‘Treason Is A Matter Of Dates’: Democrats Denounce Republicans For The Same Challenge They Previously Made To Republican Presidents

by | Jan 2, 2021


Napoleon once said “treason is a matter of dates.” The Democrats seem to have taken Napoleon’s words to heart in declaring Republicans traitors or anti-Democratic in their planned challenge the certification of electoral votes next week. Both the media and Democratic members have advanced this narrative despite Democratic members repeatedly raising such challenges in the past. In the few acknowledgments of that history, Democrats seem to be advancing a simple and familiar defense: Trump. Once again, open hypocrisy is negated by Trumpunity. After all, they cannot be anti-Democratic because they are Democrats. That conclusory position was evident in the spin this week on CNN by former California Sen. Barbara Boxer who led such a challenge to the 2004 election results.

In January 2005, Boxer joined former Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones to challenge George W. Bush’s victory over Democratic challenger John Kerry in the state of Ohio. I was working for CBS in that election and shared concerns over the voting irregularities. At the time, Boxer argued that Republicans had engaged in voter suppression that contributed to Bush’s victory. The media and Democratic leadership was highly supportive. Indeed, many who are condemning the challenge today heaped praise on Boxer in 2004. There was no hue and cry in the media over anti-democratic measures and refusing to respect the election results.

For example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the current challenge an assault on democracy but, in the 2004 election challenge, she praised Boxer’s challenge as “witnessing Democracy at work. This isn’t as some of our Republican colleagues have referred to it, sadly, as frivolous. This debate is fundamental to our democracy.”

Notably, many Democrats like Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., raised analogous complaints over voting systems and insisted that “as Americans, we should all be troubled by reports of voting problems in many parts of the country.”

Sen. Dick Durbin has also denounced the challenge this year but took to the Senate floor to praise Boxer in 2005. He declared “Some may criticize our colleague from California for bringing us here for this brief debate. I thank her for doing that because it gives members an opportunity once again on a bipartisan basis to look at a challenge that we face not just in the last election in one State but in many States.”

Now however Democrats are claiming that it is unfair to compare their earlier actions and statements to the present day. As we have seen in other areas, such clearly conflicting positions present little problem for Democratic politicians when they are not being raised or challenged in the media. In today’s siloed media and politics, Democratic voters are largely protected from such counter viewpoints. Boxer’s interview is an example of the light treatment given to such members. She was left largely unchallenged on clearly opportunistic and assailable positions in the CNN interview.

Boxer insisted that the challenge had “nothing to do with overturning the election” because it was only brief and would not succeed. This current effort will also fail after a debate on some of the same issues of voting irregularities. Nevertheless, Boxer insisted “No, why would I regret spending an hour talking about the right to vote? Not at all. If these Republicans are going to lie about it and say it’s the same thing, that’s on them, and I’m sorry they’re doing this.”

CNN simply carried that transparently hypocritical spin without meaningful challenge. After all, this is deemed spin, not lies. While MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell (and recently Jake Tapper) have pledged not to interview Trump figures because they are “liars”, Democratic members can voice absurd denials without challenge. The fact is that this is an important interview despite the absence of a substantial questioning. It is information, not disinformation. The problem is the biased approach in booking such political figures depending whether they support or oppose Trump.

Ultimately, this is not “on them.” And it is on Boxer because it is the same thing. However, I did not view Boxer as engaging in an attack on democracy by using her right to object in 2005 and I do not view those objections today as anti-democratic. I did not support the challenge in 2005 and I do not support this challenge. Yet, this is a legal challenge under constitutional and statutory law. Yet, Democrats and media outlets like CNN want to portray the vote as virtually unprecedented and even treasonous.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told CNN that members of Congress who question the election results “are bordering on sedition and treason.” That would mean more than 70 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats nationwide are potentially traitors for believing Trump won. Shaneen and her colleagues denounced Trump for calling people traitors and sought to protect officials who denounced his use of the label “enemies of the people” against reporters. Just two years ago, Trump was called a Stalin for using such labels by Democrats. It is same position taken recently before the Supreme Court by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who called a legal challenge to the election “seditious.” Of course, the use of the courts or Congress to raise such objections is the very opposite of sedition, which seeks to overthrow the legal system.

As I noted earlier, Democrats did not accuse their colleagues of treason or sedition when they sought to block the certification of Ohio’s electoral votes in Congress in 2004. They did not call Hillary Clinton traitorous for advising Biden not to concede any Trump victory on Election Night. They did not describe members of Congress or the media as traitors for repeatedly declaring Trump “illegitimate” over the last four years.

Thus, in the end, as Napoleon said, “treason is a matter of dates.” And the key date in the United States, for now, appears to be Nov. 7 — the day the media declared Joe Biden the presumptive winner. All court challenges then became unethical for lawyers and all congressional challenges became sedition for members. It is just a matter of dates.

Reprinted with permission from JonathanTurley.org.


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.