What Do You Call 250 People Trying to Shut Down the Government?

Treason is defined as “the crime of betraying one's country, esp. by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.” Article III Section 3 of the United States Constitution reads, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Federal law describes it this way: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason." 

On the other hand, patriotism is defined as a love for country and a willingness to sacrifice for it. President John F. Kennedy said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
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From the time of George Washington to Barack Obama, only 40 people have been prosecuted for treason and only a small portion of those prosecutions resulted in conviction. A free nation allows for its citizens to freely display their displeasure even to the point of renouncing citizenship. In fact, no one was ever tried for treason during the Civil War and, in more modern times, Joe McCarthy made even the accusation seem a bit nutty.

But what else do you call a group of people who knowingly incurred, on behalf of America, more debt than could be afforded and are now walking away from that obligation? And what do you call those people when America is at war? There is simply one breath between providing direct aid and comfort to the enemy, and weakening the nation to the point where aid and comfort is provided indirectly. During a time of war, sequestration, the government shutdown, and the debt ceiling weaken our ability to defend ourselves against Al-Qaeda. Couldn't that, in its own way, be considered treasonous?

Historically, there is a road map. The British subjects rose up against the King of England over taxes, and we think of this as patriotic. In fact, the American Revolution is arguably the most patriotic event in American history. A few short years later, however, the new American federal government levied a tax on whiskey which was used to get out from under the crushing debt of that revolution. When several whiskey makers decided that it wasn’t their obligation to pay for America’s war, the Whiskey Rebellion ensued. There was one breath’s difference between protesters and traitors. Ultimately, President Washington decided that jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the young nation was treasonous.

During the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan worried about the connection between financial security and national security when he said, "We're in greater danger today than we were the day after Pearl Harbor. Our military is absolutely incapable of defending this country." He knew that not being prepared was the same as providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

So at the risk of sounding un-American or even a little nutty, we have to ask ourselves as a nation: During a time of war and economic peril, is threatening to shut down the government patriotism, or is it treason?