Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Sound of Silence

"Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants['] basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.”

That's Jonathan Turley complaining about the civil liberties record of the Obama administration.  If civil libertarians held the president to the same standards they applied to his predecessor, he argues, they’d have to conclude that Obama has been “a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States.” It’s Obama’s great good fortune, however, that by and large civil libertarians are giving him an undeserved pass. They've turned strangely quiet watching Obama continue, and therefore legitimize, practices that had them up in arms during the Bush years.

Why have liberal civil libertarians suddenly lost their voices? Several answers come readily to mind. According to the most cynical one, so-called civil libertarians only care about civil liberties insofar as they present a handy club for bludgeoning a Republican president about the head. On a more charitable view, liberal silence about Obama’s civil liberties record is a function of garden-variety political partisanship; as much as Obama has disappointed them on an issue close to their heart, liberals don’t want to add to his many political burdens when it will help elect a Republican in his place of whom they disapprove on a much wider range of issues. Finally, you might even suggest that seeing someone like Obama, whom they regard as a sound moral specimen, continue some of the gamier practices of the Bush administration has liberals contemplating the possibility that those practices aren’t as abhorrent as they once sincerely thought.

Maybe there are other possible explanations of why we're hearing so little condemnation of Obama's civil liberties record from the left, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. None of those I've mentioned, however, is good enough for Turley. He evidently thinks too highly of his civil libertarian comrades to believe that they're rank hypocrites and cares far too much about civil liberties to subordinate them, or excuse his comrades' subordinating them, to partisan considerations. And he's clearly not ready to entertain the thought that there was anything rash about his prior condemnation of Bush administration on civil libertarian grounds.

That leaves Turley in the unenviable position of having to enter a plea of diminished responsibility in behalf of civil libertarians. They’ve suddenly lost their collective voice, he suggests, because they’re paralyzed by a bad case of cognitive dissonance watching someone they’re determined to admire act egregiously by their own lights (my emphasis):
“While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster. It's almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama's position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse. However, realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama's policies on civil liberties in Congress during his term. It looks more like a cult of personality. Obama's policies have become secondary to his persona.”
Good lawyers like Turley usually enter pleas of diminished responsibility when they're dealing with bad facts.  Here we're being asked to excuse some fishy looking conduct on the part of liberal civil libertarians on the grounds that something has gone so badly wrong with liberalism that it's turning into a cult of personality.  I'll leave it to you to decide whether that says more about civil libertarians or the liberalism most of them embrace.


Anonymous said...

Dems always have there finger in the wind on civil liberties issues. Pelosi knew about waterboarding and didn't lift a finger to stop it. Feingold was the only Democratic Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Why should Obama be any different?

Anonymous said...

The answer can only be that Liberals are afraid if they criticize Obama, it will only fuel the opposition. But it sure doesn't explain why an alternative candidate hasn't emerged.

Cult of personality is as good an explanation as any.