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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Libertarians” For a Torture State

As Andrew Levison argued in his post last night on the ideological character of “tea party” participants, it’s not so easy to attach a convenient and internally consistent label to many people.
If that’s true of tea party participants, it’s doubly true of those gabbers who simultaneously shriek at Barack Obama for allegedly building a police state and for dismantling the extralegal system of detainee warehousing and interrogation, as he promised he would during the 2008 campaign. And indeed, the complete lack of inhibition with which many on the Right have defended the use of torture provides a good warning sign against hasty judgments that the GOP is moving in a “libertarian” direction.
The best example, as it happens, is the rising star of conservative media, Fox’s Glenn Beck. Here’s what that self-styled populist libertarian had to say last September (long before this became a talking point for most on the Right) about Barack Obama’s interest in expanding national and community service opportunities:

We’ve heard about this national service corps, haven’t we? Universal voluntary public service. When Michelle Obama said he’ll never allow you to sit idly by again, he will never allow you to be unengaged. What does that mean? Universal voluntary public service, a national service corps. Quoting from the story: Our alumni from Public Allies are more than twice as likely as 18 34 year olds to engage in protest activities. Public Allies boasts in a document found with its tax filings. It has already deployed an army of 2,200 community organizers like Obama to agitate for “Justice and equality” in his hometown of Chicago and other U.S. cities including Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Washington. Cincinnati recruit Amy Vinson said, “I get to practice being an activist and I get paid for it.” The Obamas’ plan is to herd American youth into government funded reeducation camps where they will be brainwashed into thinking that America is a racist, oppressive place in need of social change.

And here’s Beck on efforts to reign in the power of an executive branch with extralegal and extraconstitutional powers to dispose of detainees as they wish:

I’m sick and tired of the spineless weasels who’ve never fought a war or run a business but keep trying to tell people how to fight wars and run businesses.
Let’s be clear: The president has to make decisions that most people don’t even want to think about. Do you know if waterboarding is torture? The president must. He has to make the tough calls and then the people who actually fight wars need to be left alone to do their job and stand by what they’ve done, no matter what the consequences.

Now I understand that it is possible to favor an extremely weak state in domestic matters while supporting a snarling, aggressive national security structure that dishes out hell to “enemies” or to foreigners generally. But it’s not so easy to maintain that position when the supervisors of said snarling national security structure, the president and vice president of the United States, are consistently suggesting that national security in the post-9/11 age requires the power to disregard all laws, domestic and international, and the constitution itself, whenever they deem it necessary, up to and including their treatment of U.S. citizens.
That’s why most actual libertarians dislike the Torture State as much as they dislike the Welfare State. It was no surprise when 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr hailed the president’s quick reversal of Bush detainee policies in January:

Barr, long a critic of steps taken by the former administration of George W. Bush to undermine civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights by, among other things, conducting electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens in their own country without court order and without any evidence of wrongdoing, said he “hopes these steps taken by the new president will be followed by further actions reestablishing the rule of law and respect for our Constitution that has been dramatically and unnecessarily eroded over the past seven years of the preceding administration.”

Maybe some readers think it’s a waste of time to adjudge people like Glenn Beck according to any sort of standard of reasonableness or self-consistency, in that he is self-evidently nuts. But in reasoning with people who watch the man, it is helpful to note that there is a rather dramatic difference between a consistent and principled opposition to state power in both domestic and international arenas, and a violent hostility to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party that is expressed in patently self-contradictory ways. Nothing but “opportunist” can serve as an adequate label for those who barely pause between describing the president as a swaggering would-be jackbooted fascist and calling him a wimp who weeps at the thought of terrorists feeling pain.

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