The 500 Pound Gorilla in the Room

by Conor Friedersdorf

Phillip writes:

Since you have a platform to ask interesting questions (and get back interesting answers), I have one I'd like to have asked, dealing with the way Americans of differing ideologies frame their debates.

My own camp is generally "not conservative", so I often feel I'm among the targets of conservative denouncements of liberal "tyranny." And some of what they say makes sense.  While I'll admit to being in the liberal camp, I'm pretty centrist (e.g. I actually feel like Obama is delivering what I heard him promise during his campaign), so conservative calls for smaller government and greater personal freedom do resonate with me.

Still, I'm never actually convinced it's anything beyond rhetoric, mostly because of a single, gigantic exception - conservatives give the military (and really anything security-related) a huge bye.  I can understand the argument, for instance, that if taxes are too high then personal freedom is to some degree eroded, but that seems very metaphorical compared to government's power to physically lock you up. For all their talk about freedom and liberty, the enthusiastic embrace of the military and security culture by many conservatives pretty makes that seem like a lot of empty rhetoric to me.

I don't mean it as a critique so much as a question - why does the military-security culture get such a huge pass? I honestly don't understand how you can cast yourself as a defender of liberty on one hand, while be fully in support of expanding the government's ability to physically remove your liberty on the other. (To be clear, I don't expect conservatives to be pacifist - I'm thinking of specific examples like denouncing any criticism of the Iraq war as unpatriotic and casting skeptics of the Patriot Act as loony leftists - and of course, all the torture, er, enhanced interrogations).