Yesterday Ross argued that "people who follow politics closely -- whether voters, activists or pundits -- are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing." James Fallows, as the Dish noted yesterday, begged to differ on the specific example Ross cited, civil liberties, and I think he's right. But the general principle is not, I think, misguided over time, and if not used as a way to impute some equivalence between today's unhinged right and merely partisan soft left. Having observed the right's utter intellectual bankruptcy under Bush, I have been actually impressed with many left-liberals' principled complaints about Obama. Greenwald is on the same page. Erik Kain takes Ross's side:
It would be one thing for Fallows to argue that folks like Krauthammer are hypocrites, or that Republicans in general are acting like hypocrites over this issue. That would hold water! But to exonerate liberals and Democrats the very people who for years criticized the Bush administration’s overreach and security theater, and who are now directly responsible for the expansion of these policies well, this strikes me as rather one-sided and biased on Fallows’s part. Accusing Douthat of false equivalency here doesn’t work. Both sides are responsible for this mess. If they weren’t, then the Democrats would have scaled back the security state. They haven’t. And now liberals are defending them in spite of that inconvenient fact.
Maybe we need to distinguish between Democrats in the administration and Dems/libs outside it. When I look at Greenwald, I see no shift in principle from the Bush to Obama era. I'm a huge fan of Obama's judgment and temperament, but I have not excused him on Afghanistan, or accountability for torture, or gay rights, and wil give no quarter, as the economy slowly recovers, on spending and debt. On civil liberties and war, I have long been squishier than Glenn - having not so big a problem with rendition (without torture), or wire-tapping, as long as there is a judicial check. I don't see where I have given Obama a break where I didn't with Bush (maybe readers can push back).
On that note, Larison points out that Barack Obama wasn't very focused on civil liberties even as a senator, despite his campaign rhetoric, and sides with Fallows:
...Ross’ equivalence does not stand up to scrutiny. It is very hard if not impossible to find conservatives and Republicans who were supportive of or indifferent to Bush’s security policies on detention, interrogation, and surveillance, but who have since become passionate opponents of the same under Obama. If anything, Obama’s continuation of these policies makes them feel vindicated. For that matter, the civil libertarians who vigorously opposed these policies are by and large still opposing them now.
There are fair-weather friends who might have mouthed some slogans about Bush-era policies and now say little or nothing, and that can be attributed to misguided partisan “team loyalty,” but on the whole these are not people who were speaking out much against the Bush administration on civil liberties. It is also fairly difficult to find as many active defenders of Obama’s most outrageous security policies on the left. If there are “centrist” Democrats defending Obama’s authoritarian policies against progressive critics today, it is probable that they defended these policies against those critics in years past, because “centrists” already favor these policies and use that support as proof of their “credibility” on national security.
In a separate post, he captures the impossible position of civil libertarians:
...many of them are genuinely appalled by Obama’s continuation of Bush-era security policies on detention and surveillance (and especially by his outrageous new claim of assassination powers), they are disgusted that his administration is hiding behind the state secrets privilege to cover up for the Bush administration, and they object to escalating the war in Afghanistan. However, they know very well that the alternative to Obama is to have all of these things, plus torture, aggressive foreign policy in all directions, and possibly war with Iran.
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