In the manner of lacing well water with poison, the Republican right has sought to use patriotism as a deadly sword against progressive Democrats.
The propaganda maneuver is based on a simple principle. Only the Republican right can define patriotism. As a result, the most reactionary Republicans engaging in the most odious conduct, including unconstitutional acts of war and corruption, are deemed patriotic.
Those attacking such individuals and their actions are ipso facto deemed unpatriotic and of engaging in conduct that "gives aid and comfort to the enemy."
Many cite the mid-twentieth century conduct of Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy as the opening salvo in the strategy to paint progressives unpatriotic, but the effort was launched when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt developed a coalition of union and middle class support based on strong federal action to counteract the tragedy and suffering incurred during the Great Depression.
A reactionary big business coalition called the American Liberty League strove so hard to bring FDR down that a Fascist coup was initiated that was brought down through the valiant effort of one of America's unsung heroes, General Smedley Butler.
One of the leading legal minds of the thirties was Thurman Arnold, who served in the Roosevelt Administration Justice Department as an assistant attorney general. He was later nominated by Roosevelt and confirmed as an associate judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also served as a law professor at Yale.
Arnold is now best known for his thought provoking book "The Folklore of Capitalism." The book's thesis that was brilliantly elucidated was the central myth perpetuated by right wing propagandists of the American Liberty League.
This myth continues to be perpetrated. It lay at the central core of the Reagan and Bush II administrations as well as the current Tea Party movement. Its underlying belief is that what business does is essentially good and that actions by government in the economic and interrelated regulatory spheres are fundamentally bad and frequently un-American.
There is one exception to this rule. Unsurprisingly, the military sphere not only draws a free pass but, contrary to the pernicious regulators of our economy and legislators of social welfare legislation, who are suspect if not outright disloyal, advocates of high-powered Pentagon spending as well as advocates of military action are deemed patriotic heroes.
A classic example of this propaganda rule carried to its zenith was Richard Nixon, who was elected initially to Congress and later to the Senate through impugning the patriotism of his Democratic opponents, when he faced opposition from peace advocates seeking to end an increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.
Nixon and his propaganda agents sought to demonize his opposition. He proclaimed himself to be the spokesperson for the "Silent Majority" and let it be known that what he called "a small but vociferous" minority opposed his plan to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam.
The words "peace with honor" were repeated as a mantra. In the 1972 re-election campaign, when funding corruption that was exposed in the Watergate investigation gave him an overwhelming funding advantage over Democratic nominee George S. McGovern, President Nixon put some of his money to work in an interesting as well as highly devious manner.
Individuals were paid to appear at Nixon rallies dressed shabbily and shouting angry taunts. This tactic achieved a memorable pinnacle at one Southern California airport rally late in the campaign.
On one side stood grubby looking, snarling, seemingly anti-Nixon demonstrators. On the other side stood the kind of Americans that appeared to come out of a Frank Capra movie, nicely dressed, innocent appearing, who held Nixon banners.
It was a well paid for presentation and star performer Nixon relished his opportunity to stand before television cameras and make his point to Americans as the campaign wound toward its conclusion.
He pointed toward the angry looking, strident supposed Nixon demonstrators and exclaimed with a knowing smile, "They're against me!" After that he pointed toward the well dressed pro-Nixon enthusiasts and exclaimed, "They're for me!"
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