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Posted at 1:46 PM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Right wing's latest argument: WikiLeaks scandal proves Obama is un-American

By Adam Serwer

Conservatives and right-wing Republicans have come up with an interesting response to the WikiLeaks scandal: They're linking it to their ongoing "American exceptionalism" attack, in order to advance the narrative that Obama, in terms of culture and identity, is fundamentally un-American.

As Greg wrote earlier this week, the abstract Republican attack line about Obama not believing in "American exceptionalism" -- premised on an isolated quote that ignores his later endorsement of the concept in the same speech -- is really about harnessing all the lies about Obama's background into a narrative that isn't as easy to refute as birtherism or false rumors about Obama being a Muslim. Having settled on this narrative as the one they intend to carry into the 2012 elections, Republicans are insisting that Obama won't aggressively pursue WikiLeaks because he's not really American.

Yesterday, in an exchange flagged by Mediaite, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told a right-wing radio host that the leaks didn't bother Obama because "his entire political upbringing has been on the left, when he was in school and they talked about great American heroes of the 1960s, 1970s, no one was greater than Daniel Ellsberg. That's just part of the DNA of that liberal group that is in the White House today. This is how they were raised, this is their whole political culture."

"The underlying problem, thus far with this administration," King said, "apart from everything else, apart from issues where you can have a debate on, on the issues of American exceptionalism, on the issues of absolute necessity to put American security first, rather than thinking we can resolve it and somehow sit around and sing Kumbaya with third world countries."

I'm no cryptologist, but this, roughly translated, says that Obama won't prosecute WikiLeaks -- or declare them a terrorist organization, as King has suggested -- because he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. Never mind that the Obama administration is already looking for ways to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. And never mind that there are real legal obstacles to doing just that, which, if surmounted, could jeopardize the work of mainstream media organizations as well. Ultimately the mainstream press may be King's real target -- years ago he was calling for the prosecution of The New York Times for revealing the existence of a government program tracking alleged terrorist finances.

King isn't the only one pushing this narrative. Yesterday, Dave Weigel talked to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who gave a similar analysis:

"I believe this ought to be pursued with the greatest intensity," said Sessions. "I think the maximum sentences should be sought whenever anybody is proven to have violated the law, and I think it ought to be relentless. The president from on down ought should be crystal clear on this. And I haven't seen that. I mean, he comes out of the left. The anti-war left, they've always glorified people who leak sensitive documents. Now he's the commander-in-chief, so he's got a challenge. I haven't researched the law but I hope that they're working on it. I'm sure that they are."

Sessions's statement offers another example of how detached from reality this narrative truly is -- even after escalating troop levels in Afghanistan, Republicans identify Obama with the "anti-war left."

It's strange that we're relitigating the Vietnam War. It's stranger still that the right still seems to regard Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers as a greater crime than the government lying to its citizens about the course of the war. The other thing worth noting is that, for all the talk about Obama not believing in American exceptionalism, the right's understanding of how freedom of speech works is one that would be more at home in one of those despotic, "third world countries" Republicans act like they have contempt for.

Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes his own blog.

By Adam Serwer  | December 1, 2010; 1:46 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security, House GOPers  
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This is a crazy and dumb argument and they should be embarrassed to make it.

While millions of American people are suffering unemployment and under-employment all these guys can do is figure out new ways to tear down Barack Obama and stuff more money into the pockets of the rich.

They could not care less for working people.

Posted by: ANDYO1 | December 1, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

It is a massive question why Obama has not shut down wikileaks over the past six months.

Apparently, a private blogger was able to do it on Sunday.

The answer is that Obama - with his socialist-anarchist streak - wanted the documents released.

That is because Obama and his "transformative" desires - causes Obama to want to tear down the existing government and power structures - in order to rebuild his new liberal-socialist order.

It's pretty simple.

Americans would find Obama's version of his liberal-socialist order to be unAmerican.

That much is true.


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 1, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"It's stranger still that the right still seems to regard Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers as a greater crime than the government lying to its citizens about the course of the war."

Um, no, that's not strange at all. Throughout most of recorded history (including the 20th), all governments and sovereigns who have waged war have neither felt an obligation to provide adequate reports about the progress of the war to it's citizens, no compunction about lying about what's happening on the ground, and it's generally always been considered treasonous to leak sensitive military information to anybody not cleared to see it. And, in terms of laws on the book, Ellseberg was the only person committing treason.

I agree that trying to make the lack of targeting of Assange as some sort of "Obama isn't really American" argument is strange and counter-factual in many ways.

However, the idea that loose lips sink ships is not novel now, and was not novel during the Vietnam war. There are good arguments for not giving the general public (and thus, everybody on the planet) meticulously detailed and accurate reportage of what's going on in the field while a war is in progress. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, etc., all knew this. And it has always been a crime to share sensitive information with the enemy, or the general public (thus the enemy) in time of war, at least until recently.

From a strictly legal standpoint, there's no doubt that Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers was the greater crime, because it was--technically--treason, no matter how moral or upstanding or necessary it was, or we may imagine it to be.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | December 1, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

There is a new Conservative homeland at the Washington Post

My people have been wandering for so long in the hostile lands of Chris Cillizza and Greg Sargent


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 1, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

"This is a crazy and dumb argument and they should be embarrassed to make it."

So, what's your point?
This is America.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 1, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

RainForest -
Do you even understand how the internet works? Wikileaks is not a US based website run by US citizens hosted on a US based ISP.

The US government do not actually control the content that gets posted on the internet and have no authority outside of this country. Information wants to be free. Shutting down one site will not suppress the data once it is in the hands of anyone who wants it to be published.

What exactly is a "socialist-anarchist" anyway? That doesn't even make any sense at all in any context. dumba$$.

Posted by: lmanion85 | December 1, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Andy01 said -
"This is a crazy and dumb argument and they should be embarrassed to make it."

To be embarrassed means you have to be able to be reflective and have a conscience. The GOP and their corporate puppet masters are sociopaths, so being "embarrassed" is not part of their playbook. They aren't hard wired that way. What they are doing is diabolically shrewd.
Continue to destroy the middle class and keep the job economy stagnating, while at the same time attack Obama leading up to 2012 as not being "one of us." They know that the American public is too docile and will never take to the streets the way the French do.

Posted by: filmnoia | December 1, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

King is a punter. You can tell by his characterization of Obama. It literally doesn't matter to some on the extreme Right who the president is. If he/she has a (D) behind their name, they cannot be trusted. More pandering to the TeaOP.

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | December 1, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Wonder where these folks were when the Downing Street Memos were leaked.


Posted by: ChuckinDenton | December 1, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse


Maybe I missed it today but where did the Republicans cited say Barry is "un-American"? If you're going to put word in peoples mouths, why not be even more hyperbolic? Why not say they called him a pedophile?

Kevin, Greg and Jennifer are keeping you busy today ;-)

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | December 1, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

WikiLeaks better get on with its American bank corruption leak asap. Being antiwar is un-American.
OTOH maybe exposing bank corruption is too. American exceptionalism is well, pretty special, it doesn't really have boundaries.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 1, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"RainForest -
Do you even understand how the internet works?"

Hilarious! So many levels of irony.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 1, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Wow, just a few quick observations:

First, the Democrats and liberals are showing the world that they can dish it out, but the can't take it. I'm hardly surprised. Let's reflect on what was said about Bush by his political opponents. How is this so very much worse? Frankly it seems par for the course in this political environment.

Simply put: Obama has opponents (which he calls enemies btw) and those opponents will take every opportunity to assail his choices. Just like the Democrats and liberals did when Bush was in office.

Next, the righteous indignation coupled with the mealy mouthed excuses is laughable. On the one hand Mr Serwer bemoans Obama's critics while on the other he piously explains how liberal dogma prevents Obama from doing anything about the leakers or the their publishers. Thus we have today's daily dose of double speak from Mr Serwer.

The NYT is an interesting choice of examples for Mr Serwer. After all it was the NYT who broke stories damaging to the military effort in Iraq while refusing to publish the climategate emails because they were illegally obtained. If hypocrasy were a crime Bill Keller would be in Solitary in Attica, even as we speak. but nooooo. the reality is that Americans have simply misunderstood the principles to which the NYT adheres. It isn't journalists' ethics, its the liberal dogma.

finally, Mr Serwer once again asks the question: who are you going to believe, a back bench liberal hack or your own lying eyes? How many remember the video Obama did? You know the one where he set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons? I set a goal of a world without fleas, but thus far, no joy. Obama will fare no better.

it is not a "disconnect" to remember Obama's words and the nature of his BFF's. Instead of repudiating filth like Dorhn and Ayers he lied to us about the nature of their relationship. Now Mr Serwer demands that we simply forget all this and believe that Obama has embraced military strength as a virtue simply because he ham handedly agreed to a increase in troops in the theatre he said was the "real" war. I hardly think so.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 1, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Andy01 said -
"This is a crazy and dumb argument and they should be embarrassed to make it."



You should be embarrassed to attempt to mock a statement that is so obviously true.

You have a hostility to the truth, if it does not fit in neatly with your liberal agenda.

Shameful and disgraceful



you have an excellent point about the climategate emails - they all should be published.

What are those papers afraid of? The truth coming out ???


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 1, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse


Didn't Mao declare and end to Flies in China? Talk about your Great Leaps Forward!

At least they haven't called Barry a lying war criminal. That kind of rhetoric is beyond the pale.

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | December 1, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

All, my quick take on how Dems internalize that losing feeling all too quickly:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | December 1, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse


The article doesn't say these tactics are beyond the pale or claim that democrats never used similar tactics. It says the comments further the Republican narrative that Obama is un-American or anti-American or whatever phrase you want to use. It then does, what I believe to be a poor job of showing why these accusations are wrong.

Should liberals simply sit in silence while these things are said? If this post is whinning then how do you respond to this sort of narrative?

Posted by: ashotinthedark | December 1, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

This is a crazy and dumb argument and they should be embarrassed to make it."

Why is this even a topic or a news story? They regularly make stuff up for their willing disciples to diseminate (see posts above mine). The real story is that Obama won't fight back. The republicans sense weakness and they are driving a truck through the opening.

Really truth died somewhere along the way and frankly I'm about to give up politics. They've won and soon we'll all be singing the praises of Sarah Palin or have already emigrated to a country that values truth, science and individuals over corporations.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 1, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I really can't speak to Obama's motives, but I can speak to the fact that Assange has been stating for months, months, that he was going to do what he did and the incompetent joke of an administration we now have in the White House did absolutely nothing, NOTHING, to stop it.

Posted by: Bob65 | December 2, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Honest to God you people are nuts. NUTS! And the fact that you VOTE with absolutely NO UNDERSTANDING of what our country stands for is astounding. We DID NOT shut down WikiLeaks because we have freedom of speech in this country and nothing could be found to be 'actionable', embarrassing yes, actionable NO. You whined and sniveled when Bushco butted into your privacy but now you're whining because Obama does not. And altho BUSH was doing it because he's such a great American, Obama with that funny name MUST be un-American. GET OVER YOURSELVES. When this country goes down the tubes you have NO ONE to blame but yourselves.

Posted by: Mego1 | December 3, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

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