The vast left-wing conspiracy?

I have some bad news. Apparently, thereâÄôs a vast anti-American conspiracy in this country, operating right under our noses. Even worse: These anti-Americans have infiltrated the highest levels of our government, and appear to have even the presidency in their grasp. ItâÄôs a good thing we have Rep. Michele Bachmann in the House of Representatives to keep an eye on these dangerous types. She isnâÄôt fooled by the docile appearances of these hateful anti-Americans. Indeed, she stopped by MSNBCâÄôs âÄúHardballâÄù on Friday to blow the cover off the entire operation. On her watch, we can be sure these âÄúliberalsâÄù never get the chance to destroy our great country. Alright, I canâÄôt keep that up. But Bachmann does seem to honestly believe that being liberal means being anti-American. And sheâÄôs not alone. Conservative figures of all stripes are comfortable dismissing a huge section of the country by claiming weâÄôre not real Americans. BachmanâÄôs MSNBC interview started as a pretty standard smear on Barack Obama âÄîtrotting out the same Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright attacks that have gone over like a lead balloon. But she soon switched gears, attacking Obama for being âÄúthe most liberal senator in the United States SenateâÄù (perhaps sheâÄôs never met Russ Feingold), using that as another piece of evidence to prove how dangerous Obama really is. She then went on to throw Sen. Joe Biden, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid, Obama, Ayers and Wright into one big liberal and anti-American âÄútroika.âÄù Now, obviously, this is a stupid thing to say. If I wanted to follow suit, I could say something about how all conservatives are racists because of some church-bombings and lynchings during the civil rights movement. That would be equally stupid, but somehow itâÄôs always acceptable to blast the scary âÄúliberals.âÄù This is a problem that goes above and beyond simple decency. ItâÄôs a matter of intellectual laziness. In any argument, defaulting to calling the other side anti-American ends the discourse. And by conflating âÄúliberalâÄù with âÄúanti-American,âÄù Bachmann and others are attempting to end every argument about any kind of policy. We canâÄôt afford that kind of moronic national conversation anymore. To simply dismiss opponents as anti-American is to dodge a real argument on substantive issues. But the problem is even deeper than that. ItâÄôs the same problem that rears its head when Gov. Sarah Palin visits Greensboro, N.C., and tells the crowd how she loves âÄúthese wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America.âÄù Or when John McCainâÄôs brother dismisses northern Virginia as âÄúcommunist countryâÄù because it leans Democrat. ItâÄôs a mindset that believes hard-line conservatism to be the true American way. Any deviation, by default, is un-American (or worse). If thatâÄôs the case, then the U.S. public shows a disturbing comfort in the idea of voting for anti-Americans. The House and Senate are full of them, and weâÄôre close to putting one in the White House. But thereâÄôs another possibility: That liberal views might (gasp!) be compatible with American values. Making health care available to all Americans, protecting a womanâÄôs ownership of her own body, a minimum wage on which people can live, a regulatory system that protects the interests of the bulk of the population, a foreign policy that doesnâÄôt view bombs as a first resort: these are âÄúliberalâÄù values. And they sure arenâÄôt âÄúanti-American.âÄù BachmannâÄôs comments are no accident. The McCain campaign has long been running commercials juxtaposing Bill Ayers and âÄúcongressional liberalsâÄù to show ObamaâÄôs âÄúbad judgment.âÄù In the ads, and in BachmannâÄôs interview, thereâÄôs always that assumption simmering just below the surface (although they can never quite come out and say it): liberals are bad, scary people who hate America. ItâÄôs beyond guilt by association (although thatâÄôs part of it); itâÄôs guilt by political identity. WeâÄôve managed to construct a political discourse in which any criticism of American policy is instantly construed as anti-American. ItâÄôs no different than calling someone who opposes the Iraq war âÄúanti-troops.âÄù ItâÄôs blind adherence to the stupidest kind of tribalism, in which America is always right because itâÄôs America and stop asking so many questions, you must hate America! Critiquing American policy doesnâÄôt make someone anti-American. That critique is vital to a healthy democracy. ItâÄôs the opposite thatâÄôs dangerous: If we donâÄôt bother to think critically about our countryâÄôs direction, weâÄôre susceptible to, say, being suckered into a war of choice on false pretense. Not that thatâÄôs ever happened. Obviously, conservatives have no problem criticizing the policies of liberal leaders. And thatâÄôs a good thing. Liberalism is prone to mistakes, just like conservatism. Neither strain of thought can survive without being pushed, challenged and questioned. Indeed, over the last seven years weâÄôve seen what happens when nobody bothers to question our leadership. At the end of her MSNBC interview, Bachmann reached the point of calling for a full-on investigation of congressional liberals to see how many of them secretly harbor anti-American views. ItâÄôs like McCarthyism for Dummies: all around us, these not-secret liberals lead open lives as they plot our downfall. WeâÄôre not hiding anti-American sentiment. We care about how to make America better. This isnâÄôt a flawless country âÄî we need to shake off dimwitted exceptionalism and seriously consider how we can make America, and the world, a better place. Hopefully Bachman and the rest will be pro-American enough to help out, through honest debate if nothing else. ThatâÄôs how to truly support America. John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]