remembering that they’re wrong.