Almost every day America’s airwaves and editorial pages are filled with charges and counter-charges of treason. For a while congressional Democrats were the targets of the accusations. Then it was Chief Justice John Roberts. These days it’s Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and millions of members of the Tea Party.
The more I hear the shrill talk or read the vitriolic commentary, the more I feel like I want to puke.
Treason? Do those bandying the word about so casually really understand what it means? Maybe it would help if they would actually read article 3, section 3 of our Constitution, which defines it very precisely - “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
This current war of words and accusations has nothing to do with treason. Those leveling the outrageous accusations know it. The controversy may have something to do with a badly crafted and executed law or it may have something to do with a philosophical disagreement with our current Chief Justice. It may even have something to do with visceral hatred for a political insurgency like the Tea Party or differences of political opinion. But, it has absolutely nothing to do with treason.
The current epicenter for the accusations is Tea Party members or anyone who associates with them. The broadsides are coming from all directions, even small red state hamlets like Emporia, Kansas. Tea Partiers and those who associate with them are being portrayed as merciless traitors, bent on the destruction of the Republic. Their accusers portray themselves as loving, merciful defenders of all that is good and noble.
Is it really all that simple?
Tea Partiers are our fellow citizens and neighbors. Many of them have served honorably in our armed services. Some have “fought and bled” to defend the freedoms their accusers say they cherish. The vast majority of them are every bit as kind and compassionate as their accusers. In fact, I’d be willing to match their charitable giving and community service against their accusers’ any time. The truth is, their accusers haven’t cornered the market on kindness, compassion, service, or bleeding.
I’m not a Tea Party member, but I have friends who are. I’ve even been known to openly associate with them. As I was lobbying my fellow citizens to get the Lyon County extension issue placed on the ballot a while back, I met twice with members of the Tea Party. They showed me nothing but respect and kindness. I never heard any talk of sedition or revolution. They listened respectfully to me. Some supported me. They were even kind enough to give me a copy of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Now, if becoming acquainted with our founding documents amounts to treason, I plead guilty. If the time ever comes that I’m convicted of such a crime, I’ll gladly walk the steps of the gallows.
I do have quite a few things in common politically with Tea Partiers. Like them, I’m troubled when I see our fundamental rights under the first, second, fourth, and tenth amendments being slowly eroded by government edict and action. But, there are places where we part philosophical ways. In the current crisis, I believe Tea Partiers have made some serious tactical errors, particularly their misguided attempt to defund Obamacare. There are times when the door to disaster has to open and the chaos at its root is allowed to march through for all to see.
Economist Thomas Sowell recently cited Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s wisdom when matters of conscience and tactics collide. In 1769 Burke spoke against a bill that was weaving its way through Parliament. The long and the short of the legislation was that it would have subjected American colonists to charges of treason in Great Britain. Burke found the legislation extremely troubling, but didn’t attempt to block it because he knew its passage was certain. As he put it, “I cannot support what is conscientiously against my opinion, nor prudently contend with what I know is irresistible. Preserving my principles unshaken, I reserve my activity for rational endeavours.”
The Tea Party would have better served their interests to get out of the way of the runaway train and wait for the mid-term elections. That would have been the rational choice. Unfortunately, they didn’t. But tactical misjudgment hardly constitutes treason.
Under our law, treason is punishable by death (see 18 U.S.C. 2381). Are the Tea Party’s accusers so convinced of their political correctness that they’d be willing to personally cast the final stone of retribution? If they are, then all I can say is “God help anyone who will eventually become their targets!”