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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

why I should have voted for Obama in 2008

I was originally going to write a post entitled "why I should have voted for Obama in 2008, why I hope Romney wins in 2012, and why I will nevertheless vote for Johnson", but it was getting a bit lengthy for a blog post, so I'm cutting it into thirds. Here is part 1. Stay tuned for the sequels.

In 2008 I was definitely rooting for Obama to win, for a number of reasons. First, I couldn't imagine a McCain presidency which did not involve bombing Iran, and quite possibly an invasion. The man was a national greatness conservative, a condition that includes among its symptoms a deeply held belief that war and sacrifice for a higher cause build character and foster, well, a greater nation, which is somehow deemed more important than the collective desires, ambitions, and lives of the individuals who happen to live within a nation's boundaries. But the danger of a belligerent McCain was not the only reason I had to vote for Obama: the candidate of hope and change really did emit civil libertarian rhetoric that was a breath of fresh air during the twilight of Bush's regime of torture and indefinite detention and wars of aggression. Candidate Obama said things like this:
When you suspend habeus corpus, which has been a principle dating before even our country -- it's the foundation of Anglo American law, which says very simply, if the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' and say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.' The reason you have that safeguard is because we don't always have the right person. We don't always catch the right person.

We may think this is Mohammed the terrorist. It might be Mohammed the cab driver. You may think it's Barack the bomb thrower. But it might be Barack the guy running for president. So the reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting. Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's unAmerican to abide by what the Founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years.
And this:
...some have been detained who have no connection to terror whatsoever. We've already had reports from the CIA and various generals over the last few years saying that many of the detainees at Guantanamo shouldn't have been there - as one U.S. commander of Guantanamo told the Wall Street Journal, "Sometimes, we just didn't get the right folks." And we all know about the recent case of the Canadian man who was suspected of terrorist connections, detained in New York, sent to Syria, and tortured, only to find out later that it was all a case of mistaken identity and poor information. 
In the future, people like this may never have a chance to prove their innocence. They may remain locked away forever. And the sad part about all of this is that this betrayal of American values is unnecessary.
Given this promising rhetoric, and the need to signal a firm renunciation of the Bush years, I think voting for Obama was the right thing to do. I think this even though I disagreed with candidate Obama plenty on economic policy. Throughout the 2008 +/- 1 years I had the sneaking suspicion that the health care reform bills under discussion were just monuments to corporatism, and I haven't moved far from that opinion now, even if I have even less confidence in my opinions on the subject now than I did then. Given my uncertainty about domestic economic policies, civil liberties and the body counts of foreign wars are just more important to me.

In 2008 I abstained from voting mostly out of sheer orneriness arising from the remnants of my undergrad-era non-voting anarcho-capitalism. I was no longer an anarchist by 2008, but I continued to abstain from voting because of the near impossibility of my vote ever deciding an election and, more importantly, out of a sense of contrarian self-importance. It is still true that my voting is roughly as likely to make a difference in an election as my spending the same time staring at a ceiling fan, but now I am at least open to the notion that voting--or at least telling people how I will vote and discussing why--is potentially worthwhile for signalling respect for civic norms (kinda like going through the wafer eating motions at communion). Voting--or, again, at least telling people how I'm going to vote, as the act itself is consequentially hollow--is also potentially a persuasive platform for promoting my values and policy preferences.

Now, after four years of Obama continuing the Bush agenda of creating the Unitary Executive, I'm glad I didn't vote for him. But I was right for the wrong reasons.