Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Erosion of Civil Liberties (III)

Lest I create the impression that it is just President Obama that is willing to "give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety," Congress just slapped him in the face over an actual attempt at making some progress on civil liberties. If the amendment had only stripped funding for Guantanamo-Illinois, that would be one thing. Maybe it could even be used as an excuse to not detain people indefinitely. But now congress wants to put a bunch of hoops in place for the executive to jump through when trying to resolve the issue of detainees in any way. In a time of "small government" rhetoric, where is the outcry at the routine way congress and this administration betray the ideals of this country in the name of the war on terror?

What's worse, Obama is being somewhat disingenuous on the issue of civil liberties. I previously pointed out how his rhetoric before he was actually governing has not matched his actions as president. Today, Spencer Ackerman points out how his current rhetoric is not matching his actions.

Via Twitter, Conor Friedersdorf challenged Matt Yglesias, as a member of the "establishment left," to do a better job of pushing back against this constant encroachment on civil liberties. He has a fair point. But the definition of "establishment left" is problematic. "Establishment Democrats" and "the left" are two different entities. As Adam Serwer pointed out, the left have been screaming about this. Democrats (and Republicans, it should go without saying) have been silent. Our leaders are failing us.

Does this mean that activists could be doing a better job? Certainly. One problem is that there isn't really a grassroots movement for this sort of thing. I'm not even sure it's possible to build one. Far too many people are fine with the loss of civil liberties when it overwhelmingly affects people with Arab/Muslim names. Wouldn't people throw a fit if "Howard Johnson" got thrown in prison for life without a trial because it was suspected that he was affiliated with some sort of white-supremacist group? Or would people be calling for him to be tortured in a CIA "black site" in the Washington Post?

This civil liberties erosion is a disturbing trend in our history. I suspect that it will eventually be looked upon as badly as the Alien and Sedition Acts passed under John Adams were.

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