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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

John Hinderaker wrote a post at Power Line entitled “Criminalizing Conservatism” in which he claims “Many liberals don’t just want to defeat conservatives at the polls, they want to send them to jail. Toward that end, they have sometimes tried to criminalize what are essentially policy differences.”

His evidence for this:

President Obama hinted at another step in that direction when he said today that he is open to the idea of bringing criminal charges against the Justice Department lawyers who wrote opinions to the effect that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods could legally be used on al Qaeda detainees.

Ok, so let me get this straight: to Hinderaker, “conservative” is somehow directly linked to “harsh interrogation methods”? This is a rather odd position. It reminds me of the bizarre identification by some right-ward bloggers with the DHS’s memo about potential right-wing extremism (indeed, some have gone so far as to fully embrace the moniker, which is utterly bizarre IMHO).

I can understand, at least in principle, why Hinderaker might be concerned with “The idea of prosecuting a lawyer because a [sic] wrote a legal analysis with which the current Attorney General disagrees” but what this has to do, per se, with “conservatism” is beyond me, as the issue at hand is not ideology (or a simple policy dispute), but whether or not those legal briefs were written not as honest legal opinions, but instead to provide cover for torture by the US government. As such, there are legal issues at hand here that are worthy of investigation.

Yes, the previous admin was Republican, but that doesn’t mean that any attempt to investigate possible illegalities by that admin is an attack on either the GOP or “conservatism.”

Of course, pursuant to title of this post, the sad fact of the matter is that many “conservatives” do see themselves as the defenders of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

(And yes, I know that Hinderaker does not write for all of contemporary conservatism, but I fear his views are representative of a substantial subset thereof-certainly of a rather vocal subset, if anything).

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10 Responses to “Yet More Evidence of What Ails Contemporary Conservatism”

  1. misterhung Says:

    Steve,

    You wrote a lot of words, but you either purposely ignored or simply failed to understand that defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” has recently been the domain of those who are or consider themselves conservative. To say otherwise would be ridiculous. What you’re doing is picking at Hinderaker for sake of picking.

    You’ve been doing that more often of late (picking for the sake…). What’s up?

  2. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Not to pick a nit :) but, I did say this:

    Of course, pursuant to title of this post, the sad fact of the matter is that many “conservatives” do see themselves as the defenders of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    Which would seem to counter your assertion that:

    You wrote a lot of words, but you either purposely ignored or simply failed to understand that defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” has recently been the domain of those who are or consider themselves conservative.

    My point was twofold: 1) what Hinderaker is specifically identifying here isn’t the criminalization of politics, policy differences or ideology, is it a legitimate inquiry about something that might have been criminal (in other words, the crime in question has nothing to do with being conservative, even if the crime was committed by someone who is conservative), and 2) the fact that some conservatives do, in fact, identify with this policy is a problem with contemporary conservativism, at least of some stripes. I think that the former is simply an error on Hinderaker’s part and I think that former is a serious problem with what passes for conservatism these days.

    On that last point, which I suppose fits your question, is that I have written several posts of late that have been critical of some of the serious problems I see with what has been dominating right-ward commentary of late, if not the Republican Party itself. As one who has identified as center-right in the past, I feel some responsibility to call out some of this stuff, plus I think that there is a need for such criticism in general. I think that there is a broad need for the right to do some serious thinking about it itself.

    Beyond that, you will have to be more specific for me to address your question.

    I take it you would prefer that not “pick”?

  3. Ratoe Says:

    The funny thing about a “conservative” defense of torture is that it is inherently inimical to any reasonable definition of “conservatism,” which-at least as I see it-has at its core a healthy skepticism of state power and an appreciation for the rule of law.

    I guess there can be multiple definitions of “conservative,” but it seems the most philosophically consistent reach back to Locke & Mill as intellectual influences.

    If you think of “conservative” as a defense of pre-modern values, I guess Hinderaker might make some sense. But my sense is that few who know what they are talking about take that stance.

    If Hinderaker is consistent, I am expecting him to call for the re-colonization of the US by Britain to “conserve” the radical revolutionary (anti-conservative) stance of the Founding Fathers.

  4. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    The funny thing about a “conservative” defense of torture is that it is inherently inimical to any reasonable definition of “conservatism,” which–at least as I see it–has at its core a healthy skepticism of state power and an appreciation for the rule of law.

    Exactly.

  5. Max Lybbert Says:

    I guess you could say that if they did nothing wrong they have nothing to worry about. But I think I heard there are problems with that phrase somewhere ( http://www.poliblogger.com/?p=15590 ).

    In this specific case, a week ago President Obama was still publicly saying that even though he disagrees with the legal advice enough to sign an executive order prohibiting his employees from relying on it, prosecuting attorneys for giving it would Be a Very Bad Thing for various reasons.

    He’s now entertaining the idea of prosecutions. Why? Were all of his previous concerns addressed? Were any of his previous concerns addressed? Or is he willing to go forward with prosecutions if it’s politically expedient regardless of the costs — costs that he knows exist because he and his subordinates were talking about them a week ago?

    I seem to remember hearing that politicization of the DOJ was Unamerican. If only I could remember where I heard that.

  6. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Max,

    If the individuals who wrote those memos did so not as legitimate legal advice, but wrote them solely to provide a veneer of cover to torture, then that is not politicizing the DOJ, that’s dealing properly with a bad situation.

  7. Ratoe Says:

    He’s now entertaining the idea of prosecutions. Why? Were all of his previous concerns addressed? Were any of his previous concerns addressed? Or is he willing to go forward with prosecutions if it’s politically expedient regardless of the costs — costs that he knows exist because he and his subordinates were talking about them a week ago?

    To add to Steven’s comment, the President CAN’T “entertain the idea of prosecutions.” The DoJ has the sole legal authority to prosecute.

    In fact, last week after Rahm and Robert Gibbs said the President DOESN’T want people to be prosecuted, a host of critics of the administration’s stance pointed out that the President has no real authority to deny or initiate DoJ criminal investigations.

    Given the actual politicization of DoJ under Bush, it is difficult for many to remember that the DoJ is supposed to answer to the law and the Constitution-not the individual who occupies the Presidency.

  8. Max Lybbert Says:

    If the individuals who wrote those memos did so not as legitimate legal advice, but wrote them solely to provide a veneer of cover to torture, …

    And it makes sense to determine if that is what in fact happened. However, the current Attorney General appears to hold the belief that waterboarding is not torture, although it may be prohibited by other laws ( http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/01/how-can-legality-of-waterboarding.html , note: Balkin considers waterboarding torture). So it does seem odd that the DOJ would prosecute attorneys for giving advice that is potentially not “legitimate legal advice, but … a veneer of cover to torture,” while at the same time the Attorney General and DOJ appear to agree the legal conclusion in question.

  9. Ratoe Says:

    So it does seem odd that the DOJ would prosecute attorneys for giving advice that is potentially not “legitimate legal advice, but … a veneer of cover to torture,” while at the same time the Attorney General and DOJ appear to agree the legal conclusion in question.

    Max, baby, wake up! You’re linking to something Mukasey said-he ain’t the Attorney General. It doesn’t matter what Mukasey said as it pertains to launching a current investigation. Furthermore, the DoJ Inspector General is currently investigating John Yoo-his report will be interesting and it won’t be surprising if he has a problem with the rhetorical hijinks demonstrated by Team Yoo in the latest memos.

    This guy is new AG. It is up to him to launch an investigation:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdAt1GcIs6E

  10. Max Lybbert Says:

    Sorry, somehow I had missed Holder’s confirmation.


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