When Obstruction Becomes Treason


by Nicholas Johnson

The following is an excerpt. The entire article can be found here

In an [October 2010] interview with the National Journal [the Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Senator [Mitch] McConnell was asked what “the job” of Republicans will be if they gain a majority in Congress. McConnell’s response was,

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”


Ryan Witt, “Republican leader says GOP’s number one goal is defeating Obama in 2012,”

This was scarcely a casual slip of the tongue.  “Let Me Repeat; Regrets? Not a One,” National Journal  (“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver a speech at the Heritage Foundation that reiterates why making President Obama a one-term president is the GOP’s top priority.”).

Although the National Journal article containing the initial interview with McConnell does not appear to be available to the public on the magazine’s Web site, the quote has been widely reported…  link link link

Nor is the mission limited to this one Republican leader….Congresswoman Michelle Backman, has declared “Rep. Bachmann looks forward to working with the Governor [of Alaska, Sarah Palin] for the common goal of making sure President Obama is a one-term President.” Elspeth Reeve, “Palin Rivalry Becomes Bachmann Campaign Strategy.”

At a minimum, the Republicans’ acknowledgement of their “most important thing” calls into question every statement made by the Republican leadership, every legislative proposal, every vote they call for, every filibuster they threaten, every meeting they walk out of, and every charge they level at President Obama. Is it driven by the substance involved, or is it just another tactic in their strategy of presidential failure?

Am I charging some Republicans with a literal violation of our prohibitions of “treason”? No, of course not. Why “of course”? Because Article III, Section 3, of our Constitution was deliberately drafted to define “treason” much more narrowly than its dictionary definition. The Constitution declares that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” From inside the White House, the Republicans’ shelling may sound and feel like “war,” but it’s not what the Constitution’s drafters had in mind.

No, I am speaking of “treason” in its more general dictionary usage:

1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Synonyms 1. Treason, sedition mean disloyalty or treachery to one’s country or its government. Treason is any attempt to overthrow the government or impair the well-being of a state to which one owes allegiance; the crime of giving aid or comfort to the enemies of one’s government. Sedition is any act, writing, speech, etc., directed unlawfully against state authority, the government, or constitution, or calculated to bring it into contempt or to incite others to hostility, ill will or disaffection; it does not amount to treason and therefore is not a capital offense.”

“Treason,” Dictionary.com

At the outset, there is something troubling about candidates for federal office running against “government” — as Grover Norquist puts it, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

I certainly support efforts to review government expenditures — as I did as U.S. Maritime Administrator….But to refuse to provide a clean increase in the debt ceiling, as we’ve routinely done dozens of times before, to insist on cutting food, medical and other benefits for the poor, to refuse to ask for a dime’s worth of increased revenue from the wealthy, and to be willing to bring down the global economy and the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in over 200 years — all in the cause of defeating an incumbent president — does qualify, it seems to me, under the dictionary (though not the constitutional) definition of treason.

Hopefully, the American people will reflect on the Republicans’ behavior this past two and one-half years, and we’ll be rid of the lot by November of 2012.

(click here to read the entire article)

— Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. Check out his website at nicholasjohnson.org.

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