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Attacking the Messengers

As Peter points out, E.J. Dionne is not exactly helping raise the level of discourse in Washington. Abortion is not the only issue at hand. He just seems to brook no criticism of the Obama administration whatsoever. He declares:

In a remarkably partisan op-ed in The Post last Thursday, Marc A. Thiessen, who was a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, declared flatly: “If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.”

This is dangerous, both substantively and politically, and it suggests that some of Bush’s loyalists will continue to politicize issues related to terrorism in their efforts to vindicate the former president’s legacy.

Why is this “dangerous”? It seems a rather pedestrian statement of political reality. If the Obama team removes structures or changes policies that have kept Americans safe there will be a terrible price to pay. If FISA is amended and a terrorist communication is missed, resulting in American deaths, won’t politicians of both parties be looking for someone to blame? Should a released Guantanamo prisoner mastermind an attack on American soil there will be an outcry. Indeed, that is why many don’t expect the Obama team to really change much at all. The risks are too great.

But Dionne doesn’t stop at national security. He ignores the observations of many observers (including his own editors, who noted that the stimulus plan is filled with non-stimulative, spending junk) and attacks Rep. Jeb Hansarling (R-Tex) who makes this very same, rather obvious point. Dionne doesn’t much care that, from the Post’s editorial board to John McCain, many people are disturbed by the level of pork and the increased long-term spending commitments entailed in a bill supposedly designed to help jump-start the economy. But Dionne says Hansarling is just one of many Republicans placing “bets on the prospect that Obama’s policies will fail.” Perhaps they are raising well-founded policy objections and trying to ensure the bill actually adheres to its stated goal.

It seems odd that Dionne feels so compelled to race to the new administration’s rescue with such ferocity. Taking umbrage at the existence of criticism and attacking the critics’ motives suggest an unwillingness to engage arguments on their merits. Worse, it smacks of the same sort of intellectual contempt for political opponents of which Dionne often accused the Bush team of displaying. Perhaps we can get back to a respectful debate revolving around the merits of the proposed measures. But, then, it’s so much easier to attack the critics.