Politics over Freedom, Ctd

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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39 Responses

  1. Avatar Transplanted Lawyer
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    says:

    Once again, people who are in powerful political offices ought not to conduct themselves with the same degree of license that a candidate for that office could freely exercise — precisely because once assuming that office, the office-holder speaks for the government. At minimum, the office-holder must labor to distinguish between expression of a personal political opinion and the discharge of an official duty.Report

  2. Avatar T. Sifert
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    says:

    Yes, that’s right, Holder was simply naive!Report

  3. Avatar Ryan
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    says:

    I don’t know. I read the Weekly Standard article and it sounds like a friend asking another friend for something. Possibly it was a poor way to conduct himself, but it seems like extreeeeeemely small potatoes. As for “told him to pull an ad”, that’s just directly contradicted by the quotes in the Standard. Holder very clearly made a request and the person he made it of very clearly understood that it was not a direction coming from the office of the Attorney General.

    I’m definitely calling foul on this one. People are searching for things to criticize here.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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      says:

      It is entirely possible to find an excuse or a legitimate explanation for every single item on the list, including, now, this event. But at some point, the collective pattern demonstrates a terribly cavalier attitude towards basic Constitutional freedoms. By comparison, an argument that Jamelle made before he signed up with the League was that in just about every instance of racial policy, conservatism lines up against the majority of African-Americans; as such, while there may be race-neutral explanations for each and every one of those positions, collectively they add up to a pattern that is difficult to deny. Similarly, I’m arguing that in every instance where political goals conflict with respect for the spirit of civil liberties, the Obama Administration seems to have a pattern of choosing the former over the latter, even though there may be a legitimate explanation for each (in this case, characterizing it as merely “asking a friend”).Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        Look, you’ll never see me going to the mat to defend this administration’s record on civil liberties. I just think this particular complaint about Holder is really pathetic. It’s well into Glenn Beck/conspiracy town.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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          says:

          There’s no conspiracy here, nor am I suggesting one. But it is patently inappropriate for the Attorney General of the United States, of all people, to be asking (much less telling) anyone, friend or not, to pull ads that are critical of the President, especially when the ads at issue don’t even fall within the Attorney General’s purview.Report

          • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson
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            says:

            Patently? Apparently not, since I don’t see it. What I see instead is a group of people looking very hard for something to criticize, and landing on an individual who serves in the administration, who asked his friend to take down ads critical of his boss, who appears to everyone involved not to have been acting at the direction of said boss, who is now taking criticism *as if* he were acting in an official capacity despite the fact that everyone agrees he wasn’t.

            And while we’re on motives, let’s take another step. What if he had asked a friend to stop airing ads critical of the President’s decision to suspend marijuana raids – again, in an unofficial capacity? My guess is we wouldn’t be reading about it here. But this was the sacred, idiotic libertarian school voucher cow, so of course it’s news.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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              says:

              “who is now taking criticism *as if* he were acting in an official capacity despite the fact that everyone agrees he wasn’t.”

              So it is your position that the Attorney General of the United States can remove any affiliation between his office and his actions simply by acting in private and not making any association between the two explicit? That he can, in effect, temporarily stop being the Attorney General of the United States whenever it is convenient to do so?

              “What if he had asked a friend to stop airing ads critical of the President’s decision to suspend marijuana raids – again, in an unofficial capacity? My guess is we wouldn’t be reading about it here.”

              Guesses about what I might say in a hypothetical that did not occur are wonderfully persuasive evidence, aren’t they? Of course, if I were to say that your guess about what I, personally, would think in such a hypothetical is wrong, presumably you would accept that statement as true?

              Or perhaps I should speculate about what liberals would say if Holder had asked Michael Moore to pull the sections of his movie where he criticizes the bank bailouts?Report

              • Avatar NL in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Mark, you missed the point here. It doesn’t matter what you would have said. It would have never made the news.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to NL
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                says:

                I’m not so sure about that, obviously. Would Coulson, specifically, have written about it? Certainly not – but then again, Coulson pretty much exclusively writes about education reform, so he would have had to go outside of his area of concern to write about it. But there are certainly enough people who oppose that decision that someone would have complained about it enough to make it newsworthy. Regardless, this kind of speculation about what other people would have said if the circumstances were different is largely worthless and can just as easily be done in response, to the same effect and with the same level of merit (none).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson
                Ignored
                says:

                Here’s an announcement! Obama just asked the Ad Council to stop airing ads criticizing his decision to stop busting Medical Marijuana clinics that operate in accordance with state law! They’ve got Teri Hatcher killing her pretend husband in the commercial!

                Quick! Mark! What do you think???Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                “So it is your position that the Attorney General of the United States can remove any affiliation between his office and his actions simply by acting in private and not making any association between the two explicit? That he can, in effect, temporarily stop being the Attorney General of the United States whenever it is convenient to do so?”

                Um… yes, mostly. Like the rest of us, Eric Holder is a human being. He is free not to take his job home at any time he chooses. When did libertarians start agreeing with the commentariat that being a member of the executive branch imbues people with superpowers?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                The libertarians in my particular circle see an action as “petitioning the government for redress of grievances” when Joe Citizen does it but when Joe Attorney General does it, it’s “chilling free speech”.

                “But that means that you think that people in charge of telling other people how to live ought to have constraints on them that they wouldn’t have if they didn’t have that power!!!”

                “Hell, yes I do!”Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                He wasn’t petitioning the government for anything. He was asking his friend to stop being a dick to his boss.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                So expressing opposition to a Presidential policy is “being a dick” that is subject to a request from the Attorney General (in private, and assuredly only as a friend) to stop? Moreover, if in fact Holder was acting solely in his capacity as a private citizen and fully capable of separating his actions from his public office, why would the fact that the criticism was of “his boss” matter?

                A world where private citizens are supposed to be “careful about what they say” but high-ranking government officials should not be is a world I don’t want to live in.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                Expressing opposition to a presidential policy may be many things. When my friends say, “Obama shouldn’t do X”, I am well within my rights to say, “Stop being a dick.” And yeah, Obama is also my boss (in a manner of speaking). Deal with it. And stop being a dick.

                I don’t know what “subject to a request” means. If you are asking if people are allowed to ask their friends to stop doing things, then yes. Moreover, people acting as private citizens are allowed to care about whether their boss is being criticized by their friends.

                As for the rest, I would love for you to find me the time where I endorsed Ari Fleischer telling people to be careful what they say. In fact, I’m pretty sure my actual position is that everyone cares waaaaaaay too much about what people say and not enough about what they do. But you’re the libertarian, so feel free to lecture me about what liberty really means.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                So Holder’s “request” should not be deemed a statement that Chavous should “be careful what you say, you shouldn’t be a dick”?Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                Given that we’ve all agreed that Holder wasn’t acting in his official capacity as Attorney General, I think we can’t possibly view it that way.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                When did I agree with that? I rather thought my entire point was that he can’t so easily separate those two.

                I wonder….what are your thoughts on whether it was appropriate for liberals to boycott Whole Foods based on its CEO’s health care opinion piece for the WSJ? Was he speaking on behalf of Whole Foods or in his private capacity as a concerned citizen?Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                “So expressing opposition to a Presidential policy is “being a dick” that is subject to a request from the Attorney General (in private, and assuredly only as a friend) to stop?”

                You certainly seemed to agree there.

                As for the Whole Foods business:

                1) I think it’s ludicrous for liberals to boycott a company like Whole Foods – which conforms to a great many liberal ideals about private enterprise and environmental stewardship – just because its jackass CEO believes something silly.

                2) That said, I also think it’s perfectly clear that Mackey was using his leverage as CEO of Whole Foods to get column space and to lend credibility to his views. He can hardly be surprised that people didn’t separate his private and “public” personae. Eric Holder, by contrast, was talking to his friend, not using the power of his office to secure a position from which to lecture people he doesn’t even know.

                All that said, I certainly didn’t support the boycott. Seemed like a stupid fit of pique designed to accomplish absolutely nothing.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                Point 2 is the key issue. The point is that whatever the speaker may wish, it is not possible to completely separate his public and private personas.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan
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                says:

                Also, perhaps the snark behind my use of the word “assuredly” was not obvious?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “Imagine this happening under Dubya.”

    I am beginning to be distressed with how often I find such a statement useful when explaining my dislike for a particular action on the part of a government functionary.Report

  5. Avatar Kirk
    Ignored
    says:

    Shorter Mark Thompson: Although what the Obama admin is doing is in no way illegal or even unethical, I’ve decided it’s unseemly because I think so because I think so because I think so.
    Wake me up when there’s torture or an illegal war or two to complain about.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kirk
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      says:

      Remember when Ari Fleischer said that people needed to “watch what they say”?

      Good times.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        That’s a better comparison than mine below.Report

        • Avatar NL in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          Ugh, totally different. One is a broad announcement to the opposition, the other is a conversation between associates. Consider the relationship these two men had a year ago. This is one guy telling the other “hey, you’re being disingenuous and unfair, cut it out.” Yes, the power dynamic is important, but we have to realize that these “requests” are made between allies all the time. This made the news because it was regarding vouchers.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to NL
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            says:

            That may perhaps be true, but that doesn’t make it right and that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the power dynamic entirely, especially when we’re talking about the Attorney General as opposed to a Congresslizard (up to and including the Speaker of the House). The Attorney General has a type of authority that makes this sort of thing materially different from the average case of a politician asking for a favor from a friend.

            Like I said, though, this is a little incident, something that ordinarily I wouldn’t even write about; my problem is that eventually all these little incidents add up to something troubling. For me, that point was reached over the last few weeks.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kirk
      Ignored
      says:

      I would say that it’s pretty clearly unethical for a government official whose authority extends over every federal prosecutor in the United States, not to mention the FBI, to be asking anyone to pull ads that are critical of the President, especially on an issue that has nothing whatsoever to do with his branch of government.

      But hey, I suppose it was okay for the Bush Administration to merely “ask” telecom companies to voluntarily turn over their phone records to assist in homeland security.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle
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    says:

    In predictable agreement with Mark, I have two employers currently, one private, one public and though I’m admittedly small potatoes in the organization of both, I wouldn’t think it appropriate to ask someone being publicly critical of either employer to stop. I would actually against policy for private employer.

    So in a cultural/attitudinal sense, I really don’t know where Eric Holder would’ve thought this was a.) an appropriate thing to do or b.) something that nobody would consider in relation to his job and boss.

    To Ryan’s points, the question of whether it’s small potatoes or not is a separate question from whether it’s appropriate or not. I don’t particularly see the value in ignoring inappropriate behaviour from public officials until it’s arbitrarily designated “big potatoes.” There’s even a credible argument that ignoring the small stuff makes the big stuff more likely to happen.

    Count this as yet another in list of things that would be more clear than contentious were the object in question less sympathetic.Report

  7. Avatar Dave
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    says:

    Given that we’ve all agreed that Holder wasn’t acting in his official capacity as Attorney General, I think we can’t possibly view it that way.

    First of all, we haven’t agreed. Second of all, whatever the case, Holder’s actions, despite what a friend may say in a talk radio interview, will not be viewed as the actions of a private citizen but of a public official and. That’s the way it’s always been. Perception becomes reality.Report

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