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Monday, December 19, 2005

They hate our freedoms

Over the weekend, Mark Earnest, a local conservative-libertarian blogger, wrote to me to say that even though he still considered me a Communist liberal leftist (to which I replied, I really resent being called a liberal), he wanted me to know that he could no longer recognize his compatriots on the right as “conservatives.” His post reads, in part:

I almost feel I don’t know these people anymore. It seems now they feel government cannot have nearly enough power. Secret courts, secret warrants, secret prisons, suspect torture, massive data gathering on all aspects of US citizens including medical records, library records, and financial records are all wonderful things. . . .

I truly and honestly do not understand. People who once proudly quoted Franklin’s “Those who give up essential liberty for a little safety deserve neither” now cheerlead the executive branch on in removing any judicial oversight, congressional oversight, and in fact ANY oversight (as most of these laws are secret) from the land. Far from the transparent government the founders imagined, we are now entering a system where laws are kept secret, prosecutions are kept secret, and national security is a password to removing any and all liberty that stands in the way of anything government wishes to do.

That’s just about right, Mark, except for one thing: when they’re not cheerleading for the executive branch, they’re calling the rest of us “traitors,” and demanding that the New York Times be prosecuted for reporting that the Cheney Administration has been spying on American citizens by executive fiat since 2002.

But I don’t want to quibble over tiny details—not when a sane conservative- libertarian has reached across the ideological chasm to join me in opposition to secret domestic spying and torture by executive order.  So let me change direction.

Late last Thursday night, Atrios tossed down the gauntlet as the Times story found its way into print (after only a year’s delay): “The End of Conservatarianism,” he wrote . . .

Not quite, but I think their response to the NYT story on domestic spying is pretty much the test.

And I’m happy to say that I know of—hell, I’ve met and served on a blog/ wiki panel with—one guy who’s met that test with political and intellectual honesty.

Not so the chirpy fellow responsible for “Protein Wisdom,” who, most of the time, takes pains to assure us that his conservatism is nothing like that of the religious right, but, rather, is a swingin’ party full of happy tax cuts and South Park marathons.  Curious to see how P. Wisdom would respond to the news that his President had been engaging in domestic surveillance by diktat, I read this:

The Democratic spin doctors, spurred on by their disingenuous Congressional taskmasters, are all over the tube this morning trying to gin up additional outrage over this NSA domestic “spy story”—even as the President stands firm and defends the practice.

Well, give Jeff G. credit for density: Democratic spin doctors, disingenuous Congressional taskmasters, ginning up outrage, “scare quotes” around “spy story,” and a firm hard President, all in one lede.  It’s like a neutron star of wingnut talking points, it is.

But what makes this post especially strange, even by faux-conservatarian standards, is this:

If it turns out—like I believe it will (and I’ve heard now from several people familiar with intelligence)—that what the President was doing (and will continue to do) was not only legal, but from a practical standpoint, critical to monitoring domestic terror cells and stopping terrorist attacks here and abroad, I believe that any pro-defense American with the power to do so should insist that these intelligence leaks be investigated.

That parenthetical, by the way, is the second time Mr. Goldstein refers to his “intelligence” contacts in the course of five paragraphs.  What kind of speech act is this, I wonder?  Domestic spying by the NSA, on secret orders from the President, is as illegal as illegal gets—unless, of course, you believe the Nixon/ Yoo theory that the President can never act illegally. But we’re supposed to take this guy’s word not only for its legality but for its effectiveness because he claims to have heard from several people in intelligence?

Perhaps one of those people is “Steve in Houston,” whose “excellent comment” Jeff recommends to us all, because “it sums up the anger many of us feel at the partisan undermining of the war effort”:

I’m just bewildered by this whole thing, and the ongoing maneuvering to kneecap any of our more effective terroristic countermeasures. . . .

No one that I know is saying that gives license for wanton snooping; speaking for myself, though, I’m willing to give up a portion of “privacy” that I didn’t realize I had in order to more effectively combat the people who have declared war on us and are trying to kill us.

I’m willing to give up a portion of “privacy”—and what is it with these postmodern faux-conservatarians and their scare quotes?—that I didn’t realize I had. There, folks, is your new Patriot Motto: dude, I didn’t even know I had a right to be secure in my persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures!  Besides, what does that really mean, anyway?  It’s not like I was even using that right, so, like, whatever.

(As for Jeff’s “legal” claim: sure enough, in a later post he turns for support to noted legal analyst Al Maviva of the Institute of Simply Making Things Up, and dismisses political scientist Scott Lemieux as someone nobody takes seriously.  Which is probably true on the right side of the blogosphere, since Scott has what they regard as the distinct disadvantage of knowing what he’s talking about.)

The belief in Bush’s effectiveness is another matter, and Jeff does not fail to recite the creed: “I trust in the Bush admin’s good faith and in the process that led up to authorization of the program.” I’ll come back to this one tomorrow, when I discuss how “critical” it is for intelligence officials to visit the homes of parents of college students who request Mao’s Little Red Book from interlibrary loan.  But in the meantime, I’d like to propose a simple and straightforward clarification of terms, for future reference.

People who support a clandestine program of warrantless domestic spying are not “conservatives” or “libertarians.” Neither are people who support the creation of a worldwide archipelago of secret torture sites. Neither are people who support the usurpation of the functions of government by the executive branch; who espouse the theory that the executive branch is the final arbiter of the legality of the actions of the executive branch; and who call for the investigation or prosecution of a free press that dares to report on the executive branch’s secret programs of domestic spying and outsourced torture.

Those people, my friends, are called the radical right.

Forget Jesusland.  Forget the War on Christmas.  You don’t have to be a crazed theocrat to be a member of the radical right!  All you have to do is support the right of the Leader to create secret torture and domestic spying programs, and vent your spleen at the few remaining journalists with the courage to report on them.  That’s what a radical right does for a living.  It’s what a radical right lives for.

Do you know a self-described conservatarian who needs new shoes for Christmas the holidays?  Shoe-fittings are available free of charge. 

UPDATE, Dec. 22:  reader Marc Simmons informs me that some principled Republicans are kicking off their old shoes.

Posted by Michael on 12/19 at 08:16 AM
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