Janice McGeachin’s penchant for describing opponents of her views as “traitors” is deeply troubling.
Such absolutist language vitiates civil discourse, harkens back to the dark days of McCarthyism when political opponents were red-baited and falsely labeled as communists, and precludes negotiation and compromise, the essence of the democratic process.
McGeachin, a Republican candidate for the lieutenant governorship of Idaho, recently used Facebook to denounce U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ), as “traitors” for voting against the co-called skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In reaction to criticism of her use of that incendiary characterization, she double-downed in a Post-Register column, and reiterated its usage, refusing to be corralled by what she referred to as the parameters of “political correctness.”
McGeachin can, and should be, better than this. She should continue to press her policy preferences on health care matters without attacking the character of those who may disagree with her. McGeachin should, for example, explain how she would provide health care coverage for Idahoans that is comprehensive and affordable, with assurances that, among other things, citizens too poor to purchase insurance and those with pre-existing conditions will not be denied coverage.
What’s more, the effort to tar those U.S. Senators as “traitors” is futile and serves only to undermine her own credibility as a candidate for high office in Idaho.
Sens. Murkowski and Collins have been acclaimed nationwide for their strong, independent advocacy for the health care and rights of women. Sen. McCain, as is familiar, is a decorated Vietnam War hero who bravely endured captivity and torture for several years, without yielding or trading any information to his captors that might have led to his freedom or aided the efforts of the North Vietnamese.
McGeachin’s attack on McCain falls flat, and reminds readers of then presidential candidate Donald Trump’s bizzare description of McCain as a loser for being captured. That is a road that McGeachin should not want to travel.
What’s more, her careless rhetoric makes her vulnerable to primary opponents—Sen. Kelly Packard, Sen. Marv Hagedorn and Idaho State Republican Chair Steve Yates. They might, with respect, sophistication and nuance, explain their policy differences with GOP colleagues.
The characterization of one’s own party members as “traitors” ignores the fact that reasonable people can disagree about the means and methods to good ends, including the complex matter of health care coverage for all Americans. The use of absolutist terms to demonize opponents, a clever but unsavory technique employed in the 1950s by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a dark history of which Ms. McGeachin may be entirely unaware, destroys the process of debate, negotiation and compromise.
Indeed, upon what basis may discussion with a traitor proceed? Surely, Sen. McCain was correct when he observed in a speech on the Senate floor just hours before casting his vote on the purported repeal of The Affordable Care Act, that there is a need for senators “to trust one another,” and to return to “regular order,” so that both sides of the aisle might participate in the inevitable debate on health care legislation that will better serve this nation. Of course, there was no denial of the weight of partisan affiliation or party cause that would be advanced in debate, but an issue that encompasses one-sixth of our economy deserves bi-partisan discussion.
The primary campaign in which McGeachin has enrolled has just begun. There remains plenty of time for her to recover from this mistake, but any further use of such inflammatory character attacks must end now.
David Adler is President of The Alturas Institute, established to advance the Constitution, civic education, gender equality and civil dialogue.