The danger of Democratic hypocrisy

In societies that are governed by laws, there are certain assumptions that we take for granted. It is supposed to be the case that a person is assumed to be innocent unless proven to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or by a preponderance of evidence (depending on the nature of the charge), with the verdict being arrived at as a result of processes that are carried out with transparency and proper respect for the rights of the accused. Another feature is that every effort must be made to bring the suspect to justice, with proportional force being used when the accused resists such attempts. Hence deadly force should be used only in cases where the accused uses deadly force to resisting arrest.

Of course, the Obama administration has thrown these niceties out the window. They have used deadly drone force to kill many innocent people in far-flung countries without any serious attempt to capture them. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has done excellent work tracking the numbers killed, including the many civilians and children. It also exposed the use by the CIA of the deadly and despicable ‘double-strike’ tactic (much favored by the terrorists we are supposedly fighting) of having a first strike and then targeting the rescuers and later the funerals for a second strike, presumably to get the ‘sympathizers’. The US media are too busy to do this job because they are investigating whether Obama actually shoots skeet.

But few Americans care about dead foreigners, especially if they are poor Muslims in rural areas of distant countries. Out of sight, of mind, as the saying goes. But there has been some concern about the killing of three Americans by drones without even bringing charges against them and even when those persons were not actually using deadly force to resist apprehension. The administration has use the most brazen of rationalizations for their actions. (See also this Tom Tomorrow cartoon.)

Some Democrats and liberals, who were outraged when the administration of George W. Bush carried out extra-legal actions of this sort, have defended these measures because they think Obama is good and wise and they trust him to do these things. Many Republicans are of course quite happy to see Obama continue Bush-type policies of disregarding the law since they feel it vindicates them. Glenn Greenwald argues that there is not much difference in the kinds of leader-worship practiced by the Republican and Democratic faithful.

To many conservatives, Bush could and should be trusted to exercise extreme powers in the dark because he was a Good evangelical Christian family man with heartland cowboy values. To many progressives, Obama can and should be trusted because he’s a Good sophisticated East Coast progressive and family man with urbane constitutional scholar values. It’s lowly reality TV viewing and rank cultural tribalism masquerading as political ideology.

Matt Taibbi points to the extraordinary depths that people will descend to in defending the drone killings, singling out one argument made by Michael Kugelman, who is the Senior Program Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C, (i.e., a ‘serious’ person) who argues that the number of innocent children killed by drone attacks is less than those killed by measles or contaminated water so why aren’t critics protesting loudly about those? Kugelman’s point seems to be that the hidden motive of critics of the drone program is simple anti-Americanism,

One encounters this kind of diversionary tactic all the time by ardent defenders of the indefensible, that there is something else somewhere in the world that is worse and so critics should either shift their focus to those things or be considered hypocrites or ideologues. These arguments come in statements of the form “More people die in car crashes than die in gun violence so we should be talking about auto safety and gun control” and “Women suffer greatly from inequalities in many countries in the developing world so the inequalities women face in the US are not important” or “Why are you criticizing Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians when the Syrian government is doing much worse?”. One should never rise to this bait. An injustice is an injustice and people have every right to criticize any injustice anywhere without having to defend why they are not focusing on others.

Greenwald also takes apart the argument that Obama’s actions are at least justifiable because the majority of Americans support them. He says that such people have the cause-and-effect sequence backwards. Obama is not taking these actions because the public supports them but that the public started supporting them once he started doing them.

In particular, whenever the two political parties agree on a policy, it is almost certain that public opinion will overwhelmingly support it. When Obama was first inaugurated in 2009, numerous polls showed pluralities or even majorities in support of investigations into Bush-era criminal policies of torture and warrantless eavesdropping. That was because many Democrats believed Obama would pursue such investigations (because he led them to believe he would), but once he made clear he opposed those investigations, huge numbers of loyal Democrats followed their leader and joined Republicans in opposing them, thus creating majorities against them.

Obama didn’t refrain from investigating Bush-era crimes because public opinion opposed that. The reverse was true: public opinion supported those investigations, and turned against them only once Obama announced he opposed them. We see this over and over: when Obama was in favor of closing Guantanamo and ending Bush-era terrorism policies, large percentages supported him (and even elected him as he advocated that), but then once he embraced those policies as his own, large majorities switched and began supporting them.

Progressive willingness to acquiesce to or even outright support Obama’s radical policies – in the name of partisan loyalty – is precisely what ensures the continuation of those policies. Obama gets away with all of this because so many progressives venerate leader loyalty and partisan gain above all else.

This is why I am always deeply suspicious of any policy that has the blessings of bipartisanship, that Holy Grail of politics that all the beltway pundits venerate.

Tom Tomorrow has a cartoon demonstrating this feckless attitude of the die-hard Obama worshipper. What is depressing is that I have had actual conversations with people like the ones that Sparky the penguin has.


  1. says

    That people see a major difference between the two branches of the plutocratic political party that rules the US is just proof that propaganda works. Unfortunately, many of us already knew that and didn’t need the additional demonstration.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    While I certainly agree in general about the drone strikes, I think that Greenwald’s take on their popularity is wishful thinking. Most Americans are totally down with killing “scary” foreign people, Obama or no Obama, and are not interested in asking any questions. We need to face squarely the fact that that’s the kind of country we are, and have been for a long time. But the enthusiastic acquiescence of so many progressives who should know better certainly makes this depressing situation even harder to change.

  3. says

    The one that really gets me is when people who are unconcerned about US use of drones elsewhere are deeply concerned that the US police might use drones domestically to interfere with their marijuana supply.

  4. says

    As a Canadian I do wonder how American’s would feel if we say blew up a criminal operation on the boarder (a meth house say? ) and then double tapped that a few minutes later.

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