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Mar 31 2011

Unopposed hypocrisy

I am what libertarians would describe as a ‘statist’. I believe that the government can and should play an active role in maintaining the stability of the society, as well as being actively involved in the economy. Of course, the word ‘statist’ has a bunch of other baggage that doesn’t apply to me at all, and I certainly have some libertarian leanings that my more liberal brethren disagree with, but suffice it to say I am not in favour of a completely hands-off approach to governing, nor do I necessarily think that the private sector will do a better job than the public sector in controlling costs or delivering high-quality services.

The only way that the democratic process can work well for the people is if there is a strong and effective opposition. The government’s interests should be to best represent the people, but as history shows us, it tends to become self-serving. Regular elections help balance that out, but an effective opposition can bring light and voter attention to issues that might otherwise escape notice. In the absence of a powerful opposition, or when the opposition has power but cannot wield it effectively, the government has a free hand to indulge in its favourite pastime: soul-crushing corruption and hypocrisy.

US state department spokesman PJ Crowley has resigned from his post following controversial comments involving the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The news on Sunday came three days after Crowley was reported to have criticised the Pentagon’s treatment of detained US soldier Bradley Manning. Crowley said the defence department’s handling of Manning, who is accused of leaking thousands of confidential US documents to WikiLeaks, was “stupid” and “counterproductive”.

So… let’s get this straight. A non-violent, non-enemy military person leaks non-mission-critical information to a journalistic outlet that makes the info available to the world. That person is locked in a maximum-security prison, deprived of his civil rights, humiliated and held without trial. This, according to the Obama administration, is in no way cause for anyone to be fired. Despite repeated violations of the constitution and basic decency, there are no deleterious consequences for the way in which Manning is being treated.

Someone within the administration voices a perfectly reasonable criticism of this atrocity, and he’s pushed out. Someone, incidentally, with years of experience in a time when experienced state officials are sorely needed. And the rabbit hole of hypocrisy and self-immolation doesn’t stop there:

Of course, it’s also the case in Barack Obama’s world that those who instituted a worldwide torture and illegal eavesdropping regime are entitled to full-scale presidential immunity, while powerless individuals who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing and illegality are subjected to the most aggressive campaign of prosecution and persecution the country has ever seen. So protecting those who are abusing Manning, while firing Crowley for condemning the abuse, is perfectly consistent with the President’s sense of justice.

Also, remember how one frequent Democratic critique made of the Right generally and the Bush administration specifically was that they can’t and won’t tolerate dissent: everyone is required to march in lockstep? I wonder how that will be reconciled with this.

This, from a Republican president, would be a not-so-shocking example of executive overreach. From a Democratic president who campaigned on changing the way politics is done in America, this is a disgusting betrayal not only of the trust of those who voted for him, but of liberal democratic principals and basic human decency.

So where, pray tell, is the outrage over this issue? Where are the Republicans to stand up for the constitution, for civil rights, for open and transparent government? Oh right, the Republicans are more concerned over stripping the rights of workers to stand up to their employers and the rights of women to sexual self-determination to bother with something as trivial as the rule of law.

An effective, well-coordinated and disciplined political opposition is crucial to the health of a democratic state. No matter who is in power, she/he will invariably become corrupt and begin abusing her/his power. A political opposition provides a check on that power, to ensure that corruption is exposed. When your opposition is completely incompetent, then the interests of absolutely nobody are represented, and everyone loses.

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