Sunday, June 9, 2013

But They Started It!

Another liberal friend passed along the above material on Facebook, from here.  I expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing from Obama devotees as the present uproar proceeds.  It's true, of course, that Obama's current practice is just a continuation of Bush's: I mentioned before that Senator Feinstein let the cat out of the bag right after the leaked orders were published, saying that it was just a routine renewal of an order that dated back several years. But the friend who linked to it made it clear that he had other things on his mind with this comment:
I'm against this program, but still, as [one of his Facebook friends] says, "Some shocking revelations aren't really new, they're just being recycled. What is new is that a black guy from the wrong party is in office."
That goes some way to explain the Republican attacks on Obama, of course, but it still shows a convenient historical amnesia.  When I challenged him on it, my liberal friend added in comments, "Funny how the outrage increases when the 'wrong' guy gets in."  It's also funny how the outrage decreases when the 'right' guy gets in.  My friend was indulging in tunnel vision here, referring only to Republican outrage.  Most liberal and 'progressive' Democrats who'd criticized the Bush-Cheney regime simply, suddenly, lost interest in civil liberties, privacy, wars of aggression, indefinite detention, obsessive government secrecy, torture, and such like when George Bush moved out of the White House and Barack Obama moved in.  For someone who basically got into the Oval Office by being not-Bush, Obama has been something of a disappointment.

But even that's not quite fair: liberal Democrats didn't lose interest in these matters, they became very interested in them, defending their Barack against his critics, exulting as he seized more and more power for the Executive Branch, insisting on the vital importance of secrecy and surveillance, and the like.  While racism does play a significant role in Republican hostility to Obama, it also plays a significant role in white liberals' defense of Obama.  Bill Clinton took some criticism from white liberals and progressives when he escalated government surveillance of the populace years before 9/11, perhaps more so because he wasn't black.  It took impeachment for the trope of Clinton as America's first black president to be used; while it was invented by an African-American writer, it was white Clinton supporters who ran with it.  It's likely that racism played a role in opposition to the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court too, but it also allowed elderly white Republican males to cast themselves as opponents of racism, giving lifetime tenure on the Court to one of the least qualified nominees in living memory.  Notice that it was my friend's friend, quoted above, who first invoked race on this issue.

My friend says he's "against this program," just as Obama devotees daringly declared that their President was in some ways a "disappointment" during the 2012 election campaign.  He doesn't seem terribly outraged about it, however.  After all, the Republicans are using it to attack the President, and they can't be allowed to get away with that.  The reason why NSA surveillance is getting this attention now is not that Republicans suddenly decided they could score political points with it.  It's because a whistleblower and Glenn Greenwald, whose outrage against these abuses has been consistent regardless of the party or the race of the incumbent, published previously secret documents that revealed the scope of the program.  The information is new, as far as the public is concerned.

It's not that the outrage over Obama's continuation of Bush's abusive policies is "recycled."  The outrage was there when Bush was in office, because he was the "wrong" guy for Democrats.  Democrats largely dropped their outrage when the same policies were taken over by the "right" guy for them. Race surely plays a role, but party is more important.  There were people who criticized Bush-Obama's policies on principle, but they didn't count: the Obama administration jeered at them, and Obama's sycophants chimed in happily.  And while it's not unfair to score Republicans for hypocrisy in their sudden concern about government surveillance, Democrats are not the people to do it.  They're just as guilty of selective outrage, and shouldn't be allowed to forget it.