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Still nation time

OK, I’ve decided to continue yesterday’s discussion up here, because (a) I don’t want some of these arguments to stay buried deep in comments and (b) some people are still disagreeing with me, and despite my commitment to pragmatist pluralism, I think this has just gotta stop.  So the discussion of Glenn Greenwald and civic vs. ethnic nationalism can keep on goin’ afresh.  But those of you who are already weary of this topic and are looking for something else on this very serious blog are advised that Scott Lemieux and I are covering the Stanley Cup finals over at Lawyers, Guns, and Hockey, and an intrepid blogger known only as Moi Oci (I think that’s a pun) has devised a groundbreaking set of equations for calibrating dangerality against dangerosity.  You already knew I was the worst or second-worst professor in America, but Moi Oci has quantitative proof.

Now for civic nationalism and yesterday’s comments.  First, Ben Alpers.  In response to my comment --

I think it’s quite difficult, actually, to read Greenwald’s outrage as anything but an expression of civic nationalism.  Remember, he wasn’t alarmed by the creation of the category of “enemy noncombatants” and the Bush Administration’s decision to hold thousands of detainees at Gitmo.  That was the tocsin for any number of other smart attorneys at home and abroad, many of whom have been interviewed by the invaluable talking dog.  Greenwald, by contrast, wasn’t that kind of internationalist or universalist; he was motivated by the deprivation of a citizen’s rights, and though you can read that motivation as being directly or indirectly allied to a more internationalist revulsion at the tactics of police states, it seems, here, quite specifically directed at a breach of the citizenship protocols of the nation-state.

-- Ben kicks off all kinds of mischief with an innocent little parenthetical remark:

But does even a revulsion “quite specifically directed at a breach of the citizenship protocols of the nation-state” necessarily involve a commitment to civic nationalism (and here I’m using nationalism in its normal sense to designate a form of patriotism, or belief in the superiority of one’s particular nation)?

The answer to this question, absent the parenthesis, is simply yes.  An objection to a breach of citizenship protocols involves a commitment to civic nationalism.  Crucially, that commitment need not preclude what Ben wisely calls “a universal commitment to citizen’s rights, a commitment that includes a belief that the legal distinction between the rights of citizens and non-citizens is necessary to the functions of the nation-state, while still maintaining that states in general should honor the rights of their own citizens.”

But the parenthesis mucks everything up.  When you say you’re using the word “nationalism” in “its normal sense to designate a form of patriotism, or belief in the superiority of one’s particular nation,” you’re putting a big fat thumb on the scales (and in saying this I do not mean any form of recognition harm with regard to Ben’s actual thumbs).  You’re deliberately evacuating the term “nationalism” of its civic, procedural sense, and substituting for it a common form of jingoism.  You’re deliberately confusing Greenwald’s civic-proceduralist conviction that the president does not have the power to set aside laws passed by Congress, and substituting for it the belief that the United States (GoUSAFreedom!) is better than other countries.

That dice-switching hampers our ability to think clearly about states, citizens, and universal commitments to citizens’ rights; closer to home, here on this very blog, it created a kind of dogpile on civic nationalism, and plenty more blurring of the difference between ethnic and civic forms of belonging.  (Of course, on the Internet no one knows if there are any actual dogs on the dogpile.) Next up was Luther Blissett:

Just want to agree with Ben Alpers’ comment above.  The line between civic and ethnic nationalism cannot be so boldly drawn.

Part of the debate over immigration posits the Samuel Huntington argument: America’s civic documents, institutions, and procedures are the product of certain ethnic worldviews, and so America cannot allow in too many of certain ethnicities and must force other immigrants to assimilate in order to preserve its civic identity.

And part of my end of the debate rejects the Samuel Huntington argument altogether.  Look, folks.  Drop the Hardt and Negri already; it’s not like they have anything coherent to say about citizenship and rights.  And please, please don’t adopt Huntington for any purpose whatsoever, not even in the safety of your own home.  Nothing good can come of that kind of “experimenting.” Instead, look closely at the difference between these two principles:

1.  The executive branch should be bound by the laws passed by the legislative branch.

2.  This land is the rightful land of the Anglo-Saxon people, having been won in conquest and in accordance with the will of God.  (For “Anglo-Saxon” substitute any form of ethnos you like.  Even your own!  If you have one, that is.)

Now, I suppose you could blur these two forms of nationalism if you wanted to, by citing some ethnocentric crackpot who believes that the principle of the separation of powers is uniquely Anglo-Saxon.  But why would anyone want to do this?  In order to argue that we shouldn’t get too upset about Bush’s secret and illegal NSA surveillance, because, after all, this whole “the president is not above the law” business is merely one of the ethnic folkways of one little proceduralist tribe?

Next comes jpj, to take issue with my claim about the constitutional origins of the United States:

I would argue that Michael is wrong when he argues that the US was “founded entirely on civic rather than ethnic grounds.”

For most of our history, our laws reflected the idea that civil society was a racial trait.  I’m sure I don’t have to rehearse the litany of racially based laws the country has had.  Chinese Exclusion, the 1924 Immigration Act, the entire structure of Jim Crow in the South… The list could be endless.

There was even an entire theoretical apparatus on the “Teutonic Origins of Democracy” to support the idea that democracy was a racial trait of Northern Europeans and that extending democratic ideals to other European races, never mind the “colored” races, was doomed to fail.

Given that extensive history, whipping up concerns about Mexican invasions is all to easy to explain.

Again, I don’t want to get parochial about this, but in my experience, I’ve found that propositions that begin “I would argue that Michael is wrong” almost never pan out.  And this one is no exception!  You certainly don’t have to rehearse the litany of racially based laws in the United States, because, as it happens, I recently wrote a very scholarly (and very heterosexual!) lecture on the subject, a lecture commissioned by General J. C. Christian himself.  No one around here is going to argue that the history of the United States is free of ethnic nationalism.  But we will argue that the checks on executive power in the Constitution are not predicated on any form of ethnic belonging.  Likewise, there is no provision in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that declares the section null and void if the President happens to be a good ol’ boy with whom one would like to have a beer.  (That would be silly!) So yes, jpj is right that there is plenty of ethnocentric precedent for whipping up concerns about Mexican invasions.  But he is wrong to see this as having any bearing on the separation of powers.

Which brings me to Lee Konstantinou’s comment.  Lee starts off great:

The problem with Greenwald isn’t that he’s finally starting to smell the coffee (we’re all very pleased that he is, really) but that by justifying his complacency and lack of interest in politics in the pre-Bush II Era on the basis of some Constitutionally-enforced political equilibrium, he suggests that If Only We Could Return to Politics as Usual then Everything Would Be OK.  Well, sorry, but it won’t be OK.

But then goes horribly awry:

There is a strong case to be made that Bush II’s policies are merely natural extensions of what has come before.

If you’re arguing that Bush II represents a restoration of the Nixon Presidency rather than the Reagan Presidency, then this is just about right.  (In a recent essay, I harked back to my belief, in my more optimistic moments of 2004, that “progressives would begin to look back on the Bush Presidency as a failed attempt to re-animate the Reagan Era, complete with tax cuts, cowboy boots, winks to religious fundamentalists, and tactical Constitution-shredding on the side.” Hey, I was wrong about the “Reagan” part!  It happens, you know.) But otherwise, it’s a very serious mistake to argue that anything about this administration is a “natural extension” of anything.  When we make the case against Bush’s NSA program and the Cheney Archipelago, we serve no good purpose if we do not stress the unprecedented nature of these things.  To do otherwise, I’m afraid, is to fall into the trap of arguing things like, “well, Clinton was just as bad in his way, and that’s just like Cheney’s secret torture sites if you think about it,” and thereby making a “left” argument that winds up having strange affinities with the right in its attempt to normalize Bush II.

Which brings me, at last, to Eric J-D and his citation of Robert Jensen’s argument about why leftists should distrust liberals:

I think at times like these it is quite difficult to know what to do with someone like Greenwald.  Certainly the exigencies of the present suggest to some the necessity of forming as broad a coalition as possible with those who oppose the present administration, but as Robert Jensen argues here, there are good reasons for those on the left to be suspicious of the value of building coalitions with liberals.

Being somewhere between liberalism and the left, let me return the favor: Jensen’s article is a standard piece of self-flattery, in which “the left” is principled and steadfast, and liberals are compromising (and compromised) wimps.  But I don’t always see things quite that way.  (Except when it comes to The Left, because he’s always objectively correct.) Apart from the fact that Counterpunch has, in the past, spread a nasty (and quite stupid!) little fib about how I am secretly in cahoots with David Horowitz, thereby giving me good reason to be suspicious of them, I have reason to be suspicious of the value of building coalitions with any part of the left that champions the “Iraqi maquis.” (For a brief but scathing reply on the left, check out Joe Lockard; for a trenchant analysis of the decline of the New Left Review more generally, see Danny Postel’s recent interview with Fred Halliday.  Long story short, right now I have fewer coalition-forming problems with Glenn Greenwald than I do with, say, Alexander Cockburn or Tariq Ali.) Yes, there are times—more than I can count—when liberals have been disappointing, craven, or worse; this snarly blog has remarked on many of them.  But there have also been times when liberals have been consistent on domestic civil liberties and universal citizenship rights, as well as on Cuba, Liberia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and the Middle East while “the left” has been all over the map, from good sound anti-imperialism all the way to noxious red-brown alliances.  So I don’t think there’s any reason to hold Glenn Greenwald to the Counterpunch standard of ideological purity.  Perhaps, in some people’s opinions, it took him too long to get where he is now, and perhaps he didn’t get there for all the right reasons.  But personally, I’m with cloudsplitter when s/he says,

To me, every voice of reason that’s raised against the erosion of civil liberties in America—while it’s still possible to raise them—is a welcome addition, and when the voice is as consistent and forceful in its articulation as Glenn’s, I’m a lot more interested in turning up the volume than in determining the exact motives for the decision to speak.

And that’s why, in closing, I’m going to direct you all to Amanda Anderson’s defense of Habermasian civic nationalism, as elaborated toward the end of The Way We Argue Now.  Anderson acknowledges that civic nationalism relies on a faith in proceduralism that, as I mentioned yesterday, seems unacceptably weak when juxtaposed to other forms of belonging:

proceduralism is seen as overly thin, arid, and abstract. . . .  It is further asserted that people need affective attachments and meaningful affiliations, that attachment to impersonal procedures and universal principles cannot provide the glue that holds communities of various scales together. . . .

Historically, the idea that participants in modern democratic life might fundamentally aspire to the forming of an attachment to abstract or universal principles has been a key issue in the debate over the possibilities for a nationalism defined in civic rather than ethnic terms (stretching back at least as far as J. S. Mill), and it has also informed discussions about cosmopolitan attachment (can one experience solidarity as a world citizen?) and about proceduralism of the type that Habermas espouses (not only through his concept of “constitutional patriotism,” but also through the idea of commitment to postnational institutions like the European Union and to international law).

Anderson then goes to argue that a commitment to proceduralism and civic nationalism need not be so arid and thin after all, especially if you take into account the history of ethnic nationalism:

Habermas has emphasized the ways in which citizens can form solidarities and affiliations based on a common struggle to install abstract principles and procedures at the heart of their national political institutions.  Sharing a common history in which there were collective efforts to overcome the damning effects of ethnic nationalism—as is certainly the case in Germany—can have the effect of what we might call “thickifying the thin.” In these instances, a shared dedication to principled democratic procedure itself promotes those forms of affective solidarity that Habermas elsewhere assigned exclusively to preexisting ethical life.  “The political culture of a country crystallizes around its constitution.  Each national culture develops a distinctive interpretation of those constitutional principles that are equally embodied in other republican constitutions—such as popular sovereignty and human rights—in light of its own national history.  A ‘constitutional patriotism’ based on these interpretations can take the place originally occupied by nationalism.” [Quoting Jürgen Habermas, “The European Nation-State: On the Past and Future of Sovereignty and Citizenship,” in The Inclusion of the Other, ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo de Greiff (MIT Press, 1998), 118.]

Thus, Anderson argues, “the collective attempt to resist forms of patriotism that attempt to subordinate or sidestep the rigorous demands of law, principle, and right—at either the national or the international level—can themselves promote productive forms of patriotic and cosmopolitan affiliation.” (By the way, this reminds me: wasn’t The Valve supposed to do one of their collective reviews of Anderson’s book?  Back in January, Scott Eric Kaufman was promising us a “book event” “in the next month or so.” And after all, wouldn’t they be better off reading Amanda Anderson than wasting their time and ours with houses of cards?)

This Habermasian project, I submit, is precisely what Greenwald’s How Would a Patriot Act? attempts to accomplish: to counter America’s history of narrow, ethnic nationalism with a constitutional faith, a procedural commitment to principled democratic procedure itself.  And every effort to blur the distinction between the ethnic nationalism of the Volk and the civic nationalism of political constitutions hampers that attempt.  In my humble yet tenacious opinion, the left should try to keep that distinction as clear as possible.

Posted by on 06/06 at 01:22 PM
  1. I want to address two related issues in Michael’s very interesting rejoinder to my (and others’wink posts: 1) whether civic nationalism constitutes “a form of patriotism, or belief in the superiority of one’s particular nation” (that is the content of my parenthetical which, according to Michael, mucks up everything); 2) the relationship between civic and ethnic nationalism in practice.  Let me stress that these are two logically separate issues; I may be right about one and wrong about the other.

    First, my parenthical.  Michael seems to want to claim that civic nationalism is nothing more nor less than support for the rule of law, hence his summing it up with the statement that “The executive branch should be bound by the laws passed by the legislative branch.” But support for the rule of law is not what people mean by the phrase “civic nationalism.” Civic nationalism goes well beyond that. It is a species of nationalism, of special loyalty to one’s particular imagined community. What distinguishes it from ethnic nationalism is the grounds on which that community is imagined.  But the centrality of the particular community and one’s special relationship to it (and often its specialness...but there I go with a parenthetical again) is still there. Indeed, we see this special loyalty in the Habermas passage that Anderson quotes approvingly...though Habermas stops short of calling even this particularism “nationalism”:

    Each national culture develops a distinctive interpretation of those constitutional principles that are equally embodied in other republican constitutions—such as popular sovereignty and human rights—in light of its own national history. A “constitutional patriotism” based on these interpretations can take the place originally occupied by nationalism.

    Secondly, in practice, the lines between civic and ethnic nationalism have tended to be blurry. And civic nationalism has often proven to be as bloody-minded as ethnic nationalism. And we don’t need to go to Hardt and Negri (let alone Soapy Sam Huntington) to see this.  The historian Aviel Roshwald, who specializes in the history of nationalism in Eastern Europe, is doing very interesting work on this very issue (though I don’t think he’s published it yet). The fact that one can describe principles that distinguish the two in theory does not mean that they have been so easily distinguishable in practice.

    A final point. Amanda Anderson (whose work I haven’t read, so I’m going on the basis of the quoted material above) appears to be as willing to endorse post-national, cosmopolitan loyalties as she is to endorse civic nationalism.  On the last thread I was making an argument less against civic nationalism than against the necessity for civic nationalism. I stand by that argument.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  03:40 PM
  2. OK, things are that much less mucked up now.  Thanks, Ben!

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  03:48 PM
  3. Professah Jensen give me mad People’s Republik of Austin respek. As for da New Leff, me don’t even who he is.

    Posted by The Left  on  06/06  at  03:49 PM
  4. Hear, hear (or is it here, here)?  Let me refer to yet another one of my interviews, this with David Hackett Fischer.  Fischer, of course, wrote “Albion’s Seed” pointing out that differing characteristics of American immigration from the British Isles (such as Quakers to Pennsylvania, cavaliers to the Virginia coast, etc.) caused American regional differences in certain attitudes that we “enjoy” to the present day; in short, this remains an Anglo-based culture, even as it absorbs others… but in some sense, a time-warped Anglo culture (or more accurately, Anglo/Scots subcultures) going backed hundreds of years, even as the mother country herself has moved on from some of the anachronistic attitudes we have.

    But the indispensable part of the American Revolution was, in fact, precisely what Michael is alluding to: civic nationalism based on something then completely unique to all the world… a well-formulated set of organized laws that could be altered democratically.  AND THAT IS WHAT IT WAS ABOUT.  It was about the rules-- that even George Washington had to be bound by greater laws; that he himself would cede his own power (which would have been dictatorial if he wanted… and the current craven crowd in charge seems to want dictatorial power), and like Cinciannatus before him, step aside, as the Republic was greater than even he.

    As I quipped with Professor Fischer, George Washington owned slaves; this is no reason to question his greatness and indispensibility not merely to this nation but to humankind… he was a man of his times, as was the Constitution, which, let’s face it, had to incorporate the conflicting wishes of states that had slavery.  Women didn’t get the vote for nearly a century and a half, poll taxes and such not eliminated for nearly two centuries, and we’re in no sense even remotely perfect to this day.


    The Constitution and our laws had proven a workable basis to provide both an orderly means of overall protections, and civil rights, AND let us be a beacon for rights everywhere else, and a model at that.

    NOW, because a craven group of swarthy Middle Eastern interlopers has managed to commit a one-off terrorist strike (a terrorist strike, btw, that I lived through FROM ACROSS THE GOD DAMNED STREET FROM THE WTC, which may explain why I can manage to get over it, while so many Americans who “lived it” only on t.v. can’t deal with it even to this day), and even more craven group of light-skinned interlopers has taken it upon itself to trash EVERYTHING that made this country great-- EVERYTHING.  Our respect for international law and the rights of man, ALL men-- the gold standard for those we detained-- gives way to Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Bagram and black prisons and “cruel and degrading treatment SHORT OF DEATH...” to show ‘em we mean bid’ness, the arbitrary detention of thousands everywhere, preemptive war based on manufactured “intelligence” and a complacent New York Times willing to do anything to sit at the tough guys table to sell it, citizens and legal residents can be detained in the brig without due process, or better yet, “renditioned” to a friendly country for torture…

    I could go on, but you get the point.  No President was permitted to do this when we were faced with rebellion in ten states, the Third Reich and Imperial Japan looming with submarines right off our coast or thousands of Soviet missiles threatening our vaporization. 

    But one freaking lucky terrorist shot (grossly mishandled in every way, btw, by our own government) and a Republican House, Senate and courts… and suddenly the President is a dictator? 

    George Washington didn’t intend it this way.  And it has nothing-- NOTHING to do with “ethnic” status, and everything to do with now disappeared civic nationalism.  In short, this country is great-- or not great-- on its ability to follow its own laws and principles, and not because it’s full of White Anglo people. 

    But as I said in the fall of 2001 with the stench of the burning WTC still in the air all around: I’m far more fearful or what we would do to ourselves than to what any terrorist might do.  Funny that.

    Posted by the talking dog  on  06/06  at  03:52 PM
  5. But is it to be simply accepted that jingoistic civic nationalism is wrong?  Enlightened people (like us who read this fine blog) have learned to set aside petty distinctions like nationalities.  Italians are not better nor worse than Greeks.  Should the same thing be said of different civics?

    It could be argued that Stalin was practicing extreme civic nationalism by extending totalitarian, authoritarian, communism to Eastern Europe.  I’m sure he liked it very much and was very proud of his civics.  I think civic nationalism by Stalin was a very bad thing.  I happen to think my nation’s civics are better.  That is fairly straightforward, jingoistic civic nationalism on my part.  Is it wrong?

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  03:56 PM
  6. Civic nationalism doesn’t have to be a relativism, Njorl, and democratic proceduralism is better than antidemocratic proceduralism.  My own version of this principle goes like so:

    One of the tasks required of democrats is precisely this: to extend the promise of democracy to previously excluded individuals and groups some of whom might have a substantially different understanding of “participatory parity” than that held by previously dominant groups and individuals . . . [because] a capacious and supple sense of what it is to be human is better than a narrow and partial sense of what it is to be human, and the more participants we as a society can incorporate into the deliberation of what it means to be human, the greater the chances that that deliberation will in fact be transformative in such a way as to enhance our collective capacities to recognize each other as humans entitled to human dignity.

    Thanks for talking to all those attorneys, O talking dog.  And it’s good to see The Left show up for a change!  But why was he silent on the question of Liberia in 2003?

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  04:05 PM
  7. The real problem with Habermas (though yes, the current Activist Executive branch, in its desperate imitations of Baudrillard do make him look dashingly contemporary), is that he just isn’t sexy

    That said, while I’ll never ever vote for Hillary, Al Gore might stand a chance.  (As if voting, or seeking to influence the mad cycle of pop-politics were ever the extent of civic duties ...)

    Posted by Matt  on  06/06  at  04:18 PM
  8. Was dey in da World Cup? Me needs to ax Pat Robertson bout dem diamonds he got from all-’round Christian nice guy Charlie Taylor.

    Posted by The Left  on  06/06  at  04:30 PM
  9. Both Michael and the Talking Dog have it right. We should reflect on how imperfect our Republic was in 1776 or 1789 or any time frame you want. But our story, w/ a good deal of back sliding, has been the extension of rights to an ever growing number of people. UNTIL NOW. And that’s the point. And I fear until more Greenwalds and those who’d rather vote for American Idol than for a president start becoming engaged, we’ll never dig ourselves out. So let’s encourage those folks, not look down on them.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  04:57 PM
  10. I grew up in NJ in the 1960s, with my Dad in local politics. Throughout my childhood, I swam in a sea of civic nationalism of the New Deal-Great Society.  Even the military and police were part of that community (As an elementary student, I recall being present with my folks for a local soldier, back from Vietnam, who had just won the Congressional Medal of Honor--current NBC military analyst, Jack Jacobs).

    I also recall my Dad taking me once to present welfare checks to poor families, and my father patiently explaining to the families that he, personally, was not giving welfare checks to them--it was the local, state and federal governments and he was just an employee of the local government.  I have never forgotten the parents’ mixture of shame and thankfulness in taking the money, which money I continue to believe they were entitled to receive as citizens in our society.

    I follow some, but not all of the theoretically based arguments here, but wonder why we can’t simply restate the New Deal values as a public policy that give specific meaning to civic nationalism:

    1.  Strong labor unions;

    2.  A societal contract from government to citizen, and taxes back from citizen to government, to provide prenatal care and parental leave, national health insurance, and old age pensions, among other benefits befitting a civilized and caring society. 

    I often define the New Deal sensibility as this: A sense of duty we have toward each other, and not just rights we have as citizens.

    The cultural issues involving sex should, as much as possible, be debated and resolved by conduct outside government.  I state this while recognizing that procedural justice demands protections of due process, equal protection, privileges and immunities for people, including homosexuals in our time.

    I know this still leaves important gaps, but, if I may offer a metaphor, I would rather reweave the blanket of civic nationalism than merely look for individual holes in the current and terribly frayed blanket.  Yes, we know very well the abuses of civic nationalism, starting with racism.  But that is no reason not to have a society that works together based upon its best shared values that begin with a better balance of wealth distribution.

    Jim Hightower puts it differently, but essentially the same, when he exhorts the procedurally minded and HillaryBiden crowd of Democrats: “Let’s repave the sidewalk instead of simply trying to help people once they fall between the cracks.”

    Posted by Mitchell Freedman  on  06/06  at  05:09 PM
  11. he just isn’t sexy.

    Yes, but The Left is sexy. I recommend nude readings of Jackson’s Youngstown v. Sawyer concurrence in Lafayette Park.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  05:16 PM
  12. Michael, I wasn’t arguing that Huntington’s argument—that American democracy is the product of Anglo-Saxon values—is correct.  What I was arguing is that a deracinated version of American proceduralism can still result in conflicts we associate with ethnic nationalism.

    You didn’t respond to my hypothetical.  Given a foreign culture with values in strict opposition to democracy—say, a group that believes that women should not be allowed to vote—is it in the interest of the U.S. to allow members of that culture to emigrate to the U.S.?  This isn’t an appeal to the ethnic heritage of American democracy, but it could generate a demand that immigrants abandon ethnic or national values that conflict with the values and beliefs underpinning American democracy.  And often, such a demand for civic nationalism results in accusations of nativism.  We see this in the debates over English as a “national language.”

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  05:29 PM
  13. Hm. Liberals “consistent” on, say, Rwanda? Were you around during the Clinton administration?

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  05:35 PM
  14. Like Ben, I would like to address one or two items in Michael’s recent interesting post.  The first, and more minor issue, is his characterization of Jensen’s Counterpunch article as a piece of self-congratulation for the left’s ideological purity in contrast to liberal waffling.  To use phrases like “ideological purity” is, as Michael is no doubt aware, to invoke a rather familiar bogeyman and to tar Jensen with a brush that he does not deserve.  Nothing in the article in question suggests that Jensen’s interests are in anything like the preservation of a leftist ideological purity (even if--and this is a clear implication of Michael’s use of this phrase--it must doom itself to irrelevancy in order to secure this purity).  Having corresponded with Jensen privately about this piece, I can say that Michael’s characterization that Jensen is engaging in left self-flattery is about as wrong as can be.  I’ll have to email him and see if it’s kosher to post the contents of our exchange, but I can assure you it was extremely self-critical of the left’s capacity for indulging in paranoid fantasy, various unproductive forms of lefter-than-thou self-righteousness and so forth.

    The larger issue, however, is found in this quote:

    When we make the case against Bush’s NSA program and the Cheney Archipelago, we serve no good purpose if we do not stress the unprecedented nature of these things.  To do otherwise, I’m afraid, is to fall into the trap of arguing things like, “well, Clinton was just as bad in his way, and that’s just like Cheney’s secret torture sites if you think about it,” and thereby making a “left” argument that winds up having strange affinities with the right in its attempt to normalize Bush II.

    I admit I don’t quite no how to respond to this.  On the one hand, there is the obvious issue of the question-begging nature of this paragraph.  Rather than establishing precisely how the current administration represents an “unprecedented” break with previous administrations and with earlier U.S. policy (both foreign and domestic), this paragraph simply asserts the transparent facticity of this break.  While it would be absolutely absurd to argue that the current administration has not accelerated the pace and expanded the reach of America’s interventionist policies, as well as availed itself of a range of new techniques and technologies in its efforts to reshape the world, to argue for the absolutely “unprecedented nature of these things” is to risk rendering the present moment a mere aberration.  It’s to transpose to the level of the current political class the by now all too familiar charge that it is just a few bad apples who are to blame.

    While I have sympathy with Michael’s position that the argument “well, Clinton was just as bad in his way, and that’s just like Cheney’s secret torture sites if you think about it” is absolute bunk when the terms of comparison are, in the former, genitals being Lewinskied and, in the latter, genitals being Cheneyed, I have little sympathy for his larger belief that the present moment represents an absolutely unprecedented break with the past.  The idea that one must somehow go back to the Nixon administration to find an analogue for the president administration (rather than to the Reagan administration which, for reasons quite unknown, Michael shields from such a comparison), astonishes me when I recall, for example, the domestic espionage undertaken by the Reagan administration against groups like CISPES during the 1980s as well as U.S. training and financing of death squads and low-intensity warfare directed against civilians in places like El Salvador.

    The risk is not, pace Michael, that left arguments which recognize a certain discernible coherence within America’s often brutally interventionist activities abroad over the past century or so (irrespective of the party currently occupying or enjoying majority-status within either the executive or legislative branches of government) will play into the hands of the right by normalizing Bush II but rather that liberal and progressives who assert that present administration’s actions are unprecedented will fall prey to repeated disillusionment as administration succeeds administration and the misery quotient abroad continues to rise.

    If there is anything unprecedented about the present it is the rather naked and transparent nature of the atrocities being committed and the more or less general tolerance of the public towards them.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  05:43 PM
  15. While I agree that “The executive branch should be bound by the laws passed by the legislative branch,” I imagine there must be more to civic nationalism. It may be true that “we are a nation of laws,” but we are not, as the talking dog says, a nation of “a well-formulated set of organized laws that [can] be altered democratically.” Laws are very rarely altered in a democratic fashion. The problem Leftists ought to have with civic nationalism isn’t that it’s a nationalism, but that the civic process that one is supposed to adhere to is inherently conservative. This is to say that in order for laws to be altered (to give women the right to vote, say) the burden of proof for lies with those who wish to make the change. For a progressive to make her case, she is up against the power of an institution as well as the span of its tradition.

    Of course, there are benefits to arranging the process this way--social stability, for one. But I think it’s against the best interests of the Left to fetishize the notion of stare decisis as that which informs the civic process. I’m thinking of the Alito appointment--there was a great deal of worry (and rightly so) about whether Alito would respect roe v. wade as decided law, as though the best we could hope for in a supreme court justice is that he let stay the progress that has been made. Yeah, sure, Alito will let Roe stand (so he said) but so will everything else: according to a U Chicago law prof, “when there is a conflict between institutions and individual rights, Judge Alito’s dissenting opinions argued against individual rights 84% of the time.” So, I wouldn’t say we should throw out civic nationalism, or the concept of settled law that I think it relies on, so long as we bear in mind that a civic nationalism will be inimical to progressive goals.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  06:07 PM
  16. Beyond the question of whether civic nationalism can exist unaccompanied by ethnic nationalism (a question I’d like to set aside for a second), I think that Michael’s committment to constitutional procedures can become problematic in certain instances, for instance, at the border. I’m not invoking Hardt and Negri here; rather, I’m thinking of the various bills proposed by Congress and the President about the status of illegal immigrants and the differing strategies of the two main immigrant rights coalitions.

    While the “We are America Coalition” supports the Senate bill the provides a “procedure” for illegals to gain citizenship (eventually), the more radical “March 25 Coalition” seems to suggest that the current definitions of citizenship are inadequate in a post-NAFTA world.

    I’m not so sure our current constitution has any “procedure” for what to do here. It’s been very hard for me to figure it out. While I agree with Michael that it’s swell that there are procedures for debating issues such as these, and James Madison certainly had a point that the nation-state is as good a tool as any for protecting human rights, it seems to me that it does protect the rights of immigrants who come to the U.S. largely because of the activities of the U.S. in their native countries.

    Perhaps a post-national or trans-national “procedure” is what we are trying to imagine here? It’s not just about ethnocentrism.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  06:12 PM
  17. sorry, in my last post, I forgot to type in a very important “not.” In the last paragraph, I meant that “it seems to me that it does NOT protect the rights...” (and clearly I assume that we all wish that it would.)

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  06:15 PM
  18. But even Habermasian proceduralist democracy has its mythology, and in this case, it exists in the future that was thinkable in the past, before it got derailed by Bush etc. The problems with this are twofold. One: the past that created that mythology is heavily structured by a racial, gendered, sexual imaginary that will limit the takeup of procedural nationalism to, mostly, the white guys who always seems to be the potential leaders of some “non-politicised” group and their adherents. I am not making so much of an ethical point here, but more a sociological observation on the likelihood of success, which leads to concern about the ends/means game in the “get rid of all that new social movement bullshit which is fragmenting the Left” tactic. 

    Secondly, the decomposition of faith in the nation state is hardly a purely US phenomenon - so perhaps something is to be taken from more internationalist movements in the economy and culture and refactoring these back into domestic politics in a more sophisticated way, rather than implicitly holding forward old-school nationalism which is going to be perceived as racist by some no matter how hard you try and make the split. You can’t deny that perception, all you can do is say that it’s less important than the hope you hold for proceduralist nationalism. And I think a bunch of us for whom international social movements have been critical in developing freedoms are not going to agree with you just because you can articulate a better picture of an ideal democracy.

    I can’t help remembering from this conversation Dave Chappelle’s joke about if George Washington was resurrected and they saw him walking along the street, white people would be celebrating and black people would be running for cover. That struck me as still true, and says a lot about the ethnic politics of nationalism TODAY, rather than being just an argument about its roots.

    Posted by Danny  on  06/06  at  06:25 PM
  19. Both Steven and Pat make excellent points in their respective posts.  To extend Steven’s point a bit further, I would argue that a fundamental problem of current settled law (and hence one reason why I find invocations of the “nation of laws” notion problematic) can be seen in the following example:

    Current U.S. law extends the notion of personhood to things like corporations and confers on them, in doing so, certain--but by no means all--of the rights we extend to human beings.  Corporations that are multinational in nature are thus given a kind of freedom to move across the borders of countries and to reap the benefits that attach to doing business in a border-permeable world.  As a result of their activities, these same countries also influence (sometimes tremendously) the operations of the various governments of the countries in which they find themselves as well as the well being of the human residents of these countries.

    Now while this is not always to the detriment of either these governments or the citizens of their countries, this is certainly a distinct possibility and, I would argue in the case of NAFTA, often demonstrable empirically.

    Residents of these countries who migrate northward as a result of the activity of these multinational and border-crossing “persons” find, however, that they face a border which, while permeable to movements of global capital and the multinational “persons” who coordinate the flow o fthis capital, presents itself to them as a barrier.

    I find it difficult to imagine how a defense of civic proceduralism in this case can rectify such a grotesque situation as this.

    That’s a long way of saying that Steven is correct that defenses of “citizenship are inadequate to a post-NAFTA world.” I have argued elsewhere that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees definition of a “refugee” is similarly inadequate to this world as well.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  06:38 PM
  20. So here I am, innocently reading along, happy to see the invocation of Anderson when WHAM! like a Honda Civic Michael knocks me senseless.  Yes, we’re still planning on doing an Anderson event as soon as everyone can get there wits about them.  Really, it was a scheduling snafu.  The Moretti event came out of nowhere, and his participation was contingent on a tight time-frame and blah blah blah excuses excuses excuses but we’ll be doing it sometime soon, I promise.  (This mean you’re definitely in then?)

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  06/06  at  07:49 PM
  21. Two comments:

    1.  Re: the claim that it’s “a very serious mistake to argue that anything about this administration is a ‘natural extension’ of anything.” Call me obtuse, but I simply don’t see how one could support this claim.  Why is it a mistake to say this?  Because Bush II & co. are ideological extremists?  Let’s grant that--most of these extremists were members of Reagan’s administration, of course--they are really pretty extreme.  Is Bush II, like, the worst president ever?  Yes, I’m happy to grant that, too.  Does this negate the fact that since the War Powers Act the executive branch has become more and more autonomous and has tried to answer less and less to the other two branches of government?  This is an empirical question, of course.  I think all the evidence points to one answer:  Yes.

    Can anyone recommend an article or book the demonstrates that at some time over the last fifty years the executive branch has *yielded* its power or suddenly decided it respected checks and balances (the putative “civic nationalist” basis for Greenwald’s argument, after all)?  I think to say that Bush II extends ("naturally," unnaturally, or supernaturally, perhaps) the executive’s grab for power is merely an accurate observation of fact.  To deny this would be to deny, and fail to understand, our history.

    N.B.:  To say Bush II is doing much the same as Clinton was doing isn’t to compare tortue to Clinton’s sex-capades.  Rather, saying this suggests that the executive branch has reliably and without regard for party affiliation groped for more and more power.  And that it will take as much as it can get.  The other two branches, regardless of which power sits in the majority, seem unable or unwilling to do anything about this.

    2.  For perhaps even more obtuse reasons, I simply don’t see any serious issues in the discussion about “civic nationalism”.  Is it preferable to love one’s country-mates?  Sure.  Is the rule of law a good thing?  Yep.  Do we prefer democratic forms of governance over autocratic forms?  Most of us, I think, do.  Does one’s affective relationship to these “abstract” questions matter?  I doubt it.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  08:15 PM
  22. What ticked me off was Greenwald saying that the illegal spying isn’t wrong because it’s violating our civil liberties, but because it’s illegal. [WHEET!!!] Tautology! Time out for Emergency Dialectic--

    Silly Glenn! The only reason it’s illegal is because violating civil liberties has been believed to be wrong by enough, and increasing, number of people to be effective in pressuring laws to be made about it since the second half of the sixteen hundreds, after having lived through what a “security state” looked like from inside.

    But such fuzzy and nearsighted thinking is only to be expected from lawyers, I suppose.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  06/06  at  08:21 PM
  23. Also, Michael, every one of us out here in vernacular land understands nationalism to be interchangeable with jingoism, that’s just how we hoi polloi use it (and have used it for the better part of a hundred years, as I recall); the controversy comes from arguments over whether or not patriotism can ever be truly distinguishable from either of the above.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  06/06  at  08:24 PM
  24. If there is anything unprecedented about the present it is the rather naked and transparent nature of the atrocities being committed...

    Well, exactly!

    A theory of precedent which holds that nothing can be unprecedented if some species of it, however pale, has existed previously may be semantically correct, but of little help in alerting civic somnolescents that it’s TIME TO WAKE UP.

    As long as there’ve been police, we might argue, there’s been police brutality, or, to consider a grayer area, attempts by agents of law enforcement to bypass constitutional safeguards which seem to thwart the imposition of apparently deserved justice on lawbreakers.

    If the police forces of our body civic begin routinely slaughtering apprehendees instead of booking them, are we really prepared to deem this a difference in degree only? More to the point, should we distance ourselves from those who call such carnage “unprecedented” out of fear that embracing these claims will somehow legitimize the earlier, less naked atrocities?

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  08:37 PM
  25. You didn’t respond to my hypothetical.  Given a foreign culture with values in strict opposition to democracy—say, a group that believes that women should not be allowed to vote—is it in the interest of the U.S. to allow members of that culture to emigrate to the U.S.?  This isn’t an appeal to the ethnic heritage of American democracy, but it could generate a demand that immigrants abandon ethnic or national values that conflict with the values and beliefs underpinning American democracy.  And often, such a demand for civic nationalism results in accusations of nativism.  We see this in the debates over English as a “national language.”

    Sorry, Luther.  I wasn’t avoiding you—I was eating dinner.  And at first I misunderstood your hypothetical, premised as it was on the entirely fictional land of Bloggaria.

    So, then.  What about people who deny women the right to vote?  Well, they can come here anytime they like—we needn’t bar their entry—but they come on the understanding that this polity gives women the right to vote.  Should they become numerous enough to try to change the terms of civic nationalism so that they accord more strictly with their ethnic or religious nationalism, civic-nationalist democrats should resist them.  But in saying this, yeah, I’m agreeing that some nationalist traditions deny the distinction between the civic and the ethnic, and if those traditions start messing with liberal democratic traditions, then it’s not possible to maintain the distinction on a metalevel.  All you can do is say “in our civic-nationalist tradition, we keep the protocols of civic procedure separate from ethnic and/or religious traditions.”

    Hm. Liberals “consistent” on, say, Rwanda? Were you around during the Clinton administration?

    Why, yes I was, Ted!  On that one, as in other matters, Clinton was no liberal.

    As for Robert Jensen’s article:  am I mistaken in believing that it begins with the paragraph, “Some of my best friends are liberals. Really. But I have found it is best not to rely on them politically”?  If not, then I feel justified in saying that some of my best friends are leftists, really, but they’ve let me down a couple of times in the past ten years when human rights issues were on the table.  Jensen concludes by calling for some self-criticism, it is true.  But he predicates that self-criticism on the need to draw ever firmer distinctions between leftists and mere liberals: 

    That said, we in left/radical movements have made more than our share of mistakes. It’s time for a period of serious critical self-reflection about our analysis and organizing strategies. That process is not going to be advanced by ignoring the differences we have with liberals. We need to be clearer than ever about those differences in thinking about the long term.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it sounds very much like “we’ve made our mistakes in the past, and those have involved our messing around with liberals.  We need to think twice before we do any of that shit again.” As for Jensen’s claim that “when leftists and liberals form least-common-denominator coalitions, liberal positions dominate. There’s no history of liberals moving to include left political ideas when right-wing forces are chased from power. Think Bill Clinton, here,” a good liberal-left guy like me might reply yep, Clinton often sold us down the river too.  But FDR?  Now, there was a liberal who adapted left programs when right-wing forces were chased from power.  He was checked by Dixiecrats, no doubt about it, and that was a crying shame.  But let’s not keep up the pretense that the left has lost out in every coalition it’s formed.

    Captcha:  mass!

    Posted by Michael  on  06/06  at  09:13 PM
  26. cloudsplitter wrote:

    If the police forces of our body civic begin routinely slaughtering apprehendees instead of booking them, are we really prepared to deem this a difference in degree only?

    Stacking the deck a bit aren’t we?

    Moving on to your next point:

    More to the point, should we distance ourselves from those who call such carnage “unprecedented” out of fear that embracing these claims will somehow legitimize the earlier, less naked atrocities?

    The issue is not distancing oneself from those who make such claims but confronting the claims themselves and their implicit (or sometimes explicit) belief that:

    1) the present crisis represents an aberration of an otherwise functional system (which leads on to #2)

    2) to address the crisis of the present requires a restoration of the equilibrium of the system and a renewed commitment to the various procedures by which the system functions

    I am not convinced on the basis of the available evidence that the present crisis can be safely regarded as an aberration.  This not to deny that the present situation is appalling or to some degree novel in the nakedness of its designs, only that it is very familiar in its overall hegemonic designs.  As my main concern is not that of the erosion of U.S. civil liberties and the threats posed to them by Bush et al (much as I find that objectionable) but of the well being of the inhabitants of other countries who experience to some degree or another the damaging effects of this nation’s policies I admit that I am perhaps not entering the conversation from quite the same position as some others who have posted here.  What this position makes clear to me, however, is that it matters precious little to many of the people about whom I am concerned whether a Democrat or a Republican occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or which of these parties controls either the House or Senate.  The velvet glove of dollarization of their economies, enforced privatization of previously national entities, brokered “free” trade agreements that flood the country with cheap U.S.-subsidized products that gut large sectors of the economy and force increasing numbers to migrate “illegally” to the north, increasingly rapid environmental degradation due to the need to sell off things like forests to international companies because of the need to make timely repayment of their loans (think of El Salvador here and the speed with which deforestation proceeded there as a result of international monetary lending practices) etc etc--the velvet glove in short, worn by Democrats and Republicans alike over the years, has proved every bit as devastating as the iron fist of direct military interventionism, proxy wars, and so forth. 

    So restoration of the system is not what is needed.  Purging the Oval Office of the Bushies, legislating out of existence the notion of the unitary executive, bringing the troops home now will not arrest the, in my view, destructive movement of this country, a movement that has been with us for about a century or so.

    For me too many of the durable inequalities of the present are the expression not so much of the naked agression of our military interventions but rather the product of seemingly neutral and disinterested legal procedures.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  09:45 PM
  27. Michael,

    I missed your post while I was composing the previous one.  I think it is absolutely true that Jensen is hesitant about the prospect of forming automatic coalitions between leftists and liberals.  I share his concern, although there are plenty of so-called leftists who I would hesitate to build coalitions with too (I have in mind that group of crazies who think that anyone who stops short of admitting that the present administration engineered 9/11 is an obvious benighted neoliberal apologist).

    Where I think you and I disagree is in the force of what Jensen means when he says, “We need to be clearer than ever about those differences in thinking about the long term.” I hear in this a very reasonable need for the left to be quite explicit about where it diverges from liberalism, for it to take seriously the task of expressing what it regards as the merits of its own analyses and why they ought to be prefered, and for it to practice continuous critical reflection on its own failings.

    Why is this a problem?  In what way does calling for the left to be more vigorous in making its case constitute a threat to coalition-building per se?  I don’t think it negates the possibility of coalition-building per se, only the assumption that this is or ought to be an *automatic* activity in the present situation.

    When liberals and leftists determine that a coalition is what is needed, the differences between them ought not to be downplayed for the sake of the strength of the coalition.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  10:23 PM
  28. Posted by  on  06/06  at  10:41 PM
  29. I’m very much with Eric and Ben in this thread.

    I also don’t think that conceeding/agreeing with Republicans on all matters executive, economic and military, while simply quibbling over abortion and token philanthropic measures here and there a genuine liberal makes.

    Can anyone recommend an article or book the demonstrates that at some time over the last fifty years the executive branch has *yielded* its power or suddenly decided it respected checks and balances

    Surely that ended with Lincoln’s premature resignation (not before throwing a proto-DNC lobbyist out his window).

    Jim Hightower’s old-school liberal populism/criticism is indeed excellent, though one looks forward to the day (however impossible to foresee, now) when such things will become obsolete.  Or, at least, when it becomes possible to discuss on a “national” level, and after Mark Greif’s initiatives have begun to take effect, the ways in which they still (captchasmile lack.

    Posted by Matt  on  06/06  at  11:44 PM
  30. Oh Christ’s balls, that’ll teach me to comment here.  No smileying intended, whatsoever.

    Posted by Matt  on  06/06  at  11:49 PM
  31. Hmm, Eric’s comments about Constitutional gray areas gives me an opportunity to respond to Lefty’s claim that my Emma-Lazarus-Orson-Scott-Card-Kim-Stanley-Robinson-inspired call for reimagining rather than closing America’s borders in the 21st century is just microwaved Roman Imperialism from the comments on the last post.  To save folks linking, I’ll just quote my crazy idea:

    “[W]ho will take up Emma Lazarus’s farthest-reaching challenge to our times? In the opening lines of “The New Colossus,” Lazarus favorably contrasts the “world-wide welcome” of the American “Mother of Exiles” to the “brazen giant of Greek fame/With conquering limbs astride from land to land.” We need a reimagined “world-wide welcome” for the twenty-first century: an invitation to each nation-state to hold an annual referendum on whether it should petition the U.S. Congress for entry as a new state in the Union (under Article Four, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution). Promoting a non-contiguous constitutionalism based on time-tested principles and precedents gives America a desperately-needed alternative to both neoliberal economism and neoconservative militarism. We should be debating how to reimagine America’s borders rather than whether to close them.”

    First, some caveats.  It’s absolutely true that when you look at U.S. expansionism from the Louisiana Purchase to the seizing of Hawaii, the U.S. has used conquest, annexation, removals, and/or purchase to get the land to create new states and has justified it with a series of invocations of particularist-universalist claims of American ‘manifest destiny’ (cf. Stephanson’s Manifest Destiny for a handy overview).  And it’s true that the Louisiana Purchase could have easily caused a Constitutional crisis (Jefferson and others were exchanging drafts of proposed Amendments when it became clear that Napoleon’s need for cash to finance opening a new front against England, so ratification of the purchase was rammed through [cf. Kukla’s A Wilderness So Immense]).  Finally, it’s true that as Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow documents, the U.S. was not shy about fighting wars to effect regime change since Hawaii.  So, yes, the ways the U.S. has expanded in the past ranged from independence-seeking by settler colonialists, to nationalist consolidation (pacification of a range of Indian nations and secessionists), to expansions and the seeking of colonies (Mexican-American War to World War I), to what could be characterized as our current neocolonialist phase.

    Next, some qualifications.  Note that I’m specifically repudiating this history and calling for an alternative to it.  My invocation of the Constitution was a little tricky, b/c nothing in it provides a clear procedure for doing anything like what I’m calling for.  The closest actual parallel is Puerto Rico, where the people haven’t decided if they want statehood, independence, or the status quo I can’t think of a good name for (citizenship w/o representation?), so it’s unclear to me whether any citizenry would ever vote to petition Congress for inclusion in the union (just as it’s unclear whether Congress would ever accept such a petition).

    Finally, some tentative defenses of the idea.  1) it offers citizens both there and here a choice and a vote, so it’s pretty democratic.  2) it offers a trade that some citizens of other countries might want to make--national sovereignty for a seat (actually multiple seats) in the legislature of a country that may well be limiting their own nation’s sovereignty.  3) it has the potential to put our own ethnic nationalists on the defensive--on what grounds would they deny a petition?  4) it may well be more workable than trying to follow the EEC-->EU model and may actually reinvigorate traditions of civic nationalism in the U.S. that are worth reinvigorating.

    Whoops, baby’s crying--gotta run!  More later if folks are interested in this future-oriented hypothetical as helping clarify left-liberal debates over civic nationalism.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  06/07  at  04:42 AM
  32. I just want to say, that as someone going to law school this fall, I have a huge committment to proceduralism, and I find the very IDEA of it to be philosophically sexy in a non-sexual man crush kind of way. Of course I have committment to other politics, but I really find myself devoted to American proceduralism.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  05:53 AM
  33. I’d just like to say that my willingness to involve myself with, and support, “civic nationalism” and American exceptionism is partly a function of my fear that they are NOT true, and that the USA is no longer a wonderful place and an example to the world, if it ever was, and that Tom Delay and George W. Bush and Pat Robertson and Charles Krauthammer and reality TV and Guantanamo do in fact represent the American future and the real essence of America, and that for the next 50 years America will be an aggressive garrison state using military preponderance to impose a self-serving version of neoliberalism.

    I don’t believe that this is inevitable yet, but in order to resist in a non-marginalized way I have to accept, or seem to accept, the premises of those people most likely to resist. So I do.

    At this point we cannot even be sure that a united Democratic Party will oppose a new pre-election war on Iran. There seems to have been no planning for that eventuality, and no message preparation in the media or warning shots to the Bush Administration.

    And no, just the fact that such a war will probably be a disaster won’t stop Bush. “Toujours l’audace” is his motto. I actually am more optimistic that the general officers corps will mutiny than that the Democrats will resist effectivelt.

    The worst outcome imaginable is unbelievably bad.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  09:07 AM
  34. Posted by  on  06/07  at  11:58 AM
  35. I’m still stuck on “unprecedented?” For all that I despise a lot of things about the present administration, exactly what have they done that wasn’t done by FDR and/or LBJ?

    Egregious pressure on the other branches of government?  Compare FDR’s court-packing plan.

    Wars abroad that are ill-thought-out, incompetently executed, and remarkably brutal?  Compare Viet Nam.  Or the invasion of Italy.

    Pushing the boundaries of legality in suppressing domestic dissent?  Compare Hoover’s FBI, with its monitoring of MLK.

    Supporting “our” thugs, while attacking other thugs?  WWII was basically that on a world-wide scale.

    So--exactly what is unprecedented?

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  12:27 PM
  36. Bellatrys: I think Glenn was saying the spying was wrong for the reason it was made illegal, not just because it was illegal.  In other words it is wrong because it leads to abuse of executive power not to an attack on civil liberties.  I had the same reaction when I read what he said as you did, but after another look I think he’s making a reasonable point, although I still don’t agree with it.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  12:42 PM
  37. Isn’t the idea that Bush is unprecedented just an expression of Glenn’s nationalism?  He’s saying America is a wonderful place that has great values and rarely if ever does anything wrong—therefore Bush must be an anomaly.  To see Bush as merely an extension of the past is to admit that American nationalism is wrong.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  12:46 PM
  38. For Christ’s sake people, Jose Padilla (and Mr. Hamdi) were the first and only Americans EVER held as “unlawful combatants” and not charged AT ALL (whether by “military commission”, or state or federal court), and the government argued “beyond the reach of habeas corpus”.


    Boys and girls, that’s UNPRECEDENTED.  And as a legal-- LEGAL-- resident named Mr. Saleh Al-Marri, snatched from his 5 kids in Illinois and held in the same brig as Mr. Padilla-- only whim and politics stops the President from doing the same to you and me RIGHT NOW.

    So stop with the crap about “ooh… what is unprecedneted about all this?  FDR anda Lincoln and George Washington and James K, Polk were bad (and Michael Moore is fat). 


    Posted by the talking dog  on  06/07  at  12:57 PM
  39. I think there is a real unprecedented aspect to Bush.  He is being overt in his anti-Constitutional behaviour.  Other domestic spying was done without attempts at justification, or even as an aknowledged illegal activity.  Roosevelt tried to pack the court with allies so he could get his way.  However, by that action he tacitly acknowledged that he needed the court’s approval of his plans.  Bush is a different matter.  While he may have tried to be quiet about it, his justification is purely authoritarian.  He is claiming that national security concerns grant dictatorial powers.  I don’t think even Madison tried that while the British were burning Washington DC.  Then again, Madison had this inexplicable fondness for the Constitution for some reason.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  01:02 PM
  40. "What ticked me off was Greenwald saying that the illegal spying isn’t wrong because it’s violating our civil liberties, but because it’s illegal. [WHEET!!!] Tautology! Time out for Emergency Dialectic-- “

    Actually, you are wrong about this.

    I believe Glenn was referring to the second NSA program revealed recently, the one in which call logs were turned over.  It has been determined that we have no expectation of privacy with regard to the numbers we call.  That information is therefore not protected by the Constitution - it is not a civil right.  That information is protected by law, though.  Therefore, turning over the information is a crime, but not a civil rights violation.

    The other NSA program, in which they eavesdropped on American’s conversations, probably does entail civil rights violations.  The difference may seem small to you, but to a lawyer I’m sure it is enormous.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  01:13 PM
  41. Hey, I made it into the text of Michael’s post!  Kewl.

    I think the Michael narrowed the goalposts on me, however.  From a query about why the US is all upset about the “Mexican invasion” we move to this claim rather specific claim about executive power:

    “No one around here is going to argue that the history of the United States is free of ethnic nationalism.  But we will argue that the checks on executive power in the Constitution are not predicated on any form of ethnic belonging.”

    I’m betting that if one wanted to dip into the writings of any early twentieth century Nordicists (Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard or Earnest Sevier Cox) one could could find claim that the separation of powers is uniquely Anglo-Saxon.  I would go double or nothing on the writings of segregationists from the 1950s (James J. Kilpatrick, Peter Carmichael).  I might even wager a small sum in finding that claim supported by Patrick “Decline of the West” Buchanan, Ben “Birth Dearth” Wattenberg, Peter “Alien Nation” Brimelow, or Richard “Way of the Wasp” Brookhiser.

    Now, Michael might grant all of this by arguing that I am “citing some ethnocentric crackpot who believes that the principle of the separation of powers is uniquely Anglo-Saxon.” I will leave it as an exercise to the reader if those folks I cite above are “crackpots.” They certainly look like mainstream conservatives to me (Hell, Brookhiser was on Al Franken’s show the other day.

    Michael asks, “But why would anyone want to do this?” To disenfranchise people.  Because extending civic nationalism to those who have been oppressed isn’t likely to go well for the oppressors.  So, while current debates the the “Mexican invasion” may not precisely be about executive power, it sure as, uh, shootin’ is about the fear that enfranchised Mexican immigrants would vote democratic.

    All that being said, I certainly agree with Michael that we should strive to keep civic nationalism separate from ethnic nationalism.  The other side, however, conflates them and that is something we need to deal with.

    Capcha: “slowly” as in how fast our country has moved on these issues in the past 225 years or so.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  01:16 PM
  42. Blog etiquette question: does a “shorter” constitute troll-feeding? I hope not; I think of it as a community service, enabling you to skip the long-winded #34 above. Though most of us seem to be doing that anyway. So this is somewhat risky, especially given the sheer excellence of these last two comment threads (and MB’s posts).

    Nonetheless, my Shorter Daniel:

    The blacks are ungrateful despite all we’ve done for them. Why expect the Mexicans to be any different?

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/07  at  01:21 PM
  43. Listen to the Talking Dog!

    What Bush is doing is exactly what the Bill of Rights was trying to prevent. It’s exactly what hundreds of years of the English legal tradition was trying to preclude. It’s not quite a bill of attainder, but almost.

    So, yeah, I do see some value in our tradition. The eagerness with which some of our most eminent legal scholars are willing to junk it entirely—people (e.g. Instawhoziz) who bitterly attacked Clinton on constitutionalist grounds—leads me to fear that America is a dead letter and moot.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  01:37 PM
  44. I’d like to throw in one example of what I think is part of American civic nationalism: the concept of The Melting Pot. 

    As a child, we really got to savor this concept from early on in my Oakland, CA schools.  It didn’t matter if we were WASPs, Italian-American, Irish-American, African-American, Chinese-American, &c ... the very fact is, America was this great place where we were *all* Americans, no matter our ethnic origins. 

    Everyone’s ancestral culture added to the greatness of this country.  We have pizza, St Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, mexican food, jazz, soul food, MLK, Chinese-food, you name it.  And other countries?  By implication, they were all monocultural and bor-ring.  I mean, what good is France if you can’t get pizza and Chinese food?  (or so I thought at age 11)

    Ethnic diversity as a source of patriotism, in other words.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  01:48 PM
  45. Some people here have made the Talking Dog angry.  That was a mistake.

    And didn’t I warn you all about how underselling the unprecedented nature of the Bush/Cheney regime would play into the wrong hands?  Aside from being objectively wrong, that is.

    I really do recommend Greenwald’s book, you know.  If you’re pressed for time, you could start on page 43:

    This is worth repeating:  An American citizens was locked in prison, not allowed any contact with family, friends, or a lawyer, not charged with any specific crime, and not allowed to come before any judge, all based on a secret decree by President Bush that he was an “enemy combatant.” Worse, the administration claimed that the president’s decree could not be reviewed by any court.  They insisted that Hamdi had no right to challenge the decree or even to see the charges against him, and that they could keep him imprisoned for as long as they wanted without giving him any opportunity in court to have the allegations reviewed or to defend himself from the charges. . . .

    The Bush administration, then, claimed the right to consign American citizens to life in prison without charges, without access to a lawyer, without any opportunity for the citizen even to make his case.  (43-45)

    Wake up and smell the unprecedented, indeed.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  02:27 PM
  46. Michael,

    I have a name for you: Clement Vallandingham


    PS: if I’m being annoying tell me and I’ll try to stop.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  02:58 PM
  47. Vallandingham was treated very mildly, and he was given a court appearance. There’s an enormous difference.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  03:06 PM
  48. Sam, you’re suggesting that Ohio Democrats should nominate Hamdi for governor, as they did Vallandigham in 1863?

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  03:10 PM
  49. It has been determined that we have no expectation of privacy with regard to the numbers we call.  That information is therefore not protected by the Constitution - it is not a civil right.

    Njorl, determined by whom? (NB: passive voice constructions will bring me down like a bag of silver hammers, because I know exactly how they’re used and 99-to-1 it’s to get out of responsibility for something.) I don’t think most people think that who they call is any more anyone else’s random business than who they speak to out loud - without reasonable suspicion, no one else has a *right* to it, not to run bugs into your house and listen just long enough to find out *who* you’re talking to, in order to get a warrant, or stalk you and see if you meet any other guys - the assumption being that if there’s reasonable suspicion then the PTB will go about it according to procedures (say if your prank-call victim lodges a complaint, or you’re under suspicion for a murder or kidnapping, then nobody thinks that the phone company should be absolutely prohibited from revealing your records *to officers with warrants*). The phishing expedition aspect of it - compounded with the fact that we only have the word of people who have been given permission by the govt to lie, in the interests of nat’l security [coughsporflechoke] - is the problem, not altered by the fact that telephones and email didn’t exist in 1775. It’s still putting a crimp on freedom of association and from unreasonable search/seizure.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  06/07  at  03:53 PM
  50. Wikipeadia says he had a day in court, albeit a military / kangaroo one, and was, “convicted by a military tribunal of ‘uttering disloyal sentiments’”.  So he was locked up with no real charge but he did get a kangaroo court hearing.  Is that a precedent?  I’d think a better precedent would be a group of unpopular US citizens arrested on general suspicion without charges.  For example the internment of the Japanese in WW2.

    Does the only defence of “unprecedented” come down to throwing out charges against Bush and then waiting around for someone else to do the donkey work of looking up a specific precedent to refute the claim?  It seems to me that those making these claims ought to be doing more than just throwing it out there and saying (in CAPS maybe) that opponents are “objectively wrong”.

    I don’t think Bush is overtly anti-constitutional.  He bothers to put forward a legal sounding argument based on the constitution which the media dutifully reports.  It’s bullshit of course but he does bother to make the argument.  Other presidents have done worse in terms of abuses.  Nixon said, “if the president does it then it’s legal”.  All sorts of examples.

    I’d like to see some consideration of the well known examples (not the ones we need to go to Wikipedia for) by those who want to say Bush is unprecedented.  At the moment these claims just seem, well… “objectively wrong” to me.  I just don’t see a basis for them.

    Btw—why is the fuss all about holding US citizens when Bush claimed the right and exercised the right to execute US citizens prior to Padilla?  I’m refering to the CIA assassination attempt in Yemen using the unmanned / drone aircraft - remember that one?

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  03:56 PM
  51. David B, Bush has claimed the right to operate lawlessly in many different legal contexts. Guantanamo is at Guantanamo becuase it’s not US territory and no under US law. The Geneva Convention has been junked. There are a number of suspect provisions in the PATRIOT Act. Right now we’re “fussing” about one aspect of the problem.

    You do seem pretty obtuse. What’s the precedent for holding a US citizen without charge, without a court appearance, without the right of appeal, and without the right to contact the outside world? I guess until you do the donkey work and find one, we’ll all believe that there isn’t one. Vallandingham didn’t cut it.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  04:12 PM
  52. Well, I suppose it falls to me to point out the obvious fact that the talking dog’s post (and Michael’s agreement with its conclusions) is a bit of a bait and switch.

    If you go back to Michael’s original post where he cites Lee Konstantinou’s comments and then takes exception to them (italics alone are Michael’s comments, bold and italics are Lee’s)

    Which brings me to Lee Konstantinou’s comment.  Lee starts off great:

    The problem with Greenwald isn’t that he’s finally starting to smell the coffee (we’re all very pleased that he is, really) but that by justifying his complacency and lack of interest in politics in the pre-Bush II Era on the basis of some Constitutionally-enforced political equilibrium, he suggests that If Only We Could Return to Politics as Usual then Everything Would Be OK.  Well, sorry, but it won’t be OK.

    But then goes horribly awry:

    There is a strong case to be made that Bush II’s policies are merely natural extensions of what has come before.

    and a bit further on

    it’s a very serious mistake to argue that anything about this administration is a “natural extension” of anything.  When we make the case against Bush’s NSA program and the Cheney Archipelago, we serve no good purpose if we do not stress the unprecedented nature of these things.

    I think it becomes clear that the discussion was about the *policies* (pl.) of the Bush administration and whether or not such *policies* could accurately be described as unprecedented.  In other words, the discussion was not confined to discussing whether or not the detention of Jose Padilla and denial of a habeas petition were unprecedented.

    To introduce this into a discussion about the present administration’s *policies* (broadly construed) as though it were some sort of trump card and discussion ender to the broad claims that were previously being made about the “unprecedented” nature of this administration’s actions is frankly laughable.

    I would have happily granted the point that the Jose Padilla case is unprecedented, but let’s not pretend that this was what was meant all along in the repeated claims for the singularity of this administration’s actions. 

    What worries me about the whole discourse of the “unprecedented nature” of this administration’s crimes is what I fear it makes possible: namely too easy an acceptance of the atrocity of everyday life under late capitalism via a call for a return to the so-called “normal.” Obviously the Padilla case, the actions in the camps, practices of rendition, atrocities such as those at Haditha (and the no doubt many un- or under-reported similar atrocities occuring regularly in Iraq), and any number of other things deserve our strenuous condemnation.  But let’s imagine that we could roll back the clock somehow to a pre-9/11 world.  Hell, roll it all the way back to the 200 election.  Gore wins.  Are some of us really saying that in this alternate pre-9/11 world we are really willing to tolerate what passes for “normal” U.S. policy domestically and abroad?

    Some of us might, and this is where I think it is important for various liberals and leftists to make clear their differences from one another.  This is not, assuredly, simply a matter of a difference between leftists and liberals but of differences within both left and liberal constituencies.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  04:13 PM
  53. If the Ohio Democrats nominate Hamdi for governor, it will confirm my suspicion that Ohio Democrats are really bad at figuring out how to win elections.

    If they’d nominate one of the Patel’s who lost his business and was threatened with deportation during “Operation Meth Merchant”, or Mark Wagman, who had his money stolen by police on suspicion of making meth…

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  04:19 PM
  54. Eric --

    As I said above, there are various *policies* of the Bush administration which all tend in the same direction. Geneva, Guantanamo, PATRIOT, secrecy, NSA, signing statements, failure to inform Congres or consult with Congress—there are unprecedented aspects to all of these, I would guess, and the ensemble is entirely unprecedented. .

    And I think that you’re being obtuse, too.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  04:43 PM
  55. OK, I’ll come clean.  I think that the Bush administration has done nothing more than push a few lines minisculely farther; I think that the lines it would push could have been easily predicted 10 years ago, and the general direction of the line-pushing 35 years ago.

    I want to argue that what the Bush administration has done is very bad, and very precedented, because I want a national government with some limits.  I want the status quo ante--ante the “Switch in Time that Saved Nine”.  I’d rather the status quo ante--ante the military government amendment (the 14th)--but I’d settle for 1935.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  04:54 PM
  56. The argument for “unprecedented” seems to be an argument from ignorance and/or lack of imagination.  Any argument where the more lazy you are the better you sound is suspicious. 

    What you need to do is be specific and make your own comparisons.  For example if you feel that specifically what is unprecedented about Bush is his abuse of habeas corpus then say so and compare his abuses with the other most abusive cases you are aware of and make a case for saying that (1) Bush is worse and (2) the amount by which he is worse is either quantitatively or qualitatively so great as to constitute a break with the past.

    I think if you bothered to do this work you’d see Bush is just not unprecedented.  Maybe I’m wrong but I’ve seen no case made.  There is a history here.  Show that Bush breaks with it—don’t just say there’s no history.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  05:13 PM
  57. David, I think it’s up to **you** do do some “donkey-work”.

    David, you sound worse now than when I called you obtuse. It’s up to those who say there’s a precedent to produce it.

    SamChevre has his libertarian axe to grind, and if we don’t give him Roosevelt he won’t let us have Bush. That would be very bad, if SamChevre’s opinion were worth a bucket of warm piss. We should let him take his ball and go home.

    My lack of civic patriotism is due primarily to what I see as the wretched quality of my typical fellow citizens, and not mostly to my renunciation of the whole American tradition. The right libertarians are the worst.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  05:22 PM
  58. I suppose what ought to be obvious needs to be said that “unprecedented nature” is not a synonym for “natural extension.”

    To say that the administration as a whole “naturally extends” the historically well-documented power-grabbing trend of the executive branch in fact logically implies that we should increasingly expect more and more (domestic and international) human rights violations and lawless acts which we would be entirely right to consider as being of an “unprecedented nature”.

    Here is a prediction then: whoever is our next presdient will, unless popular action stops him (or her), take Bush’s “unprecedented” lawlessness as the baseline for futher, newly “unprecedented” lawlessness, a lawlessness which will make Bush II seem like a human-rights-loving president--just as, in comparison, Reagan might seem to us now.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  05:23 PM
  59. Sorry, typo: 

    Read, “I suppose what ought to be obvious needs to be said that ‘unprecedented nature’ is not a synonym for ‘natural extension.’”

    As, “I suppose what ought to be obvious needs to be said: ‘unprecedented nature’ is not a synonym for ‘natural extension.’”

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  05:29 PM
  60. Skulker,

    Since you’re a relative latecomer to this particular conversation I suggest you’d do better to sit this one out rather than enter the fray and start swinging around insults like they were a dead cat tied to a string.

    If you go back to Michael’s original post and reread it carefully (especially the bits where he quotes Lee), and follow several of the followup threads where it was clear that policies (broadly construed) of the present administration were the subject of the discussion, and then flash forward to the talking dog’s supposed argument-ending rejoind (and Michael’s concurring followup) I think you’ll see that the bait and switch I described did in fact take place.  Consequently, I feel pretty confident that I was not being *obtuse* at all in my complaint about the aforementioned bait and switch tactic.

    Now, if your point is that I am being obtuse in not seeing the *obvious* “unprecedented nature of [all] these things” I’ll respond by saying the evidence presented so far has been pretty slim to convince me that we are in fact witnessing something like a Foucauldian rupture between the present and the past.  In fact, the litany of items you produced as evidence of such a rupture strikes me as touchingly naive when I think back on even the last thirty five years or so of American history. 

    Secrecy?  NSA? Failure to inform the Congress of the administration’s activity? 

    Do you really need me to fill these in or can you do it on your own?

    Is it some deeply anti-American streak in me that convinces me that--however novel many of the techniques, technologies, rhetorical “justifications” and so forth might be in the present situation--there are more or less recognizable threads that extend from the past (say the last century or so) into the present?  No.  It is the result of rather bitter experience listening to the stories of, for example, Salvadorans whose family members were systematically murdered by the Salvadoran government’s military forces (a government we supported to the tune of 1 million dollars per day during the height of the war) for things like their participation in trade unions.  So you’ll forgive me just a bit if I find your defense of the unprecedednted nature of the Bush administration’s crimes just a tad feeble, but I’ll be sure to tell my friend Cesar that he can take some consolation from the fact that his father, brother and Uncle all died in ways that, while horrible, are at least nowhere near as odious and unprecedented as the civil and human rights offenses currently being performed against Jose Padilla.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  08:41 PM
  61. Any possibility that the disagreement over the unprecedentedness (or lack thereof) of the Bush administration’s policies results not from obtuseness or laughably lazy non-research but rather from analyses which proceed from differing sets of axioms? It’s not as if there’s only one valid perspective from which to consider the issue, after all.

    Having consumed my share of US History in an academic context back in the day, I’m struck by what seems to me to be the extraordinarily flat view of history evidenced by Eric’s worry that calling this adminstration’s crimes unprecedented “makes possible...too easy an acceptance of the atrocity of everyday life under late capitalism via a call for a return to the so-called ‘normal.’”

    Who on earth is calling for a return to anything? The rebuttal of any and all items proffered in support of the “unprecedented” claim using anachronistic examples which resemble them in some way (Iraq=Vietnam, Padilla=Japanese internment, Bush=FDR or LBJ, take your pick) implies that history is just an undending recycling of bad scripts, perhaps with updated sets.

    What this flat view of history misses, though, is that our relationship with the planet has changed in ways which charge many contemporary behaviors with a power that the cited analogues just didn’t have. If J. Edgar Hoover had possessed the tools to pluck self-flagged bits of digital data out of the ether, anywhere and at any time, then the surveillance of MLK might properly be compared the the NSA egregion. If peak oil and global warming had been upon us in John D. Rockefeller’s day, then the Cheney Energy Cabal’s disregard of Kyoto in favor of drilling for oil in the ANWR might properly be compared to earlier indulgence of Big Oil at the expense of the environment.

    My point is that for many issues, the STAKES are so much greater now than in any previous era that an administration which turns its back on the consequences of its policies is, in fact, mortgaging our collective future in an unprecedented way.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  09:05 PM
  62. I got on this thread and responded to what was on it, Eric. No apology, and no deference to the early birds.

    Most countries are meaner to foreigners than they are to citizens. Countries aren’t nice. What’s unprecedented about Bush is the way he has treated Akerican citizens, and the way he has ignored American law. I guess that to you all bad things glom together in one big lump, so that if you’re talking about one of them you have to talk about all of them.

    Bush’s initiatives, if made permanent, will make successful or even attempted resistance to America’s aggressive wars more or less impossible. We’re halfway there now. Along with other factors, they will also come close to nullifying all democratic and legal controls on the executive. And yes, they’re unprecedented.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  09:38 PM
  63. This regime’s power grab may not be unprecedented in every way, but it has the potential of being irreversible.  So many things came together: A bunch of Nixon-Reagan-Bush I diehards with their ludicrously extreme “doctrine” of the executive as dictatorship.  A terrorist attack that opened up a huge opportunity, which they took full advantage of. 

    And, most importantly, and longest and hardest to fix, the forces that should check the executive so weakened and rotted over the last forty years that they’re offering no resistance: Congress (corporate takeover, super-incumbency), media (corp conglomeration, ‘new class’ of celebrity “journalists”, etc.), judges (three-to-one ratio of right-wing appointment over the last forty years), the people (fearful, insecure, stressed).

    Posted by Nell  on  06/07  at  10:33 PM
  64. The weakening process was long, and that’s part of what makes the current crisis not just something out of the blue.  And it’s not going to be as easy to fix it as Glenn Greenwald imagines. This made me roll my eyes:

    if public opinion changes on these issues - if Americans begin to realize how extremist and radical this administration has become and how threatening to our basic system of government it is - the checks will arise naturally.

    Uh-huh.  Like a big ole pendulum.

    But, as a leftist, I’m happy for all the liberal, libertarian, centrist, old-style-Republican, and any other allies we can get right now.  And I’m happy for GG’s ability to reach a lot of people not suffering from outrage fatigue.

    Posted by Nell  on  06/07  at  10:44 PM
  65. cloudsplitter wrote:

    What this flat view of history misses, though, is that our relationship with the planet has changed in ways which charge many contemporary behaviors with a power that the cited analogues just didn’t have.

    That cloudsplitter can discern my “extraordinarily flat view of history” on the basis of a handful of posts is remarkable.  Well spotted.

    I assure you however that I have no such view of history.  To transform alchemically my claim that the present moment does not represent a Foucauldian rupture with past American policy and practice--which is more or less what many of the enthusiasts for “unprecedented” appear to be suggesting--into some version of Ecclesiastes’ “there is nothing new under the sun” is impressive.  One wonders what cloudsplitter can do with a lump of lead.

    Surely, however, it is possible to find some light between the claims for an absolute rupture with past policy and practice and the flat view of history as just an endless cycle of horror dressed up in new garb that cloudsplitter rightly decries and wrongly attributes to me.

    Somewhere between these poles I think you’d find me.

    One last note on our analysis of the present administration before I end on a note of agreement with cloudsplitter: I think it is crucial to distinguish between innovations in techniques/technologies designed to extend governmental control and/or terror either domestically or abroad, greater willingness to avail oneself of these things, novel arguments used to justify the expansion and intrusiveness of these techniques, novel constellations of various ideologies and so forth AND policies that have (arguably) guided a variety of administrations (Democratic and Republican) with respect to different regions of the world.  I say this because I think it is important not to fall into a technicist trap that says, “but because of the new technologies available to Bush and Co., we need to regard the policies of this administration as unprecedented.”

    Okay, so on to the promised agreement:

    I agree entirely with the claim that the present moment represents a particularly terrifying intensification of dangerous forces within American political life that have manifested themselves at other periods of our history (albeit with equally distinct differences given differences in context, particular constellations of ideology, available technologies, etc. etc.).  I also agree that the stakes in the present situation feel particulary high and that we must do everything we can to thwart the plans of this administration.

    But I don’t believe that thwarting the plans of Bush and Co. and restoring the system of checks and balances will even come close to saving us.  And it is perhaps here that I part ways decisively with some liberal readers of this blog.

    What was bad about this country (from my view) was bad well before Bush ever invaded Iraq and before anyone had ever denied Padilla a habeas petition.  It was bad *even* in the prosperous 90s when gas was cheap and “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” was in the air. 

    So I hope a byproduct of our determination to end the war and bring down this frankly criminal administration is not a fetishization of its particularly odious nature and a concomittant blinding of ourselves to the rot that existed in the country well before Bush ever entered office.

    Posted by  on  06/08  at  12:19 AM
  66. Coming late to this party, but just wondering if Prof. Berube or any of y’all here have taken a look at this book on a related topic that I just read about in a CFP: Pheng Cheah’s Cosmopolitanism: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (1998). 

    I’ve been looking for an academic study along these lines, but it’s checked out at my ‘brary. I am wondering (scarily, like all the weird-ass rethugs) if Cheah’s insights hold (and here I must write sadly, like all my comp students) “in this post 9-11 world”.  Or if there are some more recent scholarly studies worth picking up. I’m off to go ask one of Michael’s colleages in Rhetoric at PSU the same thing, but thanks in advance in y’all got some titles/reviews for me here!


    Posted by  on  06/08  at  12:34 AM
  67. David Byron: You say that Bush doesn’t strike you as being “overtly anti-constitutional,” because he bothers to “put forward a legal sounding argument,” compared with Nixon, who merely claimed/said “if the president does it then it’s legal”

    Most of Bush’s legal sounding arguments come down to “if the President does it, it is by definition legal.”

    From Katherine at Obsidian Wings:

    I was shocked by the brazen defense of the wiretapping thing like anyone else, but when I thought about it for a moment...it’s not like this should be news to us.

    Look.  We have a President here who is making a claim of unlimited power, for the duration of a war that may never end.  Oh, he says it’s limited by the country’s laws, but they’ve got a crack legal team that reliably interprets the laws to say that the President gets to do whatever he wants. It amounts to the same thing.

    I am not exaggerating.  I am really and truly not.

    There’s more of this clear recitation of the particulars of what Bush & Co have claimed for themselves, and it is well worth a read.

    Posted by Leah A  on  06/08  at  04:51 AM
  68. Catty:  I believe the book is Cosmopolitics, edited by Pheng Cheah and my friend Bruce Robbins, and the answer is definitely yes.  In fact, one of the best chapters in that book just happens to be written by Amanda Anderson, and that essay is also available in Anderson’s The Way We Argue Now.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/08  at  08:17 AM
  69. Leah A: I agree with what you said.  When I said Bush wasn’t “overtly” anti-constitutional I meant only that he bothers to make an excuse based on the text of the constitution.  Clearly if he didn’t even bother to make this excuse it would be a dgree worse.  For example if his “just a scrap of paper” remark was made publicly.

    Sorry to see nobody is going to make more of a case that Bush is unprecedented.

    Posted by  on  06/08  at  03:07 PM
  70. Actually, David, the issue has been settled to everyone’s satisfaction but yours.

    Posted by  on  06/08  at  09:54 PM
  71. This legislation, already endorsed by the Senate wing of the Evil Cabal (and the executive wing of the Cabal has already stated that he will sign anything that meets Ted Kennedy’s approval), will amnesty between 10-20 million aliens who have been unlawfully residing in our country. It is necessary to note that the vast majority of this amnestied class are people of color. Furthermore, this legislation will establish the framework so the amnestied will be able to invite in, enfranchise and empower their parents, siblings, in-laws, parents of in-laws, siblings of in-laws, in-laws of in-laws, in-laws of in-laws of in-laws, etc….

    OT, but the above is straightforward bullshit.  It would be nice if this described any Senate version of an immigration reform bill, but in fact any such bill will:
    1) Provide a process by which undocumented immigrants can apply for citizenship, with eligibility qualified by the length of time which they’ve been in the U.S. in such a manner that only 2-4 million of the 9-15 million undocumented immigrants will have a chance to qualify, and with requirements for large fees and back-taxes totaling a minimum of several thousand dollars, in a process that will take 5-11 years, during which the immigrant must be registered with ICE (new INS) and can be deported if she loses her job even for a short period of time.
    2) Massively increase deportation of undocumented immigrants and build a wall across at least some substantial section of the U.S.-Mexico border and enhance enforcement in various other ways, resulting in even more deaths at the border (there are already hundreds every year) and suffering for immigrants who have already crossed.

    Some versions have included a reduction of the ability of immigrants to get their families in - none that I know of have included an increase.  And all this applies merely to the bill in the Senate. The House bill, the Sensenbrenner bill, is much more restrictive and includes no new provisions for a path to citizenship.  The House is not just going to surrender in committee negotiations - the kinder provisions of the Senate bill will be removed and the harsher ones strengthened before anything reaches Bush’s desk.

    Any legislation that passes this year, absent radical change, will on balance make things worse for undocumented immigrants.

    (The March 25 Coalition, a largely grassroots organization with the participation of some leftists, recognizes this, at least implicitly in opposing all existing legislation.  The We Are America Coalition, dominated by SEIU, the Catholic Church, and various Latino Chambers of Commerce, is unfortunately more tied to the Democratic Party than to its own putative goals - an all too common condition among liberal interest groups.)

    Posted by  on  06/09  at  12:07 AM
  72. In response to #68: Thanks for the endorsement and correct title/editors. Looks like Amazon has 4 copies left in paperback! Whoo hoo!

    Much appreciation,


    Posted by  on  06/09  at  12:58 AM
  73. Hey all, you might want to continue the discussion over at Glenn’s blog, perhaps in response to this post by Hume’s Ghost.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  06/09  at  05:03 PM
  74. The argument for “unprecedented” seems to be an argument from ignorance and/or lack of imagination.

    So if you can imagine a hypothetical precedent, then it’s not fair to call this “unprecedented”?  Shall we go a step further and imagine your arguments make sense rather than going through the process of reading them and discovering that they don’t?

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  05:12 PM





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