by Conor Friedersdorf

In theory, it shouldn't be difficult. I'm a fiscal hawk with libertarian instincts on domestic policy. I am skeptical of President Obama's signature legislative achievement. And the Obama Administration's record on civil liberties vexes me – the executive branch thinks its unchallengable say so is sufficient to assasinate Americans, even if it requires waging drone war sans Congressional authorization in neutral countries. Yes, I know. It's the unhinged opposition to our president that causes some of you to look past these flaws. I'm as appalled as anyone by the absurd, paranoid accusations made by Dinesh D'Souza and Andy McCarthy. I've demonstrated the holes in their thinking as forcefully as anyone. But it isn't a mark in a leader's favor when he or she is attacked unfairly.

George W. Bush wasn't like Hitler. Barack Obama isn't a Kenyan anti-colonialist who has allied himself with radical Islamists. Can we put Visqueen sheeting down, accept that the kids are going to hurl food at one another in the den, and disappear into the dining room for a frank conversation among adults? Our last two presidents are unlike one another in most ways. It so happens that what they have in common is tremendously consequential. Both presidents needlessly undermined civil liberties, the separation of powers, and the rule of law in the course of fighting the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. Had President Obama merely lived up to his own pre-election rhetoric on civil liberties, I'd be here arguing for his second term. As it is, I'm very much hoping for a change of leadership.

So why haven't I pledged my support to his eventual opponent? The way I see it, my vote is the GOP's to lose, and they may well do it, because several contenders for the nomination would be even worse than President Obama. Put simply, I won't vote for any Republican who thinks that our current leadership is excessively solicitous of civil liberties in the war on terror, or whose main foreign policy critique is that our leaders are insufficiently bellicose. It isn't much to say that the current administration hasn't tortured anyone, or launched any unwinnable foreign wars, but one couldn't say it about its predecessor.

Let's hope that America doesn't suffer a terrorist attack between 2012 and 2016. But level with yourself. It's a possibility. It isn't unthinkable for it to be worse than 9/11. How will the man or woman in the White House respond? That's one question I'll be asking myself as I evaluate the candidates in the next election. In such a scenario, do I trust Barack Obama to avoid overreacting in a way that hurts America? To refrain from using an attack as a pretext to seize greater power for the executive branch? Or to launch an ill-advised war?

I trust him more than Bush/Cheney or McCain/Palin. I trust him less than Bush/Quayle or Clinton/Gore. These are judgment calls made with imperfect information. This isn't the only question for me in the next election. But it's a big one. Given all its rhetoric about safeguarding liberty and the Constitution, you'd think the right could manage a candidate with whom I'd feel comfortable on these grounds. But the conservative movement doesn't seem interested in what concerns me.

I honestly don't know how it'll turn out.

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