Have we forgotten what “treason” means? Those who aren’t the current governor of Texas might recognize the term as perhaps the most serious criminal accusation anyone can make against a fellow citizen.
Rick Perry, though, hasn't been officially running for president a week, and he’s already using the word to bash those with whom he disagrees. While campaigning in Iowa, Perry said that it would be “treasonous” of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “print more money,” possibly in an effort to help President Obama win reelection. “We would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
I thought I was stating the totally obvious last week when I suggested that politicians shouldn't call any U.S. citizen anti-American unless that citizen has sworn allegiance to a foreign terrorist group, or is Julius or Ethel Rosenberg. Now, I guess, someone needs to put the patently obvious into words again with this corollary: Don’t imply that a fellow American is possibly treasonous unless there’s some evidence that American might actually commit treason.
Perry’s words were so outlandish, that even if Bernanke did literally everything Perry termed “treasonous,” it still wouldn't be treason. Not even “almost,” the word Perry used to qualify his charge.
Loose monetary policy isn't even against the law. Perry might think it’s bad for the country. He might think Bernanke’s motivations are foul. (Though the only thing driving this particular conspiracy theory seems to be a calculation about how to most efficiently justify anti-Fed sentiment.) But, by definition, it’s not remotely like treason. Seriously — here’s the definition, from Article III of the Constitution:
Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
Perry’s rant is a particularly low moment in American political debate. A serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination has a policy disagreement with the Fed chair. Instead of just attacking Fed policy, Perry asserts that acting on views that aren’t his own is the most grievous betrayal of the nation that anyone can perpetrate, without a shred of evidence — let alone constitutional grounding — to back it up.
If Perry continues in this vein, by rights his campaign should quickly flame out. If, however, this man gets rewarded further for this below-the-belt style of politics, that would be a sad commentary on the GOP primary electorate.