From the Homeland

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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61 Responses

  1. North says:

    It’s sad and dispiriting, the cowardice of it all. Obama is doing it, it seems to me when I’m feeling charitably, perhaps because he thinks it’s the right thing to do or his advisors are convincing him that it’s the least bad option. But I usually suspect in my cynical way that it’s just institutional cowardice writ large. If they don’t breach these civil liberties, if they don’t go all the way and something, anything, gets through and perpetrates another attack then of course Obama and his administration will be finished. It’s political cowardice, that desperate cowardice that has marked so many of his decisions to muddle in the mushy middle and not move decisively on anything.
    The right are crazy and criminal on one side, then the left is cowardly and cynical. I just don’t know how it’s going to stop. Very dispiriting.Report

    • 62across in reply to North says:


      “If they don’t breach these civil liberties, if they don’t go all the way and something, anything, gets through and perpetrates another attack then of course Obama and his administration will be finished.”

      Wouldn’t you say that it is true that Obama and his administration would be “finished” were another attack to get through, especially if they didn’t go “all the way”? I believe this is true and would be true no matter what administration was in charge.

      This is because, sadly, I can think of no faction in the country – the press, the opposition party or the population at large – that would back up the administration’s decision to not go “all the way” were a tragic attack to occur.

      Based on this, I see two ways to get to the dynamic I desire. One would be for a faction to rise up that could be counted on to defend civil liberties in the face of a tragic outcome and that faction would need to have enough power to prevent an administration from being finished. The other possibility would be to have an administration that would accept being “finished” for the sake of doing the right thing. This is what I had hoped for from the Obama administration and what has been so disappointing in his record.

      While I agree with where you are coming from with regard to cowardice, I struggle with it. (Are you cowardly if something really is out to get you?) Is being “finished” as an administration merely relinquishing power or does it entail the sacrifice of all those your administration meant to serve through their agenda? A powerful force in American politics that steadfastly stood for civil liberties would certainly improve the likelihood that our leaders would risk being principled.Report

      • North in reply to 62across says:

        Well yes 62across, you’d be finished either way if a terrorist attack got through. But if you discard civil liberties in theory at least you’re doing -everything- that can be done to prevent it from happening so the assumption is that your odds of one slipping through are lower when you don’t reign torture in.
        If it were this alone I wouldn’t assume cowardice but this institutional spinelessnesss has characterized the Obama administration on pretty much every subject. A mad scrambling for consensus and bipartisan cover on healthcare that verged on the comedic. An utter absence of fierce advocacy for, well, anything. On almost every front both foreign and domestic a series of choices that, while moving feebly towards improving the situation had an almost pathological aversion to dramatic or strong change.
        It’s like his hope and change mantra turned into hope for change.Report

  2. MFarmer says:

    I’m not sure why so much focus is put on the Tea Party — two large voices associated with the Tea Party — Ron Paul and Glenn Beck, and both have been on this. The Tea Party itself is calling for limitation of government power, which is the root cause. The main culprits of complicity are the ones who have the power to stop it — our representatives and the MSM — a bipartisan effort should call hearings and an investigation, and the NYT and WaPo and all major networks ought to be screaming bloody murder and for heads to roll. We can’t quibble and divert blame — it’s squarely on Obama, the three branches of government and the media.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:


      Very simple. The remedy to these problems does not lie with the Republican Party.

      I’m much more interested in electing politicians who care about civil liberties from both parties. Or from a new party entirely.

      Both established parties seem to have some good folks within them, including Ron Paul and I suppose Glenn Beck. But neither party, as a party, seems to be the answer, and the rank and file of Republican Tea Party activists don’t really seem to care too much about this stuff.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, Then you need to look for a third party — what many libertarian/liberals who voted Democrat don’t seem to get is that by supporting the expansion of government power to violate the rights of interests you might think are important opens the door for violation of the rights of interests which you hold dear. Both sides have expanded government power for different reasons, and now we’re suffering the consequences. Just as guilty as the Republicans are Democrats and those who’ve supported them. This selective righteousness is perverted.Report

    • North in reply to MFarmer says:

      @MFarmer, Maybe if the TPers were forming their own party Mike then that’d make sense. But they’re just advocating putting the old crooks who set the whole damn mess up to begin with back in power. And for the matter the tea Partiers don’t outline anything realistic to cut (seeing as they’re mostly elderly and militaristic that’s no surprise since the lions share of the budget goes to defense, social security and medicare). Doesn’t seem like a solution to me.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

        @North, “But they’re just advocating putting the old crooks who set the whole damn mess…” Do you mean people like O’Donnell, etc. C’mon North these are all new TPer approved true believing, Constitution loving, conservatives..I hope!Report

        • Simon K in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, Whatever you think of the TPers, they’re standing and will be elected as Republicans. On matters of civil liberties, none of them has taken a stand that differentiates them from the old crooks who set up the whole damn mess.Report

        • North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, What simon said Bob. The Tea Party scream a lot about taking their country back. They howl about changing things and cutting government. Their action plan: elect republicans… … … yeah, revolutionary there.Report

          • MFarmer in reply to North says:

            And your answer was to vote Democrat?Report

          • North in reply to North says:

            @North, Setting aside the personal interests issues. Yes. I still think that Democrat is the superior vote. They’ve not been paragons of limited government in power, sure, but the GOP is incoherent at the moment and full of the old cronies from their last stint in power. If I had my druthers they’d loose this election and then do some serious restructuring in the crucible of the political wilderness. Maybe embrace actual limited government instead of limited government platitudes. Shake some of the ticks from the Bush Minor era out of their pelt. That kind of thing.Report

            • MFarmer in reply to North says:

              This is not a logical position. Democrats are incoherent, support cronies and have no intention whatsoever of limiting government — in fact, they are trying their best to give government more power – plus they are violating civil liberties. Forget about a comparison with Republicans, though, and just look at what you’re supporting.Report

            • North in reply to North says:

              @Mfarmer, Democrats never claimed to be the “party of limited government” Mike. And yes they’re continuing to some extent the violations that were initiated by the GOP. But I see no reason to prefer the GOP. The dems aren’t curing the illnesses the GOP initiated, but more GOP as currently constituted isn’t going to help anything. In this country that’s the options. Dem or GOP.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to North says:

        North, see how Obama’s abhorent actions and the Democrats’ complicity are flipped to attack th TPers? Amazing, huh?Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Here’s what I plan to do:

    Throw the bums out. Find the people who are incumbents and vote for the other guy.

    Come 2012, I may actually have to vote for a Republican for President for the first time in my life (and vote for a “real” party for the first time since 1992).

    I also do what I can online to vote for more rights seated in the individual rather than seated in government largesse.

    What more can you ask of me? I have a wife.Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, Wish I had your luxury of being able to vote for the opposition Jay. Maybe I’ll vote for some third party instead. That’s not quite staying home (and I’m opposed on principle to not voting) but I could never cast a ballot for a Republican, at least not as the party is currently constituted.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to North says:

        @North, I don’t see it as a luxury as much as something transgressive.

        In my circle “freaking the normals” entails stuff like “complaining about the Democrats”.

        Voting Republican would make me positively punk rock.Report

        • gregiank in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird, Its 2010, if your trying to look punk rock, you are bit off the latest trend.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to gregiank says:

            @gregiank, there’s national, regional, local, and then one’s own circle.

            I’ve no doubt that there are areas where “throwing the bums out” means voting Democratic. (For Congress, Colorado Springs is one such place.)

            In my circle, however? The bums are, and have always been , the Republicans who run everything… and any criticism of the Democrats invites the question “why didn’t you complain about this when the Republicans did it?”

            (At which point I usually say “I did, you explained to me that I use roads and the fire department and so don’t have a leg to stand on.”)Report

        • North in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird, It’s kindof a luxury Jay, the GOP does not have “actively persecuting and making life miserable for people like Jaybird” in their party platform. Unfortunatly they do in my case. I’ll vote libertarian long before I’d ever consider voting GOP.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to North says:

            @North, ah, that’s true too… and, of course, it’s very much a factor for you in a way that it isn’t so much for me.

            I suppose I could also hide behind the whole “if I had to vote for a party that was good on (issue important to me), I’d have to vote 3rd Party” thing too… given that there isn’t exactly a whole lot of movement from the Democrats (on a National level, anyway) when it comes to equality.

            Which brings me back to the whole “voting for gridlock” thing.

            It’s not a vote in support of a platform.

            It’s just throwing bums out and hoping that the new bums accomplish nothing (given that my two choices are “things getting worse” and “nothing”).Report

            • @Jaybird, You’ve touched on the very reason some sane people actually support Republicans.Report

            • North in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Jaybird, Absent the aformentioned platform plank I could easily be on board with you Jay. But then again absent that platform plank it’s entirely possible I could have at least considered supporting the party as it was represented by, say, Bush the elder when I was coming of my political age.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

              @North, if I were to vote *FOR* someone, I’d probably vote Boston Tea again (16th Place, Baby!!!) but here is my current debate:

              Repudiating the party in power
              The abject terror I feel that the Republicans will think they are actually supported when they look at the vote count

              I am a full-throated, 100% supporter of the former.

              I am absolutely and positively against the latter.

              And my current debate is to weigh the upsides of the former against the downsides of the latter.Report

        • MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

          Voting Republican is the radical thing to do — it’s becoming hot among young people. Democrats are soooo yesterday. Actually, I’m voting libertarian — it’s the only responsible thing to do.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

        @North, Don’t forget..I got your back, you and me, dude, member of the GOP..I can see it now!Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, my grandfather is spinning in his grave quite quickly enough, thank you very much.

          I tell myself that I don’t vote for a (wo)man, I vote for Gridlock.Report

          • Boegiboe in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, but Gridlock is no longer helpful. It’s the Executive that’s claiming tyrannical powers. The judiciary is traditionally defers to Congress and the President in times of “war” (we are, without question, in exactly the state of perpetual war Orwell warned us would bring the end of freedom). That’s because the Legislature is supposed to be applying pressure on the President when such pressure is needed.

            But our Congress won’t do anything about it, because they’re so focused on getting re-elected by a populace that apparently doesn’t care about living in the Land of the Free any more.Report

            • Plinko in reply to Boegiboe says:

              @Boegiboe, Exactly, the gridlock some people are championing is no small part of the problem.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Boegiboe says:

              @Boegiboe, I think a switch may have flipped in my head.

              I think that I see the choices before me as “staying the same” and “getting worse”.

              Out of those two, I’d have to pick “staying the same”.

              I wish that “getting better” was an option, but… well, it seems to me that “we need to vote for Something Better!” tends to result in administrations like Obama’s.Report

            • North in reply to Boegiboe says:

              @Boegiboe, I know Boe but what can we do? Hopey mc-changepants turned into Torture and hopey I don’t get blamed for a terrorist-attack-pants as soon as he was elected. I suspected he would back when I was championing Hillary, I’ve never been so sad to be proven right. Full disclosure, I don’t know that she’d have been much of a civil liberties warrior on principle either, but maybe she’d have embraced civil liberties out of spite. She would have -loved- prosecuting her old persecutors for torture crimes.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Boegiboe says:

              @North, Yeah – I owe you and my step-mother-in-law for encouraging my wife to vote for Obama in the primary. I wanted Obama in the hope we might get less partisanship – as it turns out we got the same amount of partisanship and a president who just doesn’t seem to be very good at it. Although to be fair to him, the vice of attempting to compromise with imaginary Republicans while the real ones more-or-less ignore him and ramble on about death panels, socialism and cutting the deficit by spending more money is currently shared by most of the Democratic party.Report

            • North in reply to Boegiboe says:

              @Simon K, I don’t think anyone should ever have to apologize for voting their hopes instead of their fears/cynicisms (unless you live in Florida and voted for Nader in 2000).Report

        • North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, Sorry Bob, I’d vote Green Party (*blech!*) before I’d vote GOP.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, 2012 will be the first major US election I will be able to vote in. Right now I find the prospect depressing. I’m vaguely hoping the Republican nominee manages to get to the general without having promised to do anything actively unconstitutional, criminal or barbaric. Unfortunately I think the prospects are poor and I’ll end up having to choose between the third party candidates.Report

  4. Plinko says:

    On the main point, I think the collective ho-hum stems from three major things.
    1. Paranoia – The overwhelming majority of Americans are either so paranoid about the dangers posed by ‘terrorists’ or so trusting of Obama that they’re willing to sign over their most basic human right to the judgment of the executive. Between the two I bet you cover 80% of voters.
    2. No leader in opposition – There are no prominent people out there fighting this battle. The T.P is a joke on this issue – they’re consumed by opposition to the Democratic domestic agenda and fear-mongering about taxes/inflation. This falls under foreign policy to them where there is not any coherent viewpoint shared across the board. Democrats with rare exception only care about getting elected and are afraid of being painted as weak. Republicans only care about getting elected and are determined to paint anything the White House does as too weak.
    Without that, there is no coordinated opposition. Who is going to get this in the center of political discourse? Who can I vote for in the Fall that can at least give my opposition a voice? Where can I spend money and time fighting it?
    3. Cult of the Executive – As Boegiboe said above, the deline of the Congress as an institution has inevitably marched us to this point. Admire that gridlock if you want, but the vacuum must be filled and the Executive has been doing it for years.Report

    • North in reply to Plinko says:

      @Plinko, I agree absolutely. There’s also the huge specter of administrative cost/benefit analysis. Consider:

      Obama becomes civil rights warrior. Torture stops. America’s soul is saved.
      His reward: A miniscule proportion of todays most plugged in commentators and hopefully a majority of historians in the distant future will see stars and love him forever. Everyone else yawns.

      His risk: One terrorist attack slips through, all his relaxed “security measures” turn into an exploding bomb around his neck that blows up his administration. He’s swept from power and spit on in the streets.

      When viewed with a cold political lizard like cost/benefit brain it’s a loosing strategy. I consider this proof that Obama’s just a politician like all the rest. Nothing remakable about him except some extra mellonin in his hide.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to North says:

        I’m so glad that so many are waking up to understand that statism is the problem, not which president is elected or which party is in control. There’s hope afterall.Report

        • 62across in reply to MFarmer says:

          @MFarmer, could you expand on how anti-statism would lead to the people accepting greater risk of terrorist attacks in exchange for greater civil liberties?Report

          • MFarmer in reply to 62across says:

            I don’t think I said anything about that — I don’t know where anti-statism will lead except more freedom and protection of individual rights, but I have a good idea where statism leads. But, just thinking about, we can protect ourselves aganst terrorism without violating civil liberties — are you saying that if we want to minimize the risk of terrorist attack, we need statism and violation of liberties?Report

            • 62across in reply to MFarmer says:

              @MFarmer, on the contrary, I think ol’ Ben had it right when he said “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

              I’m afraid I’m in the minority, though. And that has to do with how humans handle fear and that’s not something to blame on the state.Report

        • North in reply to MFarmer says:

          @MFarmer, Well mike institutional wastefulness is not a phenomena restricted to government. Private hospitals and defensive medicine are good examples of the same behavior in the private sector administrative field. I suspect that the cover your ass mentality is inherent to the human race.Report

          • MFarmer in reply to North says:

            In a privately owned business, you can waste what you wan to waste, you’re not using other people’s money. You will go out of business, likely, but you can waste it. Government waste goes unpunished — usually it’s rewarded with more money and resources to waste.Report

      • 62across in reply to North says:

        @North, this is what I was getting at above. Reading further down the thread would have saved me the trouble.

        The best hope is to grow the “miniscule proportion” of civil rights champions into a group with some muscle. As daunting as that would be, it is likely easier to achieve than electing a leader who is not a politician.Report

  5. Michael Drew says:

    Thanks for the Feingold advocacy. Just attended a rally in which Russ Feingold appeared with Barack Obama, FWIW. I’ll make a prediction: Anwar al-Awlaki will not be assassinated under this administration. That doesn’t diminish the significance of the power grab, but it is worth preserving the distinction between legal claims and actual actions in the world.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, Not to be cynical, but we might not know if he is. I’ll give the Obama administration at least a B on most issues, but they’re a flat F on civil liberties and terrorism/security overreach.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @Dan Miller, Not saying otherwise. We’d find out eventually – not saying we’ll know in real time. Jst saying that whatever the visibility, it’s not actually gonna happen (obviously I’m going out on a limb on that). I think if it did, at least some of the outrage Jason rightly calls for would materialize (and on that, too, I could be very wrong). But even if it doesn’t happen, the damage is profound if they prevail legally, because any subsequent president could take the action. All I’m saying is as harmful as that is, it’s still worth keeping account of what has occurred and what hasn’t. Some have approached this matter as if that is a distinction that is flat out doesn’t exist, much less does it matter. I’m just saying it exists, however much you think it matters.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @Dan Miller, But yeah, you’re right — I may already be wrong for all we really know.Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    Regarding weak-tie activism, I remember hearing an interview with an anarchist sufi writer on French television in which he said that there would be a cultural shift when people who cared realized all at once how counterrevolutionary the Internet is. I don’t know that I agree, but I still remember that comment.Report