"Even the libertarians . . . "

Every libertarian gets it: "even Megan McArdle doesn't support the bankruptcy reform bill. . . " or some variant thereof. This is supposed to prove that the idea being attacked is so malignant that even libertarians, who are normally opposed to all that is right and good, can't stomach it. Annoyingly, I almost never get this for voicing an opinion that is actually outside the libertarian mainstream. It's generally in response to something--like abortion, or the proper method for liquidating unpayable debts--where no obvious answer is dictated by libertarian theory. People are so wrapped up in their own irrational bundles of ideas that they seem unable to conceive of any bundle that isn't

a) theirs

b) the exact opposite of theirs

And since I don't agree with them on national health care, naturally I must disagree about every single other thing they hold dear, from foreign policy to the eternal question of whether thank you notes may properly be started with the words "Thank you"1. This becomes downright maddening when someone says "even the libertarians . . . " about people who are voicing the conventional libertarian line. And Tim Lee has had enough:

On the one hand, I appreciate the link from Crooks and Liars to my recent C@L blogging on the FISA issue. But on the other hand, the implications of the “even the CATO Institute” comment stings a little. The implication, I guess, is that it’s surprising that Cato scholars would be in favor of civil liberties. Which is a little strange. Here is my colleagues Gene Healy and Tim Lynch attacking the president’s civil liberties record in 2006. Here is Cato’s 1999 books attacking Pres. Clinton for his poor civil liberties record. Here is Cato’s 2006 amicus brief opposing the president’s stance in the Hamdan case. Here is Cato’s brief in the Padilla case. Here are the dozens of pro-civil-liberties op-eds Cato scholars have written since 1991. Here are the op-eds of my former colleague Radley Balko, who wrote extensively about police misconduct and the futility of the drug war and gambling bans.

And yes, we occasionally have Cato scholars take what I would regard as the anti-civil-liberties position. Cato’s doesn’t tell its scholars what to think, and as a result they sometimes reach what most of us regard as the wrong conclusion. But the overwhelming majority of Cato’s work in this area has been on the side of civil liberties and the rule of law. And so the idea that we should be surprise that “even the CATO Institute” (and please note that “Cato” is not an acronym”) is opposed to the president’s agenda on this issue is a little silly.

Unfortunately, partisanship seems to have so poisoned our political culture that people have trouble wrapping their brains around the idea that not everyone falls neatly onto the left-right spectrum. Because Cato scholars take “right-wing” positions on taxes, spending, and regulations, it becomes disconcerting when we take “left-wing” positions on civil liberties, war, immigration, or other social issues. I suppose this is helpful to the extent that it makes right-wingers more likely to take our views on civil liberties seriously (and hopefully left-wingers will take a second look at what we have to say about economic policy). But it’s also frustrating.

1The answer, obviously, is "Hell, no, what on earth could you be thinking?