Political Blind Spots, 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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77 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Well, the easy answer is to ask “is it Bush doing it or Obama doing it, and is it happened to someone else or happening to me?”Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    While it’s all well and good to have “principles”, you need to ask yourself “what are the real-world likely outcomes of my speaking up?”

    If the answer comes “it will give aid and comfort to The Enemy”, you pretty much have just acknowledged that you ought to not criticize, haven’t you?

    While it may look like hypocrisy to say that you don’t care that your politician of choice beats his life partner, you have to understand: He’s the best politician on the topic of “spousal abuse” and criticizing him will do more damage to the cause (and thus directly result in more people being hit by spouses!) than remaining silent.

    So I remain silent because I care about spousal abuse.

    Which is why I wonder whether you’re not a concern troll when you get on your high horse about the politician slapping his life partner.Report

  3. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    It could be my ultra sensitivity as a liberal, but my impression is that when a liberal does liberal things, that’s bad, but when a conservative does liberal things, that’s moderate, compromising, and show’s bipartisanship. Maybe it has something to do with being a “center-right” nation.

    I mean, as much as the Republican’s despised Clinton, most of his presidency’s achievements were conservative triumphs (various deregulations, welfare reform, working to balance the budget).

    So my view is that these are all somewhat political calculations, as well as the ego trip of a President who can’t be the one to allow a nuke to go off in an American city. So despite his liberal leanings as a constitutional professor, as President, his first concern, for better or worse, is the prevention of any catastrophe, no matter how unlikely. So while the trade off for most American’s between increased invasion of privacy and the slight marginal decrease in potential security threats probably isn’t worth it, for a President whose entire legacy and job rely on preventing such disasters, it’s a small price to pay.

    And of course all the liberal’s will look the other way, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq, though I’m not sure for how much longer. A 2012 challenge from the left looks more and more likely. If by that time the economy has not substantially recovered, major draw downs in Afghanistan and Iraq have not happened, and Wall Street firms and corporations are still breaking the bank with record profits, I don’t think liberals will continue to look the other way on smaller issues like civil liberties.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Was there a recent Republican President who arguably increased government’s involvement in stuff like education and/or health care?

      If there was, maybe he’d provide an interesting counterpoint to Clinton.Report

  4. Avatar MFarmer says:

    I do believe that both sides are afraid to significantly reduce the power of goverment. If someone made a proposal to transfer Medicare and SS to private Insurance/savings plans going forward, for everyone under 35, you would have bipartsian resistance, even if it could be shown that a private plan bought for a child at birth would be worth over a million dollars in benefits at 60 years of age.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      I also think that we’r headed toward a deep division in society between those on both sides who want to expand State power and a growing faction which wants to roll back State power. It won’t be long before we have students in the streets like in London demanding free education, and if the economy remains stagnant, free housing, more food stamps and an indefinite extension of unemployment pay. The battle between these two groups is not going to be pretty. The only thing that can prevent this is the return of real, wealth creating, economic growth and low unemployment, but I believe the statist system has gone too far, and dependence is now built into the system, so that at least 15-20% of the population will be completely dependent on government assistance. I hope I’m wrong.Report

  5. Awesome post Mark.

    “The simplistic explanation would be that, rhetoric aside, liberals simply care more about protecting the size of government than they do about civil liberties, while conservatives care more about social issues than they do about reducing or limiting the size of government.”

    I think this is a pretty good cliff notes version of the phenomenon. The only thing I would add is that I also think there’s a bit of team mentality (as Douthat, Kain, etc were discussing). Simply, it’s okay if my team behaves a certain way but not if the other team does.Report

  6. Avatar Chris says:

    All of these explanations are probably at play: motivated cognition (not just “motivated skepticism” or the overused “cognitive dissonance,” but a whole range of other heuristics and biases that are largely affect-driven), the team mentality, the short-sighted view that my side is not as scary as the other side when it wields certain powers, etc. But, I think one of the important factors, at least in the rationalizing of our behavior, is the fundamental attribution error. When Bush was president, liberals attributed his abuses of civil liberties to authoritarian impulses, while conservatives swore that the abuses were necessary because of the very real and very serious threats to our way of life. Now that Obama is president, the situation is reversed: liberals are much more likely to explain, if not excuse, Obama’s behavior by reference to the situation: terrorism is a grave threat that justifies certain extreme measures, or at least, the political reality is such that Obama has to behave as though it were, while conservatives chalk it up to the liberal inclination to expand the power of government, or socialism, or something to that effect. When you add all of these things up, what you get is the American political system.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      There are good reasons to choose policy X. There are bad reasons to choose policy X.

      When my guy engages in policy X, well, you have to understand, there’s this good reason, that good reason, and if we don’t do policy X, children will die. Dissent provides aid and comfort to our enemies. People need to watch what they say.

      When your guy engages in policy X, he’s pandering at best and, most likely, using it as a prelude to something really awful. And anyway, aren’t there more important, fundamental, issues at stake here? Dissent is the highest form of patriotism! Jefferson said that! You’re chilling freedom of speech! What do we want our children to learn?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      The first nine comments here all failed to get at Mark’s question, which was about why political partisans were giving slack to “their guy” on an issue where they’d berated the opponent, while attacking “their guy” on what is almost indisputably a more minor issue. I don’t use the word “failed” here to be snarky or critical, but to note simply how interesting it is that all the initial responses really were rather off-target. I think that’s an interesting data-set in itself, that suggests that Mark’s confusion is well-justified. All the respondents targeted tangents precisely because the issue really is puzzling. It’s one I’ve certainly puzzled about quite a bit, although I’ve never framed it as clearly as Mark does here.

      Chris is really the first one to get directly to the real question with a real answer. (Not too surprising, given that it’s really a question about partisan psychology, and Chris knows rather more about psychology than most of us here.) The fundamental attribution error does seem to make sense of it. I encountered this at another blog, on basically the same political issue. A commenter who had despised Bush’s abuse of civil liberties found himself supporting Obama’s abuse of civil liberties, and consequently made a more favorable re-evaluation of Bush. He wash sharply criticized by several commenters (including myself) who argued that he was assuming Obama was good and would not do bad, so that his actions must be made necessary by circumstances, rather than recognizing that abuse of civil liberties is bad, and concluding that perhaps Obama was bad. The terminology “fundamental attribution error” didn’t appear in any of the comments, iirc, but that’s clearly the concept/behavior we were recognizing.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I dunno.

        I think it’s more “sports teamy” than that.

        Obama does something that Bush did… and now you can not only argue “Bush did it too!” but watch people who defended Bush suddenly go about face and argue against the stuff that Bush did.

        This isn’t something that inconveniences you, as a guy who argues on the internet but is more or less otherwise powerless.

        HOWEVER! If Obama does something like suggest a pay freeze, this is something that you can’t argue that Bush did too. Indeed, this is something that Obama is doing that you can’t even wrap your head around. It’s a sop to the Republicans, it’s a sop to fiscal conservativism, and the acknowledgment that it’s necessary on his part undercuts any number of arguments that you (or whomever, I don’t mean “you” you) have made as a guy who argues on the internet but is more or less otherwise powerless.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Oh, sports teamy things are totally about fundamental attribution errors. I’m a big University of Oregon football fan, and while they’ve had a couple of minor errors on the recruiting stuff in recent years, it really was all inadvertent. Auburn, on the other hand, is just fundamentally dishonest and full of cheaters.

          And the fundamental attribution error is so strong that even though I’m aware of it, I absolutely 100% believe what I said is true. (No joke. My cognitive dissonance on the topic makes my head hurt sometimes.)Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Hrm… I thought attribution error was when you said “math is hard” to your male friends who suck at math and “girls suck at math” to your female friends who suck at math. (Again, not “you” you.)

            Or am I messing that up?

            That seems a different dynamic…Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Er, that is to say, when your folks miss the mark, you talk about how hard it is to hit the mark. When their folks miss the mark, you talk about how missing the mark is something that unskilled, undisciplined, generally bad people do.

              Am I thinking of something else entirely?Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        “The first nine comments here all failed to get at Mark’s question, which was about why political partisans were giving slack to “their guy” on an issue where they’d berated the opponent, while attacking “their guy” on what is almost indisputably a more minor issue.”

        I was answering this — “The simplistic explanation would be that, rhetoric aside, liberals simply care more about protecting the size of government than they do about civil liberties, while conservatives care more about social issues than they do about reducing or limiting the size of government. I’m not at all comfortable with this explanation, and I welcome alternative explanations.”

        I believe this is a big part of why each side might attack their own guy — when what their own guy does threatens the particular power either side might value — like protecting morals on the right or protecting the welfare state on the left. If a new kind of Republican president calls for the government to stay away from social issues, partisans on the right, especially social conservatives will attack him/her — if a new kind of Democrat president calls for the end of the welfare state, he/she will be attacked by partisans on the left, especially progressives.Report

        • I think this is a pretty plausible explanation, actually, although I think I’d alter it slightly to “when what their own guy does threatens the particular power either side believes it already possesses….” I think it’s probably safe to say that conservatives perceive that they have come to hold the cards on immigration issues over the last 20 years, perhaps beginning with the implementation of Prop 187 in California; by pushing his immigration reform proposal, Bush was actively undermining a hard-fought conservative power base within the government. Medicare and social safety net programs have never been a conservative power base within government, so expanding them could be excused on grounds of simply being good politics. Similarly, liberals have never held the cards on civil liberties issues and have never really believed that they do, but they’ve always held the power on federal government labor relations. Obama’s actions on civil liberties take no power from them; his actions on the wage freeze do.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “The first nine comments here all failed to get at Mark’s question, which was about why political partisans were giving slack to “their guy” on an issue where they’d berated the opponent, while attacking “their guy” on what is almost indisputably a more minor issue.”

        …so “is it happening to someone else or is it happening to me” isn’t an answer to that question?Report

    • “..my side is not as scary as the other side when it wields certain powers, etc.”

      Chris, I like this a lot. I think you danced around the word that seems to sum up your accurate explanation i.e. intent. I remember some blogger (maybe McArdle?) had a great post some time ago where they speculated how different policitcal debates would be if both sides always assumed good intent from their opponents when evaluating any proposed policies.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        “..my side is not as scary as the other side when it wields certain powers, etc.”

        This is also the flaw in partisan politics — as one side gives government more power because they trust their side with the power, power then shifts and the other side has that much more power plus what they can grab while in power, then power shifts again, on and on — at some point, the State itself has so much power, we’re just being played against one another as the State controls it all, with it not mattering which side is in the majority.Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      I think Chris makes a really good point here. There are a lot of things in play in our response to politics and I agree with him that fundamental attribution error is a big factor. The perplexity comes when trying to oversimplify the responses to something as crude as a dichotomy. Viewed within the broader context, the responses make more sense and don’t necessarily represent hypocrisy. Ned’s approach (be aware of one’s own biases and try to give extra skepticism to ideas one is biased toward, and extra charity to ideas one is biased against) is well advised.

      That said, I’d venture an oversimplified explanation for the generally different liberal responses to the civil liberties actions of the Obama administration versus the wage freeze decision and it’s got little or nothing to do with protecting the size of government. I think rather that the difference stems from Obama’s rhetoric itself. Since his rhetoric on civil liberties has consistently been better than his actions, it is easier to attribute his actions to forces outside his control. Mitigation of the forces outside his control would presumably lead Obama to move more toward what liberals would want. On the other hand, Obama has consistently spoken of an openness to working with the right on fiscal issues, so it is easier to believe he would move more in that direction (and away from what the left wants) if he were more in control.Report

      • Avatar JRoth says:

        Speaking as a liberal, I endorse the second paragraph here – there’s an unhappy gap between Obama’s rhetoric and actions on civil liberties, but he hasn’t gone around saying, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” or “If the President does it, that means it’s legal.” Whereas, on issues like the payfreeze, he has literally quoted Republican rhetoric, including glaringly incorrect statements about belt-tightening.

        To go with the sports team analogy, it’s one thing to lose to your rival. It’s another to have your coach rave about how much better your rivals are.Report

        • I get what you’re saying here, but it seems….off. Or, at the very least, it seems to be an odd sort of attribution error. Accepting the premise about the nature of Obama’s rhetoric as true, the result is the following two situations:
          1. Obama’s actions and rhetoric are at odds on civil liberties. Therefore, his rhetoric is what he really believes and wants and he must have an acceptable reason for not backing the rhetoric up with action.
          2. Obama’s actions and rhetoric are entirely consistent on the wage freeze. Therefore, his rhetoric is a lie and he’s just pandering to the Republicans.

          Why trust the sincerity of his rhetoric when it is at odds with his actions, but distrust that sincerity when it is entirely consistent with his actions? In isolation, I doubt many liberals would say that rhetoric is more important than actual policy, so why place so much importance on the rhetoric that it becomes an excuse for civil liberties violations but a death knell for wage freezes, particularly given that Obama’s produced a pretty lengthy history of being a solid liberal on economic issues and domestic issues more generally (ie, health care) but done virtually nothing liberal on civil liberties?Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            > Why trust the sincerity of his rhetoric when it is at odds with
            > his actions, but distrust that sincerity when it is entirely
            > consistent with his actions?

            Because, man, we elected Hope and Change. That’s what I voted for. So if Hope and Change isn’t what I’m getting, that must be because The Other Team is making it so. If my figurehead Hope and Change isn’t acting the way I expect him to, that’s because he’s doing some sort of shimmy sham to get something else done.

            Because clearly I couldn’t have voted for the wrong guy. And he can’t be coldbloodedly ruthlessly pragmatic, because he’s Hope. AND Change!

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitmentReport

          • Avatar JRoth says:

            Obama’s not acting in a vacuum: Congressional Republicans have fought him hammer and tongs on civil liberties issues such as closing Guantanamo and trying accused terrorists in civilian courts. If he talked civil liberties without lifting a finger (and bear in mind, he did change policy on torture almost immediately – because he could do so without Congressional approval), then I’m fairly certain it would engender (some) more backlash. But there’s no denying that he’s actually attempted to put (some of) his civil liberties rhetoric into action.

            Whereas on the economic issues (belt-tightening, pay freeze, “reforming” Social Security, deficit commissions headed by people to the right of the Dem electorate), he’s preemptively capitulating (and I would dispute ” a pretty lengthy history of being a solid liberal on economic issues” very, very strongly. Ask a real liberal).

            But the point of my comment wasn’t whether rhetoric or policy is more important; it’s what elicits a stronger reaction. Look at Wall Street: Obama couldn’t possibly have done better for them, but they all hate him because he hurt their widdle feewings.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              Mr. Roth, if I may, per your last:

              1) Couldn’t pawn the Gitmo detainees off on other countries [HT: WikiLeaks]
              2) Tried accused terrorist in civilian court. Acquitted on 284 counts; guilty on 1
              3) Banned waterboarding, which hadn’t been used in several years anyway
              4) “Belt-tightening.” An empty albeit promising term, except the
              5) Federal employee pay-raise freeze, minuscule, but nice
              6) Reforming Social Security. As if. Dubya tried, although not that hard.
              7) Deficit commission. Appointing panels is the height of inaction.
              8) Wall Street gave more heavily to Obama in 2008, and will again if reelection looks good

              Now, I don’t blame President Obama for any of the above, Mr. Roth, but he deserves little or no credit either. These “initiatives” don’t move the meter of significance. Which is OK—

              “The American people did not vote for gridlock,” sayeth President Obama a few days ago.

              Well, I did, Mr. President. If you’re gonna turn around a runaway train, first you’ve got to stop it.Report

              • Avatar JRoth says:

                Actually, after he said “belt-tightening,” he proposed a 3 year discretionary funding freeze for the whole government. Seems like you haven’t paid much attention to the actual doings of the allegedly runaway train.

                Also, I have no idea what the significance of (2) is supposed to be. There’s no rule by which a defendant needs to be convicted of a certain percentage of charges for it to count. The man got 20 years to life. He would have gotten more, but Bush ordered him tortured, and so most of the evidence against him was inadmissible. I suppose this proves something against Obama, but I can’t imagine what.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Ok, I’ll concede 1 1/2 of the rebuttals to your 8 arguments, Mr. Roth, for the sake of good cheer and bonhomie.

                See? We’re making progress already.

                The freeze on discretionary spending is welcome news. Already, “gridlock” is paying off, and the new congress hasn’t even been sworn in yet!

                I didn’t get into the grenade-toss on the 284 counts thing. Believe it or not, I simply disagree with the president’s [and the “true”—“truer”— liberalism you ascribe to yourself] political philosophy. And even if the president’s [Holder’s, et al.] judgment proved a bit faulty, I don’t think it makes him a bad person. And neither do I expect anyone to be immune to making bad calls.

                It would have been better if “the system” had come out with a better outcome, but the American ideal is better to let 100 guilty men go free than imprison an innocent one. That’s the American “social contract,” and on the whole, we’re good with that.

                On the other hand, I do not think the president will repeat that experiment, and neither do I think it’s self-evident that foreign terrorists are participants in the American social contract.

                Because—for the record—my only take was that Ghailani escaped conviction on the other counts because of two fairly unique features of the American justice system: the Exclusionary Rule, which used the “poisoned fruit” rubric to disqualify the testimony of the guy who sold Ghailani the TNT; and “trial by jury.”

                Neither feature is seen as necessary to “human rights” by most of the world, including much of Europe. A trial by judges and no Exclusionary Rule is still seen by all “the civilized world” as procedurally entirely just.

                Thank you for your replies, Mr. Roth. I shall attempt to reply to you as a person and not some golem from The Other Side.Report

          • Avatar 62across says:

            I don’t think you get what I’m saying, because I see the responses as based on trusting his rhetoric in both instances.

            If liberals take him at his word (and as he is a politician, we recognize this is tenuous at best), in the absence of outside forces, Obama would move further left on civil liberties and further right on fiscal issues. As liberals want him to move further left on civil liberties, it serves our ends better if we seek mitigation of the outside forces. As liberals want him to move further to the left on fiscal issues, our beef is with him. (We are the outside forces in this case, so to speak.) So, I’ll criticize him more on fiscal issues and I’ll criticize him less on civil liberties issues.

            I’m certain there is attribution error going on here and I grant the validity of the idea that actions speak louder than words. But, as I stated earlier, all of this gets plugged into the broader context (the weight I give these issues versus others I care more about, some team mentality, the dreadfulness of the alternative in our two party system, et al) before I settle on my position. However, as an explanation of what is happening with the specific dichotomy you asked about, this is what I think is driving the response.Report

  7. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    The left personalizes.

    Friday, May 17, 1968

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,838361-1,00.html

    Still does. If Dubya were still in, this TSA thing would be bringing cries of fascism and jackboots.

    Because Dubya didn’t have bad policies, he is a bad person. The Worst Person in the World!Report

    • Avatar JRoth says:

      Excellent point. I’ve never heard any conservative refer to the current president in any personal terms. It’s all objective – and honest! – discourse about preferred policy outcomes.

      Good grief, talk about self-delusion.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Yeah, Tom popped in on this thread to provide an excellent example.Report

  8. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    Mr. Thompson:

    “The simplistic explanation would be that, rhetoric aside, liberals simply care more about protecting the size of government than they do about civil liberties, while conservatives care more about social issues than they do about reducing or limiting the size of government. I’m not at all comfortable with this explanation, and I welcome alternative explanations.”

    I think you’ve got a germ of truth here, but I suspect the reality is more complicated. I really don’t think liberals like big government as much as libertarians and conservatives think they do (at least, in my experience, people who vote for the left aren’t voting that way because they like paying more taxes and they like bigger public sector workforces. They’re as pissed about the public sector unions as the people on the right are in California).

    One of the aspects of “YAY TEAM” that people haven’t talked about much is that when you root for the team, it only takes a couple members of the leadership cadre to control the framing of the team cheers.

    “Instead, I’m trying to understand why American liberals are willing to hold Obama personally culpable on this issue in a way that they are not on civil liberties issues.”

    Because the leadership says so. The leadership is pissed, because reducing the size of government angers the unions, and that cuts into their donations. The leadership doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about civil liberties.

    There are, of course, exceptions. Some members of both parties actually care about principles. Some pundits care about principles. But the talking heads are the ones that do the talking, and they create the stories that get repeated and reinforce the narratives of public discourse.Report

    • I don’t have time for more than this right now, but I just wanted to clarify that I, personally, don’t think that liberals have an inherent preference for bigger government. This is a major reason why I’m not comfortable with that explanation.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        I think that many party movers and shakers (in both parties) like bigger government just fine. The way many line managers like it when their division in a company has the biggest operating budget, even if the overall company isn’t doing well in the market.Report

  9. Avatar ppnl says:

    Guys, isn’t this the cost of gridlock? When stopping the other guy becomes far far more important than any principle you have then principles become irrelevant. When that happens you get the worst of both sides of the debate. The more we forgive the errors of our own side the worse off everyone is.Report

  10. Avatar JRoth says:

    On the broader topic, I actually deny part of the premise here: that “Democrats,” the “base,” or the “left” have all given Obama a pass on civil liberties. I, personally, am quite liberal, certainly more so than more or less every Senator. The blogs that I read on a daily basis – from TAPPED to Yglesias to Digby – are uniformly unhappy (and fairly vocal) with Obama’s civil liberties stance. So there’s this weird claim that a lot of people who are IRL unhappy with Obama are being hypocritical for not being unhappy* with Obama (Adam Serwer, for one, talks about the arrogation of assassination power constantly). I’m not sure what to do with that claim, except to note that it’s wrong, and probably not a great place to begin your thinking.

    As for mainstream Democrats – ie, the ones who aren’t especially liberal – there is IMO a split between those who are simply low information voters (as are the vast majority of voters, always and everywhere) and are therefore pretty much team rooters (and who didn’t do a lot of “war criminal” accusing anyway), and those who pay attention but don’t know what to make of Obama on civil liberties.

    Here’s a simplified timeline, from a moderate Dem POV, of civil liberties issues:
    2000: everything’s hunky-dory
    2001: 9/11, and certain civil liberties are properly restricted [This is how the TSA gets its nose under the tent, but 85% of Americans, on both sides, have no problem with this. Maybe 95%]
    2002-4: Bush opens Guantanamo and starts torturing people and reads our emails
    2004: America votes to endorse torture
    2005-2007: Absolutely nothing improves on civil liberties
    2008: Hope and Change
    2009: Obama comes into office, ends torture, fails to close Guantanamo (due to GOP opposition), talks about ending wars, but doesn’t seem to be doing so.

    Now I wouldn’t defend that timeline as 100% accurate, but it’s not delusional, either (it’s mostly wrong from elision, skipping stuff like indefinite detention that, again, a vast majority of Americans don’t seem to care about. But it’s not crazy like claiming that Obama has raised taxes, or that HCR funds abortion, or a thousand other anti-Obama lies). And if that’s your timeline, A. Obama doesn’t look like Bush (he ended torture, after all), and B. You kind of give up. I mean, if Mr. Hope & Change + Pelosi + 60 Dem Senators can’t or won’t roll back all of the Bush era changes**, then when will they ever be rolled back? And so you stop calling people war criminals, and you learn to stop worrying and love Big Brother.

    I’ll say this: if President Palin comes in and does exactly what Obama is doing, moderates will not call her a war criminal for it; it will be the new status quo (they’ll complain about other things hyperbolically, of course, and will complain at the margins about things that they let slide under Obama, but there’s nothing sinister about that).

    * it’s true they’re unhappy rather than calling him a war criminal. But starting the Iraq war is a big part of the war criminal charge, and Obama, IIRC, hasn’t done that.

    ** I know that he didn’t invent rendition, and obviously the US has always done bad things. But the moderates who complained about Bush don’t view things that way, mostly because of American exceptionalism, which is a whole ‘nother kind of Go Teamism.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      > I actually deny part of the premise here: that “Democrats,” the
      > “base,” or the “left” have all given Obama a pass on civil liberties.

      If you take “the base” out of the “Democrats”, and you just count the 40% or so of the country that votes Democratic reliably, I’ll agree with the premise.

      Because most voters really just don’t give a crap about airport screening, because *most* voters don’t actually fly very often. Most voters don’t care too much about gitmo or the NSA reading their email. Most voters care about their taxes and their job, and not much else unless it affects their view or craps on their lawn.

      I do. You do. Most political pundits have a stance one way or the other. But I think the politically vocal 1% of the country doesn’t realize that the other 99% of the country either doesn’t vote, or votes straight party lines ’cause that’s what they’ve always done, or informs themselves very little on any of the outstanding issues.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I don’t know. I suspect that it may be part and parcel with what is the matter with Kansas.

        Sure, most folks don’t fly very often… but they know that if they did, they might have to have their junk touched and this offends them on some level. “You don’t fly!”, we can point out to them. “You’ve never flown in your life! You’re never going to get on a plane! You’re an inbred hillbilly who will die in the same zip code you were born in!”, we can point out. “Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you?”, we could explain.

        And they’d still be upset about some hypothetical boob honking that never would happen to them personally.

        I don’t know that just because they’d never have this happen to them personally that that means that we should expect them to not have an opinion (let alone a strong one).Report

      • Avatar JRoth says:

        I wish I could upload a Venn diagram. Basically, you’ve got a big circle of Obama voters. A pretty small circle within that called Bush a war criminal and torturer. Another, larger circle is giving him a pass on civil liberties issue. The overlap between the two is very very small.

        The remainder of the circle, of course, doesn’t much care about any civil liberties but their own, and those pretty loosely. And not to be snarky, but the portion of Obama voters who turned out for the GOP in November is drawn pretty much exclusively from that remainder.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I agre that there are serious problems with the empirical work that has gone into the premise of this discussion, starting at least with the Douthat column, but going much further back as well. It’s not at all clear to me the extent to which the charge of giving oBama a pass on things that Bush was criticized for is a charge that is broadly fair to apply to any group of people, except perhaps elected leaders. Of course, there are examples of this, but a discussion of just whatever examples of this that there are is not what seems to be what this discussion seems to be driving at. Rather, it seems clear that it wants to hang the charge on liberals by and large, allowing for exceptions. Well, I’m sorry, but you have to at least attempt some empirical demonstration that this is fair if you want anyone not already inclined to believe it to accept it. I think I can name more liberal bloggers that are tough on Obama on civil liberties than ones who give him passes. In my private life, I know almost no liberals who don’t continue to believe about Obama’s abuses what they did about Bush’s. Douthat, in a blog supplement to the column that kicked off this discussion, was compelled to switch his estimation of the number of liberals who are exceptions to the generalization he wants to hang on them as a group from “some” to “many.” Okay, well at what point when making generalizations about groups of people without much documentation does the person making them have to suddenly own up to not having done the work involved in determining that the generalization is fair? I’d say it’s somewhere along the path from initially admitting there are “some” exceptions to then having to concede there are “many.”

      Getting at exactly what the attitudes of people of the liberal mindset in the country at large on these matters are, and how they’ve changed or not since Bush was in office, seems to me quite a considerable undertaking. And in this discussion, it seems to me it’s been done pretty much by assuming a received narrative of political insincerity. This is a serious charge, and by all means there are examples of it among liberal commentators. But the country is large, and there will be examples of things. If this is just a discussion that seeks to explore what goes on philosophically and psychologically in cases when attitudes about government change according to who constitutes it, that’s perfectly fair. In that case, the argumentation should come with a caveat along the lines of, “To the extent this is occurring, here’s how it works…” But that is not at all what I take to be the subtext here. Rather, the subtext seems to be much closer to, “Liberals, with a few exceptions, give Obama a pass on civil liberties abuses they criticized Bush for.” Proving that, rather than assuming it, would be a very involved task, and to date in this discussion, including in Douthat’s pieces and the forgoing ones here, basically no work has been done toward accomplishing it.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        I guess we’ll have to wait to see how many votes he gets in 2012.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          There are many factors that go into peoples’ votes. That’s exactly wht makes this a difficult question to nail down empirically. I’d submit, though, that the recent elections throw more doubt than confirmation on the thesis that liberals and progressives stopped caring about civil liberties en masse after Obama was elected.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Anyone else care to even acknowledge this observation? It’s the second time I’ve made it. I’m not seeing where I’m wrong.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Mr. Drew, I agree completely with the epistemological near-impossibility of “generalizations about groups of people without much documentation” being worth a damn.

        Or even with much documentation—not that that’s deterred this discussion, which has blithely proceeded anon. [Even “much” documentation is vulnerable to sharp epistemological challenges, until we are convinced we can say nothing about anything.]

        However, I’ll return to my previous point that if Dubya had done this TSA thing, it would have been fascism and jackboots rhetoric.

        And I’ll return to Krauthammer’s [mischaracterized] argument, simply that opposition on the right is mostly not abstract but that this whole junk-touching thing is typical government silliness and incompetence.

        I wouldn’t say for a minute that President Obama isn’t enduring the [mostly minimal] heat on this because he wants to keep the American people safe. Or at least, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, in good faith. He is my president, afterall, and although I disagree with his political vision, I don’t doubt for a second that he does what he does because he thinks that’s what’s best for our country and the American people.

        Not for a second. Sure, he’ll do what’s best for his party, but he believes his party is what’s best for America. I hope you can hear me on this, because that’s what I think is wrong in our political discourse.

        Yes, congresscreatures are venal, weak, and unprincipled. But I don’t believe we’ve ever elected anyone but a patriot to the White House. [In fact, I’m willing to argue that at least in our lifetimes, we haven’t even elected the wrong man. And that includes the ones I didn’t vote for.]Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I hear you loud and clear, Mr. van Dyke. All I’d say is that there certainly *was* hew and cry over the groping, remember? And it wasn’t absent from liberal quarters in my experience.(emptywheel, Adam Serwer, Greenwald, etc. [And sorry Eric, but as far as I can tell Greenwald identifies as a liberal – he certainly attacks “the Right” more than “the Left.” He’s had plenty of opportunity to correct the impression, which is widespread. Making the fact that he doesn’t exhibit teamism on Obama’s abuses disqualify him as a counterexample of liberals exhibiting teamism is High No True Scotsmanism. If you want to deny he’s a liberal, fair enough.])

          So the question is, is this a matter of emphasizing instances or of characterizing groups? As I’ve said, I’m perfectly fine if we want to analyze instances of people dong this, or the phenomenon in the abstract, but then we should say that is what we’re doing. But the claim, “By and large, liberals have done this” is an empirical claim, and it needs to be shown empirically.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Mr. Drew, it’s always been my dream to form an “alliance of the decent,” a sort of league of ordinary gentlemen, where contrary worldviews and certainly party affiliations might kick it around without questioning each other’s very humanity.

            I have never feared losing an argument in a diverse and open forum like this; only despaired that my character and intellectual honesty would come under assault. Which was inevitable, especially after I started winning, which is nearly always.

            😉

            But truly, Michael, it’s only in defending my character and good name in the morning that keeps me awake at night. I admit to never having developed a thick enough skin.

            Since every word is tested by the sophists [we must wear spats against the ankle-biters], I see that this Eleanor Roosevelt quote is apocryphal:

            “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”

            Still, why should we discuss Andrew Sullivan or Fallows vs. Douthat or Olbermann vs. Limbaugh? Or Glenn Beck in any case?

            Or Glenn Greenwald or that Larison dude who writes for Pat Buchanan’s thing, so far left and so far right that they have the luxury of ideological purity, and no responsibility or accountability to reality?

            [These guys have some Jiminy Cricket value as gadflies, mind you, but Jiminy can wink out whenever the going gets tough. His ass is never on the line.]

            So, screw these people, commentators, pundits, online phenomena. I appreciate their Great and Principled Thoughts, but it’s not like these moral dilemmas haven’t already occurred to us normal people—Dubya Bush and Barack Obama included.

            Y’know, Jack Kennedy said—back in the early ’60s when the world was so much less nuanced—that nobody who hasn’t sat in that chair has no right to judge somebody who has.

            I don’t claim that right. The presidency of the United States requires Solomon, Socrates, Augustus, Machiavelli and Aquinas. Especially the Machiavelli part. Followed by Washington and Lincoln. I try to be as easy on these guys as I can. Even Nixon and Carter.Report

      • A bunch of things here. First, I did not intend that this be considered as part of the Douthat-inspired debate, which I have just about entirely stayed out of and, frankly, haven’t really followed. Obviously, it’s understandable how one would conclude otherwise given the timing of this post. But, to the extent I have followed that discussion, I’ve been less than persuaded by the Douthat side of the argument, which I think is at a minimum grossly overstated – certainly I struggle to think of any liberals who have actively switched sides on civil liberties or changed their positions or just stopped caring, smear artists at The Nation notwithstanding. My post was instead meant as an explicit reply to Ned’s post (which I fully endorse), which was in turn a reply to an Ezra Klein post that had nothing to do with the Douthat-inspired debate. Given that Ned is, by all accounts, a liberal with unassailable credentials, I felt that it would be perfectly fair to take his assertion at face value, particularly given that this is simply not an empirically provable issue.

        Indeed, one of the things I try to make clear in this post is that “it’s certainly true that most movement liberals still express opposition to civil liberties violations under the Obama Administration.” So my point is much, much more limited: that the opposition is, on average, much more muted in its tone than it was under Bush, and that liberals have been relatively willing to at least forgive Obama’s transgressions in the civil liberties arena. Similarly, I do recall plenty of conservatives expressing opposition to Bush’s fiscal actions (between 2000 and 2003/early 2004, I was a self-described conservative and mostly kept my ear to the ground in those circles), but it was pretty free of invective directed at Bush personally.

        While this is not directly empirically provable, I do think there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence in support of the conclusion that liberals have been generally unwilling to hold Obama personally culpable for the continuing – and expanding – civil liberties violations under his watch.

        For instance, I would point to Obama’s 84% approval rating at Netroots Nation, which came against the backdrop of most of the civil liberties abuses but before the federal wage freeze.

        Another piece of circumstantial evidence, although I’m going to have to ask for your trust on this, is the fact that prior to January 20, 2009, civil liberties issues had resulted in most of the anti-war libertarian/paleocon blogosphere having a rather amicable relationship with the liberal blogosphere. For me, personally, in my first year of blogging (2007), the overwhelming majority of contacts and friends I made were passionate liberals, and not a single one was a conservative. Now? The term “glibertarian” gets tossed around like it’s going out of style.

        Some more circumstantial evidence:

        -In this very thread, another commenter questioning the premise argues that “Obama’s not acting in a vacuum: Congressional Republicans have fought him hammer and tongs on civil liberties issues such as closing Guantanamo and trying accused terrorists in civilian courts,” and that on the pay freeze, Obama’s “preemptively capitulating.” Yet most of the civil liberties issues are issues that are solely within Obama’s power – he can fix them unilaterally or he can make them worse unilaterally. Republicans in Congress can’t be blamed for the backscatter scans and pat-downs; on the civilian trials issue, the administration’s conclusion was ultimately to do worse than anything the Republicans wanted, by insisting that the trials be held but be no more than show trials in which an acquitted defendant could be held indefinitely; DADT could have been repealed merely by the administration refusing to appeal its loss in court; Republicans can’t be blamed for the continuation of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; and Republicans certainly can’t be blamed for the fact that Obama has pardoned infinitely more flightless birds than he has wrongly convicted humans.

        – Jane Hamsher & Co. are now regularly and derisively labelled “Firebaggers” by others on the Left.

        -Since another commenter mentioned Digby as an example of someone who’s been all over Obama on civil liberties, I decided to take a trek over there. And, yeah, Digby’s got a number of posts on war and civil liberties issues to go along with posts on the pay-freeze and other fiscal issues. I looked at every post between 11/27 and 11/30 (I’d have gone through the entire month of November, but either their archive system is terrible or it just doesn’t work well with my computer). In total, Digby had 8 posts dealing with civil liberties/war/military questions (mostly on the Wikileaks story), and 11 on fiscal policy issues in that period. In those 19 posts, I found 28 mentions of Obama by name. Only 2 of those 28 mentions were in posts pertaining to civil liberties/war/military issues – and both mentions were positive (and rightly so, as they were in reference to START). The remaining 26 references to Obama in those posts were all in the fiscal policy domain, and all but five of them were clearly negative references. Now, this is an extremely limited sample, needs to be taken with a golf-ball sized grain of salt, and by itself proves exactly nothing, but I think you get the point: Digby’s seems to still write plenty about civil liberties/war/military questions, but is a lot less willing to lay those concerns directly at Obama’s feet; by comparison, Digby’s plenty willing to lay concerns about fiscal policy directly at Obama’s feet.

        Turning back to my post, I’m explicitly not accusing liberals of being hypocrites on civil liberties issues, or even of just being fair-weather friends of those issues. To the contrary, I think the evidence is that liberals’ actual positions on those issues have remained quite constant. What I am, however, saying is that liberals seem a lot less willing to hold Obama personally and directly culpable for his failings in those arenas than they are willing to hold him personally and directly culpable for his perceived failings in the fiscal/domestic policy arena.Report

        • Or, to put that last paragraph in a better way: when Obama goes against liberal orthodoxy on civil liberties/war/military questions, the criticism by and large seems to be directed at the system or at government more generally. It’s still criticism, but it’s a more fatalistic criticism. When he goes against liberal orthodoxy on fiscal issues, the criticism is much more likely to be directed at him personally.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Inasmuch as these civil liberties questions are or ought to be phenomena of our national life at large and not partisan, and have now been abused serially by administrations of both parties, I frankly think it makes eminent snense for Americans, as liberals, conservatives, libertarians, whatever, to move toward criticizing the abuses in the general/systemic/non-partisan state-resistance mode. In contrast, it makes sense also, again in my view, that on issues on which liberals/progressives understand only fellow liberals/progressives to advance their agenda, i.e. welfare state cutbacks, economics, taxes, scope of government questions and the like, that progressives/liberals then frame their criticism in terms of loyalty to cause and party, which I think is a kind of criticism I think more likely to take on a personal dimension.

            When Bush and Obama have both sold out national values, it makes sense to conclude we have a systemic problem, whereas only one left-liberal national leader in a generation or so is likely to sell out the progressive cause (not that I’m arguing he’s done that).Report

            • I think this is a fair point worth exploring in greater depth, although I don’t think it explains the increased hostility towards libertarians that’s arisen. Maybe I just read Balloon Juice too often, and I’m still too pissed off about the Nation’s unconscionable smear, but it really does seem to me like the general spirit of collegiality that existed, even if only on civil liberties issues, has evaporated.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I definitely agree with that – that all of this doesn’t explain why the early liberaltarian amicability has given way, and I wasn’t trying to explain that data point with this discussion. That’s mainly because I don’t think changes in views on civil liberties what has driven it. Rather I’d argue (and have) that the cooler relations have come about (and were inevitable, though I’d like to think the namecalling wasn’t) because of the way that progressivism and libertarianism are at odds on driving political topics: economics, distribution of wealth and burdens of supporting government, scope of government, etc. — and that those differences were bound to lead the camps to their flags and back into conflict. I think that’s to some extent what we’re seeing here, where what had been alignment on civil liberties has devolved into finger pointing and accusations of political insincerity (among people other than yourself, for which I am grateful), which essentially turns the issue itself into a political football that is subject to the real driver of politics: Interest (not Liberty). (You’ll notice that nowhere here have I disputed the suggestion that among the hierarchies of political priority, civil liberties did not top the lists of most politically active people, even when they were most vocal about it. But at the same time, merely being heard on the topic never implied that it was otherwise for any given person or group.)Report

              • Short on time at the moment, but just wanted to make clear that, regardless of my point on the libertarian/liberal hostility, your distinction between systemic problems and intramovement problems is a really, really useful one with some real independent value.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Thanks, Mark. I feel like this point I’ve just hit on where points of common ground (things like Mom, apple pie, and habeas corpus) become political footballs/signifiers more than real issues is related, and pretty strongly explains some of the recent discussion, especially the part you’ve been less involved in.Report

            • Avatar 62across says:

              I just wanted to jump in to affirm this comment. This is of a piece with the point I was trying to make.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            I do appreciate your engaging the point, ancillary to your own post as it is, about evidence to support Douthat’s generalizations. I don’t think the evidence you have given establishes his point, but I think it certain establishes that the Left doesn’t speak with the same clarity that it did when faced with similar problems under Bush. In my view this is inevitable – there was the shock of the new to these policies under Bush; Obama was expected to ameliorate them and he largely hasn’t. It would take a great deal of resiliency not to be discouraged and to maintain the same level of resistance, and inevitably some people will not show such resiliency. But others have.

            There is also the matter that the records are not identical. I know that is taken as a weasel statement here, because it is taken as a given that Obama is no better or worse than Bush, but in fact the record is mixed. Mixed at best, certainly, but mixed. What you see as a civilian trial policy that is worse than Bush because it admits that we won’t free people we see as extremely dangerous, others will see at least an attempt to institute civilian trials for detainees. An attempt to close Guantanaom was certainly made, as lame as it was. Bush defended the prison to the end; and in any case opened it. I have a hard time seeing how Bush being the instigator of these policies doesn’t continue to be a fair argument for some differential assessment of his record — by everyone, including liberals — from Obama’s, being as it includes observable if grossly insufficient attempts to change them. This is not to argue that Obama deserves passing grades on them. But I would argue that the contexts and the actual record of his policies justly explains at least some difference in reaction among citizens – enough, perhaps (and perhaps), to largely account for the real difference in treatment and attitudes in public reaction to the two presidents’ records that has actually been documented.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              “(and perhaps not),” that was meant to read.Report

            • I would certainly hope that the evidence I provided wouldn’t support Douthat’s generalizations, since I don’t think they’re very good generalizations! I just thought that it was useful evidence for proving my point.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                You’re right, the difference between his contention and yours is subtle but clear. In listing the points of evidence you did in terms of evidence, I thought you had switched over to addressing my issues with Douthat, but I can see very well how they support your point about personalization of the issues better than his generalizations. Thanks for the clarifications!Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I took you to be placing yourself in that line of debate, so I please disregard the comment inasmuch as it addresses that and not your post. Others who have engaged in the Douthat-Larison-Kain debate can perhaps consider my argument nevertheless.Report

          • I don’t blame you for making that assumption. Given the timing of this post, and the near-identical subject matter, I probably should have at least tried to separate my point from Douthat’s in the body of the post itself.Report

  11. Avatar MFarmer says:

    “There are many factors that go into peoples’ votes.”

    This is too funny. Yes, Michael, no matter what, nothing will be clear.Report

  12. Avatar Rufus says:

    I’m in a hurry, so I haven’t read all the comments. Has anyone suggested that it might just be easier to be upset about someone very much like yourself getting a pay freeze than about someone very different from yourself getting tortured?Report

  13. Avatar Nick says:

    I am a newbie here (and a liberal) but have been impressed by the sanity of the comments (and some of the articles).

    I’ll give you my perspective as an Obama supporter and a liberal. I don’t think of Obama as particularly liberal. When asked to choose between him and McCain though, I went with with Obama because I didn’t want McCain and Palin in the Executive branch. And, I’ll admit it, I liked his soaring rhetoric. And I still prefer his communication style, delivery, bearing, etc. And I naively believed that he would actually extract us from the WOT/Iraq/AfPak, but also believed that once wars are started they are hard to stop, especially when you are occupying countries.

    But hey, 9/11 was ugly. Real ugly, and it left a scar on this country. I personally don’t think something like 9/11 should have come as a surprise, but it did to a lot of Americans (yours truly included).

    Also, truth is anyone running for President of the US believes (at this point) in this country’s right to do as it pleases in regards to national security (unless you think Obama is some kind of Manchurian Candidate). Of the candidates running for President, Ron Paul was the only (semi) serious presidential candidate I know of who directly questioned the mission of the national security establishment. No way he (or anyone like him) ever becomes President, because the President is…the Commander in Chief! I mean, you can’t have the CIC not believe in the national security establishment’s mission, can you? Isn’t that like people that claim to hate government actively attempting to get elected to office?

    The fact is we are actually at war (whether you agree with the reason for the wars or not), and I’m afraid that it seems like the majority of Americans feel that, if a few terrorists are tortured in the name of protecting the troops, then so be it.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      “I don’t think of Obama as particularly liberal.”

      At first, I was going to challenge this, but you are right — Obama is not liberal. This brings to light the big difference between calling someone a modern liberal and the person being liberal in the true sense of the word. Thanks for clarifying this.

      You call yourself a liberal, which I assume is meaningful in your comment, so how does your expression of liberality distinguish you from Obama’s illiberality? Do you support liberal, free market solutions for the healthcare problem? Do you support a defensive policy for America — non-intervention, militarily, in foregn affairs? Do you support a separation of State and economy? Who do you think would make a good liberal president?Report

      • Avatar Nick says:

        Dennis Kucinich, he would make a good liberal President. Not that I think he would make a good president, but he’d make a good *liberal* president. Ralph Nader too. Hard to argue that Obama is as liberal as those guys (let’s not debate the semantics of the term liberal, I’m just using it in the conventional way).

        As far as health reform, Obamacare is the Heritage Foundation’s plan that Bob Dole was touting back in ’94 or whatever as a counter to HillaryCare. It is, as it stands, a free-market “solution” to the health care “crisis.” But no, I don’t support a liberal free market solution, I think a single-payer system is the most promising long-term solution to the health care “crisis.”

        I don’t know what you mean by “separation of state and economy.”Report

        • Avatar Nick says:

          By asking if I believe in “separation of state and economy” you mean “do I believe in a command economy,” no I don’t. But I’m not Manichean, I believe that for some countries (Netherlands, Denmark, etc.) more rather than less central planning seems to work (been to these countries numerous times). I don’t think that would necessarily work here, but it certainly occurs on a local level here, with varying degrees of success.Report