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.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Today's tour around the world of the Bush follower

(updated below)

(1) Even in light of all the radical and tyrannical conduct pursued as part of the "War on Terror," I would have thought that most every American could agree that having Newt Gingrich re-write the free speech clause of the First Amendment -- really abolish it -- would be an idea so grotesque, stupid and dangerous that it would merit no debate. I was very wrong.

Gingrich followed up his speech last week calling for "a serious debate about the first amendment" so that we can "break up [the terrorists'] capacity to use free speech," with a new article that goes even further. Titled "The First Amendment is Not a Suicide Pact," Gingrich said that suspected terrorists should be "subject to a totally different set of rules" and called for "international rules of engagement on what activities will not be protected by free speech claims."

To defend his argument, Gingrich cited a Commentary article by former prosecutor and current National Review contributor Andy McCarthy, who expressly rejected the core principle of the First Amendment when urging, in essence, that there be a Free Speech Exemption for Islamist ideas:

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously put it in 1919, “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—[and] the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”

But does this self-correcting competition never end? Is everything, ultimately, relative—left forever to be weighed against everything else? Do we so lack confidence (except in the sacrosanct status of speech itself) that we are unable to say with assurance that some things are truly evil, and that advocating them not only fails to serve any socially desirable purpose but guarantees more evil?

Must our historical deference to opinion, however noxious, defer as well to a call to arms against innocents, or a call to destroy a form of representative government that protects religious and political freedom? May we not even ban and criminalize the advocacy of militant Islam and its métier, which is the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians?

In a TCS Daily column this week entitled "Why Newt is Right," Josh Manchester talked about all the bad things that would happen in the event that a nuclear bomb were detonated in Long Beach, California, and then expressly urged measures for "physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism" (h/t Instapundit the Libertarian, who promoted Manchester's anti-First-Amendment article).

As Terry Welch notes, if Bush followers are serious about criminalizing the advocacy of terrorism-promoting ideas, they should begin with many of their own political comrades, who specialize in violence-advocating rhetoric. And, as always, it is worth noting for those who favor free speech restrictions in other "benign" contexts: if you advocate the criminalization of ideas which you don't like (or which you believe are "dangerous"), you really have no ground to object to efforts to do the same thing (when applied to ideas that you do like or dislike less) by people like Gingrich, McCarthy, Manchester and Reynolds.

In any event, I ask this literally: are there any American values at all in which Bush followers and neocons actually believe -- any constitutional principles that are sacrosanct and whose violations they would oppose if undertaken in the name of fighting The Terrorists? It certainly doesn't appear so. They literally do not believe in "America" -- other than as a physical land mass.

(2) Ann Althouse yesterday: "calling your opponent stupid is incredibly lame... an admission that you have no substance."

Ann Althouse last week: "Glenn Greenwald is such an idiot. Am I supposed to respond to this foolishness? Glenn, you moron . . . , you disreputable slimeball? (And your writing is putrid.)"

Obviously, the interesting point here is not Ann Althouse. By itself, her observation yesterday that the treatment of Jose Padilla may have been justified by a fear that he would use his eyes to blink "coded messages" to The Terrorists says all that needs to be said about her, ever.

But a more general point here is worth making. It would just seem natural -- almost instinctual -- that before a person stands up publicly and says: "It is outrageous/disgusting/wrong/pathetic to engage in Behavior X," they would ask themselves: "Do I engage in Behavior X?" One would think they would do so because -- if for no other reason -- they would want to prevent others from so easily documenting their complete lack of integrity and credibility.

Yet it is truly amazing how many people do what Althouse did here -- namely, stridently condemn the exact behavior in which they routinely engage (one of the most common examples, of course, is the Bush follower who writes every day about how liberals are unpatriotic, traitorous, American-hating, subversive Friends of the Terrorists and then decries the lack of civility in political discourse or rails against the "Angry Left").

More baffling still, so often the hypocrisy is demonstrated not by some obscure, isolated behavior the person engaged in many years ago, such that they might reasonably have forgotten that they did it. Instead, the behavior which they flamboyantly condemn is very often behavior in which they very recently engaged and/or in which they repeatedly -- even routinely -- engage. As a result, just the most minimal amount of self-awareness ought to prevent them from so blatantly doing this -- or at least should cause them to define the behavior they are condemning in such a way so as to create a plausible argument that they don't do it.

Yet one can literally find examples this blatant every day, where someone spews the most self-righteous, vicious condemnations towards other people for doing exactly what the sermonizer routinely does. And it is genuinely difficult to understand how, in those cases, the sermonizer avoids the realization of what they're doing.

(3) If someone whose punditry you read regularly said this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, wouldn't you expect them to acknowledge error and explain what went wrong in their analysis, what they learned from it, etc? And if they failed to do so -- if, instead, they proceeded to pretend that they were right all along -- wouldn't you seriously question their judgment, reliability, and credibility?

That is really the question that applies to most of the nation's media figures and pundits (to say nothing of most of its politicians) who (a) cheered on the President's war in Iraq with multiple false and erroneous claims but (b) have never even acknowledged that fact, let alone accepted responsibility for it and retracted the very vicious and often personal accusations made against those who were right. Although the situation in Iraq has forced us to move somewhat closer to reality about what is taking place there, we are still living in a fantasy world when it comes to identifying exactly why we are in this predicament and who bears responsibility for it.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux courageously confronts (but, tragically, succumbs to) a temptation against which many of us battle everyday. As least in his failure, he makes several worthwhile points regarding the mindset of Bush followers with respect to basic liberties.

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