But the Editors have no such delicate scruples:
If Rove were working for the CPUSA, the Constitution Party, or the Black Panther Party, I doubt anyone would have a problem calling him “traitor”. But he doesn’t: he works for the premier establishment political party, a party with tens of millions of blindly loyal partisans. Somehow, clout and popularity seem to change this equation.
When Rove used national security secrets as tokens in his sectarian battle, he betrayed his country, a confidence, and a trust placed in his hands by the American people, and betrayed everyone around the world who benefits from a strong America, whose numbers are legion, and shrinking daily. He violated his allegience toward his country, and helped her enemies. The question of whether he knew he was helping her enemies, or if he was unsure, indifferent, or mistaken, is a very important question, and my personal suspicion is that the thought never crossed his mind. He is a professional political operative, who understands the requirements for winning the internecine political “war” he spent his life fighting. He has no experience in national security, and probably little training in or aptitude for it. We all make mistakes our first day on the job. This doesn’t excuse anything, but I think a more sensible objection to the word would focus on his supposed lack of anti-American intent, rather than his lack of loyalty to any particular foreign enemy.
Nonetheless, like Kristof’s objection to calling the reflexively dishonest Bush a “liar”, I think an unspoken component of Kleiman’s position is that “traitor”, even more than “liar”, is a very strong word, and strong words make people uncomfortable. But in strong situations, strong words apply, and while I can understand not feeling that “traitor” applies to Rove, it seems pretty clear how one could understand the opposite as well. Being upset by bad words is normal, but when the bad words are describing something accurately, the word is not the problem.
Furthermore, in America today, it is routinely described as “treason” when one disagrees with the President, reports accurate bad news, or fails to wave one’s GOP pom-poms with sufficient single-mindedness. Arguments about whether this word quite reaches every abstract threshold for proper use, while certainly high-minded and all that, are, today, a bit like worrying if you wore the wrong ascot to a $3 crack deal. Distasteful as it is, this is the context in which this discussion is taking place, and, in consideration of this, it is hard to see the sense in having it.