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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Follow-up to the Bush post yesterday

(updated below)

There are numerous replies around the blogosphere to my post yesterday regarding the various dynamics characterizing the behavior of Bush followers. I’m replying here to as many of the serious and/or commonly voiced responses as I can. If any of the bloggers who responded think I’m neglecting to address or reply to some important point, I hope they will let me know:

(1) Most (though not all) of the responses were quite heavy on name-calling and extremely light on substantive replies to the actual points in the post. More notable than the unsurprising fact that the post prompted lots of name-calling is the specific name-calling insults that were chosen. Almost invariably, bloggers told their readers that what I wrote can be disregarded because I’m just a "leftist" and a "lefty" and a "liberal" spewing forth the "KosHuff" party line.

According to Rick Moran at Right Wing Nuthouse, for instance, my "writing is little more than a tired echo of what conservatives can read on a daily basis at Kos or any other lock-step lefty blog where Bush Derangement Syndrome reigns supreme." And at Little Green Footballs (more on it below), my post won the award for "Leftist Lie of the Day" and was held up as an example of "dishonest, ethically-challenged childish babbling that passes for leftist ‘debate’ in this modern age."

So, they label the argument and the person making it "leftist" and "liberal" and - presto! - no more need to address the arguments or consider its substance because it’s all been shooed away with one fell swoop of name-calling cliches.

I mention all of this because it illustrates what I think is an important point. I’ve been blogging for just over 3 months now. It’s almost certainly the case that the only views of mine that bloggers at LGF and RWNH know are, at most, my opposition to the Administration’s various theories entitling them to violate Congressional laws and my belief that the Administration manipulates terrorist threats for domestic political gain.

In other words, they don’t actually know my political views on most issues in controversy. All they know, at most, is that I am a critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to terrorism policies and the Administration's insistence that it need not abide by the law -- opposition which, in their eyes, is more than enough to qualify me as a "leftist" or "liberal" despite not knowing if I actually subscribe to liberal views on virtually any issue. Mere opposition to the Administration, by itself, is enough to qualify one as a "leftist" or "Liberal" – which, I do believe, was one of the principal points of my post:

It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based.

It is somewhat amazing to write a post describing this phenomenon only for Bush followers to deny its validity and, in doing so, provide such vibrant examples of exactly what I describing. They read the post and then rushed to dismiss what I wrote as coming from a "leftist" all because I criticized Bush and his followers. I suppose I should be grateful for the argumentative support.

(2) Moran at RightWing Nut House specifically objected to my claim that Andrew Sullivan has been excommunicated from the Church of Conservatism despite the fact that he still holds overwhelmingly conservative political views, strictly on the ground that he has become critical of George Bush (criticism which Sullivan often grounds in the fact that Bush’s actions are decisively un-conservative). In contesting this argument, Moran wrote:

But for Greenwald to posit the notion that Sullivan is no longer considered a conservative because of gadflies like Bozell is loony.

Ironically, Sullivan, shortly after Moran posted this, took the precise paragraphs quoted above (regarding how one becomes a "liberal" by virtue of criticizing George Bush) and made them the "Quote of the Day" on his site, concluding that my post "diagnos[es] the situation accurately."

Clearly, Sullivan is speaking from experience. Like so many others who have long identified as "conservative" and who hold conservative views on countless issues, he is now frequently described by Bush lovers as a "liberal," or worse, based exclusively on the fact that he is no longer blindly loyal to George Bush and is even sometimes critical of Bush's actions.

(3) One of the principal responses to the post was that it unfairly generalized Bush supporters. According to those advancing this objection, not all of them are blind loyalists to the Commander-in-Chief. Some conservatives support Bush only reluctantly and criticize him frequently on the ground that he is insufficiently conservative. This post by Mark Coffey is a good example of that objection.

I don’t disagree with this point. To the contrary, I would describe this point as being one of the principal prongs in my argument. There are conservatives who criticize Bush on a whole host of issues, either on the ground of ineptitude or because what Bush is doing is the very antithesis of conservatism. And they are treated as outcasts and traitors, and considered no longer to be real conservatives. That is one of the principal points of the post.

Here is an example of a kind of intellectually honest conservative I was describing, Matthew Regent, who explains his perspective in a comment here:

I'm a Republican and a conservative. I voted for Bush twice. I didn't want to the second time, but it was a two-horse race, and the other horse was Carter redux. I disapprove of Bush's job performance and have more than once been called a liberal or equivalent on conservative blogs as a consequence, despite my beliefs, which put me solidly in the moderate-conservative portion of the political spectrum.

I disapprove of Bush's presidency for a number of reasons, including fiscal recklessness, the misprosecution of the GWOT, the nationalization of issues like education and marriage, and general incompetence on the issues, from Katrina to Miers. Frankly, I don't think Bush is much of a conservative himself. I think he's a low-tax liberal who gets along with religious people at home and a Wilsonian abroad.

And yet when I say as much to many Bush supporters, I'm the one who is branded the liberal, the troll, etc. Bushism IS a personality cult.

The list of long-time conservatives who are the target of all sorts of attacks and decrees of excommunication when they criticize George Bush is long and growing, and if anything, my post was a defense of those conservatives rather than some claim that they do not exist. My post included multiple examples and there are countless more. The attacks don’t occur when they abandon conservatism. They occur when they dissent from the Bush Movement, which, in many -- I’d argue most -- cases, is not the same thing.

(4) None of the bloggers purporting to reply to the post addressed the fact that the arguments made by conservatives over the last three decades have been abandoned almost entirely and have been replaced by their precise antitheses -- all in order to justify George Bush’s conduct. The principal example used was the angry opposition to warrant-based FISA eavesdropping voiced by conservatives under the Clinton Administration, as compared to the stirring defense of warrantless, oversight-less eavesdropping now engaged in proudly by the Bush Administration.

But beyond that specific, quite revealing instance is the general disappearance of an anti-federal-government ethos. Principles of a restrained federal government and distrust of that government -- previously centerpieces of the conservative movement -- have been discarded like yesterday's trash in order to maintain praise of George Bush's actions and to maximize the powers and reach of the Federal Government now that Bush controls it.

Although no bloggers addressed this point, one commenter at Right Wing Nut House did, and in doing so, he illustrated that some things are beyond satire. Here is an excerpt from a satirical post by Dr. Biobrain purporting to disagree with what I wrote:

Sure, the current-day conservatives completely go against everything that they stood for before, but there's a perfectly good explanation for that: That was then, this is now. The conservative movement is nothing if not pragmatic, and simply because some liberals like Glenn are stuck in a pre-9/11 attitude concerning political ideologies is no concern to us. The conservative movement has moved on, and guys like Greenwald and Sullivan were simply left behind; flailing about like dying salmon.

Compare that with this Comment (number 10) at RWNH actually disagreeing with what I wrote:

As for your fallacious FISA complaint/argument, one small difference: war. While you were buying your overpriced yahoo during the new economy stupid and gutting the intelligence community, the evildoers (I want to make sure you know I am a Bush drone) metastasized. Then comes 9/11: it changed things you know? Well for
most of us at least.

That Bush supporters abandoned all of their anti-federal-government rhetoric the moment they got control of the Federal Government -- whereby there was no longer any such thing as an excessively powerful Federal Government -- can’t really be denied. So the only option available to them is to justify the fundamental reversal of their views once George Bush took office, and it really isn’t pretty to watch.

(5) Numerous people, both in the Comments section here and in blog replies to the post, raised the issue of conservative opposition to Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, claiming that it constitutes proof that Bush supporters are still capable of some independent thought. As I said in the comments section last night in reply to this point:

I don't believe that one instance of independent thought in five years proves or disproves much of anything. The fact that people cling tenaciously to this example as proof that there are residual flickers of independent thought left among Bush followers says alot in itself. I think and have argued that Bush followers are excessively loyal to their leader, not that they've been lobotomized into mind-controlled zombies of the type one sees in a science-fiction film.

But I will say this: one will see criticism of Bush when he doesn't defend the movement with sufficient vigor or extremity. If they perceive that the White House isn't attacking liberals with sufficient fervor, or that they're backing down and compromising too readily, they will urge a more resolute posture on behalf of themovement. That's all Harriet Miers was. They were unconvinced that she would be as reliably loyal as Bush thought she would be, and they wanted someone more reliable and dependable to the cause.

(6) Charles Johnson at LGF wrote a post calling me a "liar" and accusing me of engaging in a "cheap, sleazy, intellectually lazy smear" because I linked to his website when pointing out that some Bush followers advocate dropping nuclear bombs on Muslim countries. Johnson says that he personally never advocated any such thing and, therefore, I’m a "liar."

LGF is a site far more notable, and far more frequently noted, for the prevailing sentiments expressed by the hundreds of rabid, regular commenters who swarm together after each post than it is notable for the one or two sentences which Johnson writes which serves as a trigger for those comments. For that reason, a substantial portion of the references in the blogosphere to "LGF," at least the ones I read, reference the comments section rather than the short, banal observations which Johnson spits outs before cutting and pasting a news article on the latest act of Muslim violence.

One of Johnson’s favorite little shticks is to express outrage whenever anyone attributes the sentiments of his regular, loyal commenters to his site. Disassociating himself with his own commenters seems particularly urgent for him now, in light of the reports that national advertisers don’t want anything to do with LGF because of the extremists which frequent that site.

It is extremely common to refer to the posts and commentators at that site collectively when referencing "LGF." For that reason, I believe it was entirely clear in what I wrote that I was pointing out that the pro-nuclear-war view is commonly expressed on that site, not necessarily by the individual who writes a couple of sentences with each news article. If that wasn’t clear, I am making it clear now: I have seen numerous commentators at LGF, including regular ones, advocate the dropping of nuclear weapons on Muslim countries, but have never read Johnson advocating that.

There is, though, a grand hypocrisy here which I can’t ignore. Bloggers everywhere, including Johnson, do exactly the same thing with references to "Daily Kos." Almost universally, "Daily Kos" is used as a shorthand for a wide range of horribles, very few of them having anything to do with what has been written specifically by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, but is instead based upon sentiments expressed by some of the tens of thousands of participants at the Kos website.

Among pro-Bush bloggers, "Daily Kos" is used as a shorthand for the perceived prevailing orthodoxies in the Kos community, just as "LGF" is used far more to refer to the sentiments one regularly finds among the cesspool of LGF comments. Indeed, just among the comments in response to my post yesterday, one can see precisely this use of "Kos" to refer to the writings and comments of all participants rather than Markos himself. See, for example, here ("Greenwald’s writing is little more than a tired echo of what conservatives can read on a daily basis at Kos") and ("If Greenwald would read something besides the "me too" screeds on Kos and Atrios"); and here (I’m engaged in a "slow descent into HuffingKosLand").

The petulance of Johnson’s complaint is exceeded only by its hypocrisy. Johnson himself routinely attributes sentiments and opinions to "Daily Kos" which are expressed not by Markos, but by commenters and diarists on his site. See, for instance, here ("Daily Kos: 17th Street Levee Bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers," referring to a diarist on Kos); here ("It’s a Hitler-fest at Daily Kos!" -- referring to the views of a Kos diarist); here ("Daily Kos: Bush Responsible for French Riots"-- referencing a poll from a Kos diarist), and here ("Daily Kos: 'We Need ... Rivers of Blood,'" referring to a diarist on Kos). This list goes on and on, with Johnson attributing ideas to "Daily Kos" that have never been expressed by Markos, only by the commenters and diarists at that site.

So, to recap Charles Johnson’s ethical views of the world: Attributing ideas to "Daily Kos" which were written by Kos diarists and commenters and not by Markos -- something Johnson does with great frequency -- is perfectly acceptable and honest. But attributing ideas to "LGF" which were written with frequency by regular LGF commenters but not by Johnson is unacceptable, and doing so makes one a "liar."

UPDATE: If The New York Times gave me a pen and blank piece of paper and said that I could write any article I wanted to support my argument from yesterday, I would have written the article published today by Bush admirer Elisabeth Bumiller, entitled "An Outspoken Conservative Loses his Place at the Table" (h/t Devoman in Comments). It begins this way:


What happens if you're a Republican commentator and you write a book critical of President Bush that gets you fired from your job at a conservative think tank?

For starters, no other conservative institution rushes in with an offer for your analytical skills."Nobody will touch me," said Bruce Bartlett, author of the forthcoming "Impostor: Why George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." "I think I'm just kind of radioactive at the moment." . . .

Mr. Bartlett, a domestic policy aide at the White House in the Reagan administration and a deputy assistant treasury secretary under the first President Bush, talked last week at his suburban Washington home about his dismissal, his book and a growing disquiet among conservatives about Mr. Bush. . . .

He is unhappy, too, with the president's education and campaign finance bills and his proposal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, which many Republicans call a dressed-up amnesty plan. The book, to be published by Doubleday on Feb. 28, also criticizes the White House for "an anti-intellectual distrust of facts and analysis" and an obsession with secrecy.

"I haven't switched to the Democratic Party," he said. "I wrote this for Republicans."


The article details how Bartlett, after being fired, has been shunned by conservatives for his blasphemy in criticizing George Bush on the ground that Bush has governed contrary to conservative principles.

Of particular note is this:

"Bruce is really an exception, not the rule, in the degree and thoroughness of his discontent," said William Kristol, a conservative strategist and the editor of The Weekly Standard. "So I wouldn't make too much of it. On the other hand, one thing I've noticed giving speeches in the last couple of months is that conservatives remain pro-Bush, but the loyalty to the movement and the ideas is deeper than the personal loyalty now. Two years ago, Bush was the movement and the cause."

That would be leading neo-conservative light William Kristol saying exactly what I said yesterday which (when I said it) was supposedly an example of crazed leftist idiocy: namely, that "Bush was the movement and the cause." Now granted, Kristol is claiming that this has changed over the last couple of years, but Bartlett's plight negates that claim rather strongly, and the fact that Kristol himself acknowledges a conflating of George Bush with "the movement and the cause" ought to give honest Bush followers serious pause for thought. Although Kristol says it in his characteristically understated way, it's a pretty serious condemnation to say that George Bush the person became the cause for "conservatives."

UPDATE II: Jonah Goldberg contributes some characteristically thoughtful and provocative responses here and here (my argument is "objectively inaccurate and stupid" and "as for" me, he "couldn't care less"). Ironically, a little later on, he references the Bumiller article here without realizing that it negates every single "point" he made in response to my post.

UPDATE III: In an Update of his own, Jonah says in response to e-mail that he received that he never actually read my post, and that when he called my argument "objectively inaccurate and stupid," he meant only the 2 paragraphs excerpted by Andrew Sullivan. Isn't that a little bit like calling a movie "objectively inaccurate and stupid" based on a review of the movie in a newspaper or after watching only a 2-minute trailer? TBogg's archives, as I hope he'll point out, cover this situation far better than anything I could say.

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