Last week at the Jefferson Jackson Baily Dinner in Connecticut, Senator Hillary Clinton appeared to have a near meltdown. “I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic,” she howled. “And we should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.”
Merely quoting her words cannot do them justice. You had to hear her tone, which can best be described an indignant screech. After playing her remarks on his radio program, Rush Limbaugh criticized her tone as “unprofessional.” In fairness, though, she probably can’t help it. It is likely a conditioned inflection after years of berating Bill for his bimbos.
Perhaps more interesting than Hillary’s tone is the commonality of her sentiments among Democrats and liberals. About a year ago at Florida’s Democratic convention Al Gore zinged Republicans who supposedly implied “that those who stand up to them are somehow unpatriotic.” John Kerry griped that Republicans should be reminded “that the freedom they love to preach about includes the freedom to disagree and the right to dissent.” Back in March both the New York Times‘ editorialists and columnist Bob Herbert echoed similar concerns.
To listen to politicians and commentators one has to conclude they have faced a barrage of criticism questioning their patriotism in the wake of 9/11. But have they?
As a test, I ran the word “unpatriotic” through the search engines of three prominent conservative websites: this one, the Weekly Standard, and the National Review. The search of this website revealed only four articles, only one of which criticized Democrats as unpatriotic. The Weekly Standard search yielded 20 different articles. Only one article suggested that a liberal was unpatriotic, and that one weakly. Three articles actually stipulated that the liberals or Democrats they were criticizing were not unpatriotic. At the National Review a search yielded 18 articles written since September 11 using the word unpatriotic. Of those, five criticized liberals or Democrats as such (here, here, here, here, and here). Thus, only seven articles questioned Democrats’ or liberals’ patriotism, an infinitesimal amount when you consider all the articles published at these three sites since September 11, 2001. (Somewhat ironically, the only article that has questioned anyone’s patriotism at length was a recent article by David Frum for National Review about paleoconservatives.)
Just be sure, I ran the terms “unpatriotic,” “Democrats” and “liberals” through Google. A look through the first ten pages of the search revealed few pieces in major publications like the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Times. Thus, it seems that Democrats and liberals are hardly facing a barrage of cries of unpatriotic. One might even suggest that mainstream conservatives have been circumspect about not questioning their patriotism.
So why do Democrats and liberals keep portraying themselves as victims of such criticism?
One answer is obvious after hearing the audience cheers following Hillary’s tirade. Democratic politicians find an effective rallying cry in lashing out at Republicans for supposedly questioning their patriotism. This is vitally important at a time when the Democratic rank-and-file is dispirited.
A slightly less obvious answer is liberals’ prejudice about conservatives. Many view conservatives as war-mongering jingoists who won’t hesitate to call their opponents’ patriotism into question, especially during a time of war. For liberals, it’s McCarthyism all over again.
Perhaps the least obvious explanation is psychological. Thinking of oneself as a victim is, in a perverse way, pleasurable. It enables Democrats and liberals to think of themselves as morally superior. They can view themselves as standing up to oppressors and representing liberty and justice. After the 2002 election debacle and Bush’s success in the War on Terrorism, it is little wonder that Democrats and liberals are eager to indulge their penchant for victimhood.
Given that the Democrats’ fortunes aren’t likely to improve in the near future, we can expect to hear more screeds like Hillary’s from the left. But such sentiments reveal more about the screechers than they do about their opponents.