In Which James Fallows Becomes A Conservative (And Misses The Point) – With Bonus Toby Keith Reference

James Fallows engages in a little goodnatured conservative-bashing in his column in the Atlantic today, and inadvertently touches on a point that’s genuinely interesting:

The TSA case, on which Douthat builds his column, is in fact quite a poor illustration — rather, a good illustration for a different point. There are many instances of the partisan dynamic working in one direction here. That is, conservatives and Republicans who had no problem with strong-arm security measures back in the Bush 43 days but are upset now. Charles Krauthammer is the classic example: forthrightly defending torture as, in limited circumstances, a necessary tool against terrorism, yet now outraged about “touching my junk” as a symbol of the intrusive state.

But are there any cases of movement the other way? Illustrations of liberals or Democrats who denounced “security theater” and TSA/DHS excesses in the Republican era, but defend them now? If such people exist, I’m not aware of them — and having beaten the “security theater” drum for many long years now, I’ve been on the lookout.

See, I see it differently (and I’m not talking about whether conservatives or liberals are more consistent in the way that Fallows is describing). In my view, the issue is simple. Liberals care most of all about “justice as fairness,” so the idea of targeting people or treating one class of people differently than others – whether because they are worse (more dangerous in this context) or better (less dangerous) – makes them uncomfortable. Conservatives feel uncomfortable with that notion of justice, and instead see justice as the (deserved) heaping of badness on wrongdoers. See liberal bete-noir Toby Keith:

Well a man come on 6 o’clock news
Said, “Somebody been shot, somebody’s been abused
Somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car
Somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far”
Yeah, they didn’t get too far

Grand pappy told my pappy back in my day son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he’d done
Take all the rope in Texas find a tall oak tree
Round up all of them bad boys, hang them high in the street
For all the people to see

That justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
And we’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against Evil forces singing
Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

If you’re nodding your head in approval, you’re probably a conservative. If you’re shaking it in disgust…probably not.

That distinction is the consistent one that runs through the security commentary I read (and I read a lot of it). Mapping whether they approve/disapprove of the latest farce from the TSA, and whether their approval changes with the political winds, is certainly interesting – but in the end kind of useless if what’s being shown is the distinction between being a good AYSO coach and a good Texas Ranger.
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22 thoughts on “In Which James Fallows Becomes A Conservative (And Misses The Point) – With Bonus Toby Keith Reference”

  1. I’ve come to think of the liberal-conservative dichotomy as being at least partly about differences in what one gives primacy to: justice, or liberty. To my eyes, a great many of the issues that energize liberals have to do with social justice and remedying inequities, while for conservatives the issues that get them moving often have to do with liberty and freedom.

    There’s exceptions, to be sure – Glenn Greenwald comes to mind as a progressive who writes mainly about freedom with his focus on torture and imprisonment – but I’ve found this to be a useful meme generally. Since the TSA issue doesn’t seem to have much to do with social injustice, it isn’t surprising that its not nearly as big a point of outrage on progressive sites as on conservative ones. If there’s a shift towards profiling, though, we can expect that to change quickly.

  2. _”Liberals care most of all about “justice as fairness,” so the idea of targeting people or treating one class of people differently than others”_

    You left out one critical caveat- the liberal intelligentsia believe in equal treatment for all, but _with the exception of themselves and others they consider elite or like minded._ Liberals are ok with the full prison patdown… but if Harry Reid or Ben Bernake are treated differently that’s ok. This also follows with the victimhood hierarchy- no-one should ever be allowed to block the doorways of a polling place with a nightstick, but if a black panther member does it its ok. In fact both sides favor selective treatment, however conservatives believe it should be based on behavior and history, while liberals believe it should be based on politics and cultural stature. You tell me which one is scarier.

  3. _but with the exception of themselves and others they consider elite or like minded_

    I strongly disagree. This is not a ‘liberal’ thing, it’s a people in power thing. I do not want Harry Reid or Ben Bernake treated differently… in fact, I would think it would aid politicians innumerably if they were forced to live in the ‘real’ world.

    It’s also seen often a partisan thing. Newt Gingrich’s quest to shame Clinton for adultery, while he himself was having an affair. Palin thinks someone should be fired for using the r-word, but defends the right to use the n-word. Aren’t the circumstances nearly identical?

    _but if a black panther member does it its ok_

    Oh boy. Here comes a tangent.
    1) I have not heard anyone say a black panther has the right to intimidate anyone at a polling station. I strongly disagree with ANY polling intimidation.
    2) Last I checked, not a single person has come forward to say they were intimidated.
    3) The person who carried a nightstick has an injunction against them and cannot legally be within 100 yards of a polling station
    4) Given the low history of success with voter intimidation cases in court, and the lack of evidence of misconduct presented, this case was almost certain to fail. This was not about ‘special treatment’, it’s about whether the treatment would be effective in solving the problem.
    (Rant over, back to the post)

    I do have a fear of ‘zealous justice.’ There are many cases where prosecutors have been so convinced of guilt that they ignored, falsified, or lied under oath to convict an innocent. Just look through the roles of the innocence project to see examples of this.

    Not only was the innocent punished by this, but the guilty got away. Double Whammy.

    I see the same truth in the issue of racial profiling. Even Israel doesn’t do racial profiling, because it often results in missed targets set up to bypass a racial system. The real problem is not the ‘fairness’, it’s the effectiveness.

    So in that way, I guess I’m happy that our system is ‘fair’. But our current system is not-effective either, which makes the whole point moot anyway.

  4. _”This is not a ‘liberal’ thing, it’s a people in power thing.”_

    This is true, but as liberals champion the expansion of government power, this amounts to the same thing.

    _”1) I have not heard anyone say a black panther has the right to intimidate anyone at a polling station. I strongly disagree with ANY polling intimidation.”_

    Which of course all hinges on what your definition of is is. If standing in the doorway of a polling place in military fatigues brandishing a baton _isn’t_ an attempt at intimidation, it begs the question of what is.

    _”2) Last I checked, not a single person has come forward to say they were intimidated.”_

    Just like Ol Bull Connor used to say. Come ask our blacks how they like it here, they’ll tell you there aint no racism, (i’ll see to that). Should it really be surprising that in a 99% democratic district the 1% that might vote Republican wouldn’t be crazy about announcing that in public… particularly considering armed black panthers are apparently wandering the neighborhood?

    _”3) The person who carried a nightstick has an injunction against them and cannot legally be within 100 yards of a polling station”_

    False. The person who carried the nightstick has an injunction not to approach 100 yards of a polling place _with a weapon, in the city of Philadelphia, for the next 3 years._ After that he is apparently welcome to return with his nightstick.

    _”4) Given the low history of success with voter intimidation cases in court, and the lack of evidence of misconduct presented, this case was almost certain to fail. This was not about ‘special treatment’, it’s about whether the treatment would be effective in solving the problem.”_

    Oh good lord… how many cases are caught on video and appear on youtube? Lack of evidence indeed. If this isn’t enough evidence I would ask what would be enough?

  5. Which, to come full circle, leads me to ask what the liberal reaction would be to a white man in fatigues brandishing a nightstick in the doorway of a polling place making racial comments?

    Obviously, this would be considered a serious offense. Which demonstrates my point- its not the act that liberals are interested in, but who his performing it and why. That isn’t a system of justice, its a system of political calculation.

  6. _what the liberal reaction would be to a white man in fatigues…Obviously, this would be considered a serious offense._

    I didn’t say it wasn’t serious. I said it wasn’t prosecutable. That’s a BIG difference. And if no one claims that they were personally threatened or intimidated, it’s even more difficult to demonstrate in court. The guy on one video talks the “assailant” at length. Clearly not intimidated.

    All intimidation cases rest on very shaky ground. See the abortion rights battles and how hard it is to prosecute someone even for threats at HOME against individuals. These are not simple cases.

    _how many cases are caught on video and appear on youtube?_

    I don’t know, I’ve never looked. What proof of intimidation do they show? The videos I’ve seen show people walking directly past the man and voting. To prosecute you’re going to need threats, harassment, signs of intimidation ect. I haven’t seen any of that (yet)

    I’ve had problems finding stats on this, but apparently voter intimidation is notoriously difficult to prosecute (Black or White) leading to only a handful of arrests over the last 50 years. As such, prosecutors typically settle for minor tickets, loitering charges, injunctions, etc.

    Now I completely disagree with the political handling of the case. That being said, it appears that the man had no discernible effect on voters who passed. If a white man doing the same thing had the same effect, I would also consider it something to watch, but not a dire threat to our liberty.

    A second note: If this were an organized protest and not a single polling station, I’d also be more worried.

    Last note: If we, as a nation, want to ban the personal use of any potential weapon near polling stations, I would be completely fine with that. But at this moment, it’s only against the law to ENTER a polling station with a weapon… part of the difficulty of prosecution.

  7. _”mark – but that (the voting intimidation case) fits into my model; the plain fact is that African-Americans have a long history of being intimidated and kept from voting, so to be fair, it’s OK to let them do some minor intimidating of their own.”_

    How does the above square with _’the idea of targeting people or treating one class of people differently than others’… ‘makes them uncomfortable.’_ It clearly _doesn’t_ make them uncomfortable, so long as the ‘correct’ class is being targeted.

    Alc- your making a legal argument which i’m certainly not equipped to engage. However I would point out that it was the long term justice department lawyers that brought this case and (despite the apparent lies claiming the contrary, given the now disclosed documentation) it was the Obama political appointees that killed the case… according to the testimony of two decorated case workers the message was clearly sent that the case was being dropped specifically because of the racial component, per the request of those political overseers. Whether that is true is open to question, but it would appear incontrovertible that their WAS a coverup of the involvement of the political appointees in any capacity.

  8. Are there any exceptions to your
    Liberal = Evil …

    You bet. Shakespeare furnishes one in Henry V:

    A largess universal like the sun –
    His liberal eye doth give to every one

    I think this is the only known exception, though.

  9. I don’t know Toc, but are your fists getting itchy beating on those straw men so hard?

    Did I equate political calculation with evil? Did I equate hypocrisy with evil? Did I equate the philosophical belief in the desirability of centralized power with evil?

    Or are you projecting?

    I don’t believe liberalism is evil. I believe some of its cherished beliefs inevitably result in bad things without consummate results. I certainly don’t believe liberals are evil. I believe they are misguided. I also believe that their philosophy on the consolidation of power in the hands of government is certain to promote hypocrisy and classism by its nature. Conservatives and libertarians (especially) are equally subject to this, but their philosophy is to limit the consolidation of power (at least fiscally) and naturally limit this corruption. I believe that the core ideology of liberalism is one of equality over meritocracy, and hence in its very fabric is bound up in picking winners and losers, be it via race, class, etc. I reject this, not because it is evil, but because i fundamentally disagree with it, and believe it will inevitably fail at its goals.

    And for the record, there are many things mainstream conservative that I find at least as equally objectionable, particularly socially. For that matter the hypocrisy of republicans on gorging on government pork makes me even sicker, as ideologically they claim to know better.

  10. That is, conservatives and Republicans who had no problem with strong-arm security measures back in the Bush 43 days but are upset now.

    Or it could just be that under the Bush 43 administration what constituted a “strong-arm security measure” was not being allowed to bring a tube of toothpaste on an airplane whereas today passengers get to choose between either submitting to a fully body scan or being groped in their private areas by a TSA employee.

  11. toc3 –

    In the unlikely event that Sarah Palin drives George Bush out of the Republican Party, what the hell do you care?

  12. toc3 –

    You’re the one raving about liberals instead of answering my question. You constantly wail like Niobe over the alleged carcass of the Republican Party, about which you can’t find one thing to say that Keith Olbermann hasn’t already said. I would think you’d be glad to be rid of the beast, after all the heartbreak it has caused you.

  13. _”Look at where this is taking us.”_

    Says the guy who has spent the last eight years _railing_ against the scary Neocons. I guess we all have our boogymen.

    Here’s the thing, while I do believe there is plenty of common ground for all political stripes to drive out our entrenched political class, I also believe there are enormous substantive differences in philosophy between left and right that _must_ be hashed out before our nation hits a fiscal black hole that there is no escaping from.

    I’m all for dialog and trying to distill down ideas past talking points, but lets not kid ourselves that there is some grand compromise between where the left and right are willing to countenance to fix this gigantic, long term nightmare of debt we’ve been ignoring for so long.

    In the meantime, seems to me that the R party has never been stronger since infused with the Teaparty and attempting to make those who call themselves republicans actually stand for something in the planks. I’ll tell you this- if the old guard you seem so enchanted with perpetuate the old go along get along that have gotten us into this mess, those libertarian/Tea-partiers aren’t going to sit idly by. They _will_ either burn the party down or jump ship and go third party, knowing full well the implications of that.

  14. “I didn’t say it wasn’t serious. I said it wasn’t prosecutable.”!!!!

    The DOJ won the case by default. The defendents did not appear in court. The DOJ later declined to continue.

  15. mark – but that (the voting intimidation case) fits into my model; the plain fact is that African-Americans have a long history of being intimidated and kept from voting, so to be fair, it’s OK to let them do some minor intimidating of their own.

    In this case, the Administration clearly stepped in it; while I agree with most of the liberal commentators that the incident in and of itself was minor theatre, the political optics of how it was treated are terrible, and send a clear message that – as many of my more progressive friends have told me over the years – “minorities can’t be racist” by definition.

    Racism in that model isn’t treating people badly because of skin color; it’s only the use of the power of the majority to exclude the minority.

    Marc

  16. Mark,

    Are there any exceptions to your
    Liberal = Evil
    Conservative = Righteous
    Dogma?

    Are there any gray areas in these equations or are they pretty much articles of faith in your way of thinking?

  17. I asked a legitimate question and got a legitimate answer. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut about TV, he said he thought it was a marvelous invention because it was able to distill Humans into two types, liberals and conservative.

    I believe I am now watching the destruction of the Republican Party due to the facileness and vacuousness of those types of demonizing stereotypes. RINO is now simply another code word for Liberal. I read what Ex Senator Danforth said about the demonizing of Senator Lugar today and I had to agree with him.

    http://news.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=lugar+danforth

    If stuff like this and the class warfare Sarah Palin is waging against people like the bushes is going to continue, who is left in the party? My question to you was to make that point.

    Look at where this is taking us.

  18. Is this the Question?

    In the unlikely event that Sarah Palin drives George Bush out of the Republican Party, what the hell do you care?

    Well first of all I will care a lot. Graciously answering your facetiousness. The point was, as you know, what the fate of the Party is when even someone like Lugar is considered what? a RINO? Liberal? or Bush 1 and his wife out of touch bluebloods by someone, as far as I can see has done next to nothing in comparison to both Lugar and President Bush.

    you don’t have really anything to say about that because you are a basketball player, ie. someone eho is only interested in scoring points.

    Where does it end? with a bunch of true believers. where does it end with a cult of true believers picking one another off becuse one or the other is not pure enough.

    This is what I mean when I say Look at where this is taking us.

  19. I haven’t railed against Scary Neocons, I have railed against ignorant, naive, Wilsonian Neocons, who tried to foist off Empire Building fairy tale as a Foreign Policy. Have you noticed that nobody even mentions them today?

    Also thank you for answering where you think this is going to take the Party. Mazel Tov. Have fun burning down the house. by the way, while your at it why not suggest that the Tea Party rename it self the Weathermen, because under your vision for the party, that is exactly where they are headed.

    By the way, does Lindsy Graham have a place in the Party, now that we are attacking Bush 1 and Lugar?

    BTW, thanks for telling me that we had economic and fiscal problems, I hadn’t noticed.

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