“Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy” and Why Peaceniks Should Oppose Democrats



Glenn Greenwald is one of my very favorite writers, and my favorite left-liberal blogger hands-down. I am always reluctant simply to link to his newest post, but every single one is well worth reading. His newest on “Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy” demonstrates what separates him from most of the journalistic class, as well as from his ideological brethren. The occasion that inspired his newest is a recent Washington Post poll showing that a majority of self-described liberal democrats favor Obama’s policies of keeping the Guantánamo prison camp open, using drone warfare, and targeting citizens for assassination. Every line of his new article should be read, but here are some choice bits:

[I]s there even a single liberal pundit, blogger or commentator who would have defended George Bush and Dick Cheney if they (rather than Obama) had been secretly targeting American citizens for execution without due process, or slaughtering children, rescuers and funeral attendees with drones, or continuing indefinite detention even a full decade after 9/11? Please. How any of these people can even look in the mirror, behold the oozing, limitless intellectual dishonesty, and not want to smash what they see is truly mystifying to me. . . .

The Democratic Party owes a sincere apology to George Bush, Dick Cheney and company for enthusiastically embracing many of the very Terrorism policies which caused them to hurl such vehement invective at the GOP for all those years. And progressives who support the views of the majority as expressed by this poll should never be listened to again the next time they want to pretend to oppose civilian slaughter and civil liberties assaults when perpetrated by the next Republican President (it should be noted that roughly 35% of liberals, a non-trivial amount, say they oppose these Obama policies).

Greenwald also notes that Obama’s adoption of Bush-era terror policies has transformed them from controversial partisan policies into bipartisan ones accepted by all of mainstream America. Indeed, Democrats often get away with more assaults on civil liberties and egregious war measures exactly because the expectation is for them to be more dovish. Notice that no matter how aggressive Obama is, the Republican opposition accuses him of being too soft. That along with a liberal base willing to defend him even as he mimics Team Bush-Cheney creates a political condition whereby under the Democrats, policy has moved to the “right” on war and civil liberties questions. Obama’s doubling of immigrant deportations, ratcheting up the drug war, multiple wars in foreign countries, drone attacks on civilians, torturing a whistleblower, and vast expansion of the lawless detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base are just a few examples of how he has competed with or even surpassed the Republicans in those very areas where they are assumed to be more assertive with state power than are Democrats.

We see the same dynamics with economic intervention whenever the Republicans in charge. Obama did manage to push through an incredibly large stimulus program, although the financial collapse surely provided the political conditions for “emergency” economic measures no matter where they came from. He was also able to pass Obamacare, his most significant economic policy reform, and surely a very important one—although this came after more than a decade of liberal and moderate agitation for the U.S. to move toward some form of universal health care. In the end, Obamacare was no more radical than anything I expected to pass in this decade anyway. Key provisions, such as the individual mandate, guarantees of universal coverage, price caps, and rules about covering patients with pre-existing conditions, have been favored by Republicans for years, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Although Obamacare has a more leftist flavor than what a President McCain would have likely signed, it was nearly inevitably, given the political climate, that something more or less like it would pass under a Republican or Democratic President some time soon.

George W. Bush had a number of economic interventions and expansions of the welfare state that were similarly significant—the steel tariff, No Child Left Behind, a doubling of federal education spending, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, many billions in foreign aid to Africa, Medicare D, and of course TARP. Bush’s vast expansion of the domestic state occurred alongside his considerable war on terror policies, and was largely obscured by them. Yet the dynamic we see with Obama and war policies tended to transpire with Bush, although in reverse: Because conservatives and Republicans are associated with free-market economics and government inaction in the marketplace, his aggressive economic policies were ignored by the media, more-or-less tolerated by the conservative base, and failed to score points with partisan liberal Democrats. Just as conservatives claim Obama is soft on terror regardless of how much war he wages, liberals claimed Bush was a laissez-faire free marketer when he was anything but.

I oppose government intervention in the economy, attacks on civil liberties, and foreign wars. I consider them all important issues, but in our time and our country, I find the greatest threats to liberty to be coming in the form of foreign policy, the war on terrorism, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system. If I lived in Scandinavia or Canada or some socialist country, I’d surely find economics the most pressing concern. If I were to find economics most pressing in the United States, I would be tempted to favor the Democrats, since I think the Republicans get away with about as much in the way of interventions into the economy, but the debate is more heated and there is a greater chance of getting people to oppose social democracy when the current president is such a proud and failing champion of it. But since I consider war and civil liberties issues to be perhaps more pressing, I am tempted to favor the Republicans, since I think Democrats get away with about as much war and civil liberties violations, but at least there’s a debate about it when Republicans do it.

On the other hand, I have a long-term interest in both forms of statism—conservatism and modern liberalism—being discredited. Neither one will translate into peace or liberty in our country or for the world. In this light, both parties and dominant ideologies trouble me about equally, but both Republicans and Democrats in power come with a silver lining: They move us one day closer to the time when the public will realize that the whole system is rotten and any ideology that puts the state above individual rights, for any reason whatsoever, is morally bankrupt and spells practical disaster.

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