Tuesday, September 18, 2012

why I hope Romney wins

Summarized: a Romney victory is the surest way for Democrats to reclaim their souls

While candidate Obama sang a fine song, President Obama has danced to a very different tune on matters of unaccountable authority and gratuitous bloodshed. He has expanded rather than contracted the number of violent conflicts in which America is involved, even if the violence in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are conducted via remote control and no American lives are risked. This violence is dealt without due process and with little regard to loss of innocent life. The wiretapping and spying on Americans has ballooned to absurdity, if the NSA whistleblower William Binney can be believed. And indefinite detention without due process is alive and well, with the Administration defending it with everything up to and including the kitchen sink and their Sacred Honour.
In the last 220 years there have been only about 135 judicial rulings that have struck down an act of Congress. Most of the cases involved abortion or pornography. Very few dealt with wartime powers and the separation of powers, or what Forrest in her opinion called "a question of defining an individual's core liberties." 
Section 1021(b)(2) authorizes the military to detain any U.S. citizen who "substantially supported" al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces" and then hold them in military compounds until "the end of hostilities." The vagueness of the language, and the refusal to exempt journalists, means that those of us who as part of our reporting have direct contact with individuals or groups deemed to be part of a terrorist network can find ourselves seized and detained under the provision. 
"The Government was unable to offer definitions for the phrases 'substantially support' or 'directly support,' " the judge wrote. "In particular, when the Court asked for one example of what 'substantially support' means, the Government stated, 'I'm not in a position to give one specific example.' When asked about the phrase 'directly support,' the Government stated, 'I have not thought through exactly and we have not come to a position on 'direct support' and what that means.' In its pre-trial memoranda, the Government also did not provide any definitional examples for those terms."
By any honest measure Obama has been unequivocally bad for civil liberties, so I want him to suffer politically (and legally, since he's arguably complicit in the torture crimes of the Bush Administration by choosing to "look forward, not backward"). Progressives will point out that a Romney reign will include all of the bad things of the Obama presidency and then some: a war in Iran to go with the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen; a War on Porn to go along with an escalated War on Drugs; executive backing of the Republican assault on women's liberties; etc. I'm not sure if all of these concerns are justified--Romney strikes me as too pragmatic to invade or bomb Iran--but suppose they are indeed warranted. I still want Obama to lose.

Liberals of all stripes could be counted on during the years of Bush to fight back, at least rhetorically, against new wars and executive power grabs. It's hard to be quantitative about this but anecdotally many liberals just don't seem to find targeted killing and warrantless wiretapping and a war on whistleblowers nearly as interesting as they might have four years ago. Even where progressives manage a healthy lather about an issue I care about, their rage is suspiciously narrow. There is a lot of righteous indignation about Arizona's nativist SB1070 law, but barely anyone has heard of the federally administered Secure Communities program and the fact that the rate of deportation has increased under Obama.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention unveiled the new platform of the Democratic Party, providing a clear contrast in pre- and post-Obama worldviews. Adam Serwer recently highlighted the differences in the party platform in 2012 versus 2008 on civil liberties issues such as indefinite detention and the Patriot Act. Where the 2008 document stoutly demanded reining in executive power, the 2012 edition dissembles or remains silent entirely.
2008: "We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live. We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war…We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years." 
2012: The platform is silent on this issue. This isn't surprising since, at the urging of the Obama administration, congressional Democrats passed up the opportunity to reform the PATRIOT Act when they had a majority in both houses of Congress.
And there are more examples at the link. The most prominent and powerful body for promoting liberal and progressive ideas, the Democratic Party has turned its back on its civil libertarian ideals and disregarded the vulnerable parties they once sought to protect. There are certainly reasons to remain faithful to the party, as it still advocates for groups that comprise large numbers of people, like blue collar American workers and women desiring greater autonomy in their reproductive choices. And, credit where it's due, the Democratic Party platform for the first time acknowledges the right of gays and lesbians to marry. But they have abandoned other vulnerable groups, shrinking their sphere of ethical consideration. I outsource to Conor Friedersdorf:
The left touts its commitment to the most weak and powerless among us. I wonder how its members would respond to this fanciful hypothetical. Imagine that progressives and liberals could either keep silent about drones and save Obamacare; or else speak up about the dead Pakistani and Yemeni children, and see health care repealed? What would a good progressive do? For "pragmatic" thinkers like Dyson, I suppose the answer turns on the perceived political utility of speaking up. Yet I can't imagine the same standard would be applied in a counter-factual where health care for impoverished Yemenis could be preserved by staying quiet about the president's habit of killing innocents in New York, Phoenix, and Grand Rapids.
And that's the crux of it. The political tribalism of Democrats blinds them to the evils their political leaders have visited upon marginalized and vulnerable people outside canonical Democratic interest groups. But in other circumstances, when the other political tribe holds power, the political interests of the Democratic Party are more closely aligned with the indefinitely detained, and those targeted for death by drone, and whistleblowers, and so on, because exposing abuses by Republicans gives Democrats political capital. As for the Republicans, they have demonstrated over the past four years that they don't care about civil liberties, even human rights violations, even with a dread Democrat in office. My hope is that if Obama loses the election and Romney continues in his predecessor's steps toward greater tyranny and abuse-of-power--or even if he doesn't--then the Democrats will regain their moral footing. With Romney in office, Democrats will seek out those who have been victimized and provide them with greater means to seek redress.

But this is not an endorsement Romney, as that would be grotesque. I will be voting for Gary Johnson, for reasons I'll give in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. Paul,

    I got news for you, leftist politicians welcome the burgeoning police state and don't care about atrocities abroad. Remember what happened in the 20th century? Spying on its people and violating their civil liberties was the bread and the butter of the revolutionary left as it dominated Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia for much of that century. All that criticism of the Bush administration in this regard was purely cynical.

    Besides, Obama passed that "health care" bill a couple years ago, so it's all good except for principled malcontents such as yourself.

    Get over it and vote for the O!