Right wing's latest argument: WikiLeaks scandal proves Obama is un-American
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.
| December 1, 2010; 1:46 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy and national security, House GOPers
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