Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Liberals vs. Conservatives

Glenn Greenwald's latest article contrasts the criticisms President Obama has received from Liberals and the praise President Bush received from conservatives.
Whenever I would speak at events over the last couple of years and criticize the Bush administration's expansions of government power, extreme secrecy and other forms of corruption, one of the most frequent questions I would be asked was whether "the Left" -- meaning liberals and progressives -- would continue to embrace these principles with a Democrat in the White House, or whether they would instead replicate the behavior of the Right and uncritically support whatever the Democratic President decided. Though I could only speculate, I always answered -- because I believed -- that the events of the last eight years had so powerfully demonstrated and ingrained the dangers of uncritical support for political leaders that most liberals would be critical of and oppositional to a Democratic President when that President undertook actions in tension with progressive views.

Two months into Obama's presidency, one can clearly conclude that this is true. Even though Obama unsurprisingly and understandably remains generally popular with Democrats and liberals alike, there is ample progressive criticism of Obama in a way that is quite healthy and that reflects a meaningful difference between the "conservative movement" and many progressives.
I think there's a valid point here, but perhaps a few caveats need to be applied.

First of all, conservatives are naturally inclined to the great man theory of politics, because they don't believe in the power of Government to do good. Rather they think the Government that does the least is the best. In their minds, it takes a great man to really make Government work at all, and they become devoted to those man. Consider how regularly they accused the bureaucrats of sabotaging President Bush.

This also goes to what they see the job of the President, which is, in a nutshell, commander in chief. They are aware that he also oversees a vast executive bureaucracy, but, since they would like to see that bureaucracy destroyed, they don't consider that side of his job to be very important. What matters to them is protecting the American people.

Which ties into one of Greenwald's blind spots in a way. He obviously cares greatly about civil liberties and how the Bush administration took a hatchet to basic constitutional protections. And to conservatives, those are Bush's strong points. So their willingness to praise him when he was doing that kind of stuff; it's not like they were praising him in spite of his record on civil liberties. Rather they were praising him for casting aside our civil liberties.

So when you talk about their slavish devotion to President Bush, he's right, they were slavishly devoted to him on the issues of foreign policy and protecting the homeland. But a conservative can respond to this by saying "Yeah but we criticized him all the time on issues like growing the government or border protection." Which again is true but missing the point.

The bottom line is that the things the Bush government were doing should have been a problem to all Americans, conservative or liberal. The fact is, however, a significant number of Americans wanted President Bush to do exactly what he did.

Oh and if you are tempted to say "I sure haven't seen any liberals / progressives criticize Obama," kindly look around a bit before posting.

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