Sedition Act of 2010

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” – Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

In 1798 Congress passed “the Sedition Act” which made it illegal to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials. Through over 200 years of experience we see the law as expressly unconstitutional. At the time it was claimed that we needed to shield the fledgling government and nation from overt criticism to avoid its being weakened to the point of failure. That in some sense, this was “too important” to let journalists speak critically of the government. (Remember that, the next time somebody says some issue or piece of legislation is “too important” to follow the rules.) The tell of the whole thing was the expiration date – March 3, 1801 – one day before president Adams left office. Clearly the issue was not sedition, but criticism. Free Americans went to jail for criticizing the president – can you imagine?

There were a few quotes in the news lately, about Barack Obama and his critics. First from Woody Allen: “it would be good…if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly.” This is where we usually hear calls from the president’s political opponents that he must denounce Allen’s statement. I don’t go that far. The president can’t be expected to comment on everything some actor/director turned incestuous pedophile says. My advice to the president would be that if somebody asks him to comment on Woody Allen’s statement he should scratch his head and say “who?”

The next quote came from Deval Patrick, Democratic governor of Massachusetts. Who claimed that Republican opposition to Obama is “almost at the level of sedition”. WHAT!!??? Now, in Patrick’s defense he later claimed that the remark was simply “rhetorical flourish” – I hope so. Because if it wasn’t rhetorical flourish, then it was clearly a trial balloon. Sort of a, “let’s see how they respond to this, so we know how far we can push it.”

Rhetorical flourish or not, free citizens of all political walks ought to be incensed at what Deval Patrick said. This is not Nazi Germany, where the Third Reich demanded every citizen’s unquestioning loyalty to the Reich and to Hitler.

(As a side note, Hitler was democratically elected before he usurped powers beyond his mandate. We’ve certainly seen, over a number of administrations, and expansion of executive branch powers … I don’t like where it’s heading.)

We saw these types of arguments during the Bush administration. Republicans accused anti-war Democrats of “providing aide and comfort to the enemy” – to which the Democrats responded “dissent is patriotic.” I won’t wade into the rights & wrongs of the argument. I’ll only note that the presumption of the Republicans was that the enemy (al Qaeda in this case) would be encouraged by a fractured, unresolved government. Whether that was reason enough to demand unity is a separate issue – the argument at least had some logical defense.

Deval Patrick’s statement only makes sense if one presumes that opposition to the Obama agenda is the same as attempting to overthrow the government. That, in some sense, Obama is the State. These types of personality cults are for the communists and fascists – not free Americans.

No, the president needn’t respond to Woody Allen’s nonsense. But, perhaps somebody in the administration should provide some distance from Deval Patricks’ comments. Unlike Allen, Patrick is an elected official to a fairly high office. It would be good to hear reassurance from Obama, or Gibbs, or anybody in the administration that they don’t view the world through fascist eyes and that they are not threatened by political dissent.

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