Patrick reaches back to decry Obama foes

Uses arcane word to describe mood

Governor Deval Patrick criticized Republican opposition to President Obama at a forum at Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport Center yesterday. Governor Deval Patrick criticized Republican opposition to President Obama at a forum at Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport Center yesterday. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 25, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick, decrying partisanship in Washington, said yesterday that Republican opposition to President Obama is so reflexive that it “is almost at the level of sedition.’’

The Democratic governor, who is close to the president, said that even “on my worst day, when I’m most frustrated about folks who seem to be rooting for failure,’’ he doesn’t face anything like the opposition to the president and his proposals.

“It seems like child’s play compared to what’s going on in Washington, where it is almost at the level of sedition, it feels like to me,’’ the governor told students and faculty at a candidate’s forum at Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport Center. “People who have just resolved: If the president says, ‘Up,’ we will say, ‘Down.’ If the president says, ‘Go that way,’ we will say, ‘Go the other way.’ ’’

Sedition is a word not often heard in modern political discourse; defines it as “in citement of resistance to, or insurrection against, lawful authority.’’ Asked about his choice of words after the forum, Patrick told reporters it was a “rhetorical flourish.’’

“The number of people in the Grand Old Party who seem to be absolutely committed to saying ‘No,’ whenever he says ‘Yes,’ no matter what it is, even if it’s an idea that they came up with, is just extraordinary,’’ the governor said.

Geoffrey R. Stone, a former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, said sedition “doesn’t even really exist as a legal concept anymore’’ since the Supreme Court has found both the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1918 unconstitutional. Those laws, he said, once allowed the government to jail critics who “cast the government into contempt or disrepute with malice, which means without a good motive.’’

Stone said he suspects Patrick was using the term “in a very conventional sense,’’ to describe critics who constantly attack the president, rather than engage in “serious and honest criticism.’’

“If you take that definition of sedition, then Patrick probably is accurate,’’ Stone said.

The Massachusetts Republican Party quickly condemned Patrick for using the word.

“Apparently our First Amendment rights are only guaranteed if we agree with the tax-and-spend policies of Deval Patrick and Barack Obama,’’ Jennifer Nassour, the party chairwoman, said in a statement. “The governor should focus on the critical issues at hand, like lowering property taxes and controlling rampant spending, instead of defending his buddy President Obama.’’

Patrick, however, is not alone in using the term to describe the president’s opponents.

Time columnist Joe Klein, speaking on “The Chris Matthews Show’’ in April, said he “looked up the definition of sedition, which is conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of the state. And a lot of these statements, especially the ones coming from people like Glenn Beck and to a certain extent Sarah Palin, rub right up close to being seditious.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at

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