The dangers and the promise of a strong central state
I have a long(ish) piece up at Forbes asking liberals to take the civil liberties record of Barack Obama more seriously – I’m basically riffing off of this excellent piece by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic – and I come to the conclusion that there’s something inherent in our political system which leaves us with these terrible political choices.
Here’s another thought on why liberals have turned a blind eye in many instances to the many abuses of the Obama administration. Liberals, to put it bluntly, want a strong central government. Whereas congress represents the federalism baked into our system, the executive represents the ideal of the central state. A president can, in some cases at least, act decisively where congress can only inch the ball along.
But a strong central government can be a good or a bad thing. Certainly putting an end to slavery and then later to segregation were victories of a strong federal government, and these victories make a solid case that at times the tyranny of the local and the state can be ameliorated through the strong action of the feds.
The flipside to this is becoming clearer as we wage our ongoing wars on terror and drugs. Medical marijuana is trumped time and again by the federal government, in spite of popular opposition and the huge social costs of locking up thousands of nonviolent citizens. Privacy and civil liberties are quashed by the federal government’s war on terror. Countless thousands have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.
But liberals want a strong president – it’s just baked into the liberal worldview – because a strong president is key to a strong federal government. This isn’t to say that liberals want a strong president who violates civil liberties, but it does create a conundrum, and perhaps even a subconscious conundrum. Likewise, when someone like Ron Paul runs and represents a return to civil liberties and non-interventionism, the fact that he wants to weaken the presidency and weaken the federal government, makes him much less appealing (and reasonably so.)
Of course, conservatives actually want a strong president also, because for all their talk of limiting government conservatives tend to want a strong government that can act on social issues and defense – in other words, a federal government that will take their side in the culture wars. Which is why libertarian candidates never win.