Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Mainstream Conservative's Guide to Selective Civil Libertarianism

In my last post I tried to give the reader a sense of the agonies of the civil libertarian who finds herself in the awkward position of going after the president on the very same issues that have generally made him seem preferable to his alternatives.  These ironies, however, are predictable enough in the light of experience.  Anyone who believes the Democratic Party or establishment liberalism in the United States will consistently uphold civil liberties or human rights absent unstinting public vigilance should crack a history book.  All it really teaches us is that there are grave dangers in identifying oneself with any public authority-- especially one which presides over the dominant military and economic power on the globe.

But what if you are a faced with precisely the opposite problem?  Suppose you are a mainstream conservative who finds Obama preferable to other members of his party precisely because of his comparatively "firm" record on civil liberties and national security, but you also cannot pass up a golden opportunity to confirm your most alarmist prognostications about his coming socialist dictatorship?  This is a dilemma which does not apply to those conservatives who have been on record for many years as admirers of Obama and who have more or less uncritically sided with him following the NSA leaks.  Still less does it pose any difficulty for morally consistent libertarians and other genuinely small government conservatives.  But suppose you think that Obama stands in a direct intellectual line of descent from Italian fascism but you are also on record saying things like: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."  What are you do to, as a poor mainstream conservative who finds a Democratic president essentially pursuing the national security agenda you favor?

Well, one option is to simply be unclear about what exactly is wrong with Obama's actions on civil liberties and the War on Terror but to insist that whether it is overreach or underreach it is certainly evil.  Another would be to declare simultaneously that the NSA surveillance is too invasive and that the government has made insufficient use of it to catch terrorists.  (And besides, you could go on, all this hullabaloo about domestic surveillance can't possibly compete with the real scandals: the IRS and Benghazi (with which there are surely no more insidious violations of basic rights by the US government to compare)).  Still another line of attack would be to fully endorse the current apparatus but to appear to criticize it by instantly changing the subject to one of your favorite themes: Obama's lily-livered dovishness more generally.  Finally, the creme-de-la-creme of tortured Republican apologetics: you can insist on the basic legality and constitutionality of the PATRIOT Act and FISA framework, but accuse Obama of taking a good thing too far.  I.e., Bush's inroad's on civil liberties were good, Obama's bad.  (And yes the current NSA program that was revealed in the leaks dates back to Bush but shhhh!)

I hope you have found this guide helpful in navigating these treacherous waters.  Let it be an aid to you in preserving your convictions unaltered that President Obama is simultaneously a would-be autocrat patiently awaiting his chance to turn the United States into an Orwellian dystopia and a yellow-bellied peacenik too scared to use our legitimate national security apparatus against the Islamo-fascist menace.  I hope that any fear you might have had that these two convictions were in tension with one another has been assuaged.

UPDATE: There was an alternative I had not considered: the Ostrich Alternative.  In other words, if I don't see it, it might as well not be there.

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