The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pathetic: (adj) sad, worthy of pity (see Charles Krauthammer)

Charles Krauthammer (hmm, he is aptly named me thinks) reveals his totalitarian tendencies.

Allow me to revel in his foolishness:

Setting Limits on Tolerance

Liberties should be as unlimited as possible -- unless and until there arises a real threat to the open society. Neo-Nazis are pathetic losers. Why curtail civil liberties to stop them? But when a real threat -- such as jihadism -- arises, a liberal democratic society must deploy every resource, including the repressive powers of the state, to deter and defeat those who would abolish liberal democracy.

Civil libertarians go crazy when you make this argument. Beware the slippery slope, they warn. You start with a snoop in a library, and you end up with Big Brother in your living room.


The problem with this argument is that it is refuted by American history. There is no slippery slope, only a shifting line between liberty and security that responds to existential threats.
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln went so far as to suspend habeas corpus. When the war ended, America returned to its previous openness. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt interned an entire ethnic group. His policies were soon rescinded (later apologized for) and shortly afterward America embarked on a period of unprecedented expansion of civil rights. Similarly, the Vietnam-era abuses of presidential power were later exposed and undone by Congress. Our history is clear. We have not slid inexorably toward police power.


No, we have not. But history also shows that each of these instances of abusive governmental power were shown to be far beyond the scope of what was necessary at the time. We imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry and Japanese nationality during the Second World War -- almost all of whom were innocent of any crime and who loved their country dearly -- in fact, they sent their sons to die in the same war that involved their incarceration. The interment was unmerited and secured us little extra safety. And it cost the country billions years later in reparations. The problem civil libertarians have with restrictions on civil liberties is that those who call for them tend to enthusiastically want to curtail liberties far beyond the actions which might pose a threat to the state.

Krauthammer goes on to display his appalling dim-wittedness.

You need only read Tony Blair's 12-point program to appreciate how absurd was his wife's defense of Britain's pre-7/7 civil liberties status quo.

For example, point 3: "Anyone who has participated in terrorism, or has anything to do with it anywhere, will be automatically refused asylum in our country." What sane country grants asylum to terrorists in the first place?

Well, that would be the US which allowed a known terrorist involved in anti-Castro activities to freely roam the streets of Florida.

The problem with much of Krauthammer's argument is that the measures he links to his argument that we need to restain civil liberties when under threat involve little to do with civil liberties. Some of the Blair points he ridicules have nothing to do with civil liberties -- such as the failure to extradite Sheikh Omar Bakri for his involvement in the Paris metro bombings or the tolerance of muslims who practice bigotry. This is a common instance of the Right's tendency to distract with the left hand while they rob you with the right. "Let's dangle these specious arguments having nothing to do with our point to justify curtailments of civil liberties" -- real rights that pose little threat to the state -- such as what books you read or if you plan to protest at a presidential event.

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