Free speech in the U.S. Senate

For all of the sound and fury about Republicans in the U.S. Senate allegedly sending a letter to the leadership of Iran, there is something that has been missed, and that is a critical fact. Those Republicans in the U.S. Senate never sent a letter to Iran. Yes. That is right. The Republicans never sent a letter to Iran. This is a rather important detail.

What the Republicans actually did is compose an “open letter” to be posted online and published in newspapers. In essence, they were exercising their free speech rights under the First Amendment. They wrote an editorial. If what the Republican senators did was “treasonous” then all of the editorials, speeches and statements by Democrats in opposition to President Bush’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan were and are also treasonous. All of those things could be seen by hostile regimes or terrorist groups, after all.

Now, politically, what the Republicans did was not very bright. By writing their editorial in the second person and calling it an open letter, they managed to draw more attention to their argument but also gave Democrats the opportunity to completely ignore the content of the editorial and toss out accusations, red herrings and straw men. They did not think this through. Someone should have raised a red flag about how this could be spun. Between all of the Senators and their staffs, someone should have thought about this. Perhaps someone did, and was ignored.

But the fact is that the Republicans did not do anything abnormal, or anything that Senators of both parties have not done for centuries. For all of the discussion about politics stopping at the water’s edge, there has always been public debate about our foreign policy, and what that policy should and should not be. This debate has been carried on in editorial pages, floor speeches, press releases and letters to the editor, all the way down to water cooler discussions. Democrats, who once claimed that dissent is patriotic, are playing a very dangerous game that could easily turn against them.

4 thoughts on “Free speech in the U.S. Senate

  1. Did GWB era publish open letters addressed to the leadership of Afghanistan or Iraq?

    It's been a while, so my memory is faded. I mostly remember some Democrats questioning the motive for launching the invasion of Iraq. They told the sitting President he doesn't know what he's doing. That's very different from telling someone at the other end of a bargaining table that the sitting President doesn't know what he's doing.

    Perhaps you could be more specific about what comparison you're try to draw here?

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  2. Undermining an invasion is very different from underming a negotiation.

    Especially when history bears out that the reason to undermine the invasion was valid. The GWB administration did not handle its job competently.

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  3. One could argue that undermining a war effort is much worse than undermining a negotiation.

    And let's not forget that the Senators made an important point: A deal made only by the administration without the approval of Congress can easily be reversed by the next President.

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