Playing the “Osama Card”

Y’know that post I did yesterday that included Andrew Sullivan’s infamous “fifth column” quote? Well, reader James forwarded the link to Andy, who had this to say :

u deny that there are some on the far left who would prefer osama to bush?
i’ve seen a couple of articles lately confessing exactly that.

Sullivan’s ridiculous strawman and lack of capitalization would be funny if he weren’t actually serious. Who are these traitors on the “far left”? Are they a well-organized group actively working to undermine the U.S. government or are they a couple of obscure, pissed-off bloggers who are venting a little steam? I’ve seen some pretty despicable things written by angry liberals and conservatives, but there’s a big difference between ranting against your government and collaborating with the enemy. Let’s go back to Sullivan’s original quote :

“The middle part of the country – the great red zone that voted for Bush – is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead – and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.”

The irresponsible thing about his statement isn’t that he’s warning about fifth column movements, but that he’s implying that pretty much everyone who disagrees with the President is a traitor. You’re painting with pretty broad brush-strokes there, Andy. By citing “the great red zone that voted for Bush” in your first sentence, you’re essentially setting up a false dichotomy that implicates everyone else in this undefined “decadent Left”. If you weren’t trying to draw a parallel, then the quote you’re defending is poorly written and should be explained beyond hiding behind your intentionally vague wording.

But if you really do think the majority of us blue-state, coastal lefties “may” constitute a “fifth column”, then would it be equally valid to make a statement like this?

“In the densely-populated urban areas which are likely targets for future attacks – and heavily favored Democrats in the last election – are serious about capturing Osama Bin Laden. The religious extremists in the south and Midwest have other plans – for they might be more interested in firebombing abortion clinics.”

Would it be okay to contrast John Kerry voters and white supremacists? Or divide the country into secular humanists and hate-filled bastards like Rev. Fred Phelps? Singling out extremists to score points against your political opposition isn’t just unfair, it’s lazy reporting.

Besides that, the whole point of my post wasn’t to bash Andy for a stupid-ass comment he made four and a half years ago, but to spur a discussion (in a roundabout way) about what constitutes a “fifth column” movement, who gets to make those decisions, and what actions should be taken against them. Andy’s gone on record as saying that the “far left” (a relative term if ever these was one) should be under suspicion, Sen. Graham believes it’s acceptable to spy on those of us suspected of being in the “fifth column” without a warrant, and the President rode to victory by repeatedly suggesting that John Kerry and his allies “embolden our enemies” , so where do you draw the line between legitimate dissent and “fifth column” activity?