Fallows on Douthat
Commenter Geoff Arnolds points us to this James Fallows piece. Fallows takes issue with the Douthat column I linked to earlier. Interestingly, in the entirety of the arguments laid out by Fallows, he somehow manages to forget about the actual politicians in charge in Washington these days. You know, Obama and the rest of the hope-and-change-gang who set out to change the world, and who many liberals and civil libertarians hoped would reverse the terrible policies of the Bush administration. Fallows writes:
There are many instances of the partisan dynamic working in one direction here. That is, conservatives and Republicans who had no problem with strong-arm security measures back in the Bush 43 days but are upset now. Charles Krauthammer is the classic example: forthrightly defending torture as, in limited circumstances, a necessary tool against terrorism, yet now outraged about "touching my junk" as a symbol of the intrusive state.
But are there any cases of movement the other way? Illustrations of liberals or Democrats who denounced "security theater" and TSA/DHS excesses in the Republican era, but defend them now? If such people exist, I’m not aware of them — and having beaten the "security theater" drum for many long years now, I’ve been on the lookout.
Really? Because I’m fairly certain a lot of voters sort of expected Obama to be better on civil liberties than his predecessor. I’m quite certain that Obama did not in fact run on expanding the scope and intrusiveness of the TSA to include naked scanners and groping. I’m quite certain that many of the people defending the TSA and Obama’s various security efforts – from assassinations to drone attacks – would not be defending them were a Republican in the oval office. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure Obama himself wouldn’t support Obama policies if he were still a Senator rather than the Commander-in-Chief.
It would be one thing for Fallows to argue that folks like Krauthammer are hypocrites, or that Republicans in general are acting like hypocrites over this issue. That would hold water! But to exonerate liberals and Democrats – the very people who for years criticized the Bush administration’s overreach and security theater, and who are now directly responsible for the expansion of these policies – well, this strikes me as rather one-sided and biased on Fallows’s part. Accusing Douthat of false equivalency here doesn’t work. Both sides are responsible for this mess. If they weren’t, then the Democrats would have scaled back the security state. They haven’t. And now liberals are defending them in spite of that inconvenient fact.
Tony Comstock points to this passage in the Fallows piece:
A harder case is Guantanamo, use of drones, and related martial-state issues. Yes, it’s true that some liberals who were vociferous in denouncing such practices under Bush have piped down. But not all (cf Glenn Greenwald etc). And I don’t know of any cases of Democrats who complained about these abuses before and now positively defend them as good parts of Obama’s policy — as opposed to inherited disasters he has not gone far enough to undo and eliminate.
But what Fallows misses or dodges is the fact that it’s not just pundits at issue here. Democratic politicians and elected officials were vocally critical of the self-same programs they now run or have ramped up themselves. Obama was a critic of the Bush excesses that he ‘inherited’ and has now added to them. The TSA under Bush was a rather benign force compared to the TSA under Bush-critic Barack Obama.
I think Glenn Greenwald is – as usual – pretty much spot-on in his take on all of this:
The one objection I have to this is that liberals in general have been far more willing to criticize Obama’s excesses than conservatives — certainly the dominant Fox News/right-wing-talk-radio faction — were for Bush. But other than that, what Douthat describes is exactly true, and it is one of the most destructive toxins in our political discourse.
Quite right. Liberals don’t have the conservative movement to keep them in lock-step, so they’re less prone to this sort of thing.