The Moderate and the McCarthyite

by Corey Robin on October 23, 2013

In the New York Times today, John G. Taft, who is the grandson of Robert Taft, makes his contribution to the growing “Oh, conservatives used to be so moderate, now they’re just radicals and crazies” literature that The Reactionary Mind was supposed to consign to the dustbin of history. (You can see how successful I’ve been.)

Having written about and against this thesis of conservatism’s Golden Age so many times, I don’t think it’s useful for me to rehearse my critique here. Instead, I’ll focus on one important tidbit of Taft’s argument, in the hope that a little micro-history about his grandfather might serve to correct our macro-history of conservatism.

Here’s what Taft says: [click to continue…]

The state of Georgia will move the statue of populist hero and white supremacist demagogue Tom Watson from its prominent spot near the state capitol. Beautifully, the state claims it’s nothing to do with politics.

“This is just part of an ongoing project to renovate the steps around the State Capitol,” said Paul Melvin, a Georgia Building Authority spokesman. “We’re moving the statue because of the construction. To move it back would be a prohibitive cost that’s not in the budget.”

Republican state representative Tommy Benton sees it differently and blames, well, “them.”

“They’re attempting to whitewash history so that only the things that are pertinent to them are remembered,” Mr. Benton said. “I’m not a big fan of William Sherman’s, but I’m not out there protesting his statues in other states because he did $100 million worth of damage in Georgia.”

The New York Times does its readers a disservice by failing to mention that at the time the vandal William Sherman did this terrible property damage to Georgia, the state was treasonably waging war on the United States of America in defense of slavery. (Tom Watson, who merely supported an unconstitutional form of racial segregation with viciously bigoted rhetoric, was a piker compared to supporters of the rebellion.) Whatever his many failings, Sherman did defend the republic of the United States against the acts of traitors. It is a pity an elected official of the Republican party cannot describe himself as a fan.

The Politics of Hypocrisy

by Henry Farrell on October 23, 2013

Two responses, following up on what other people have been saying about hypocrisy.

First, Dan Drezner on France’s decision to haul in the US ambassador to complain about US spying.

The touchstone for hypocrisy in popular culture is this scene from Casablanca, in which Claude Rains’ character, Captain Reynaud, closes Rick’s bar on the flimsiest of pretenses. I bring this up because of Glenn Greenwald’s revelations in Le Monde that the NSA has been spying, like, a lot, on France. Here at FP, Shane Harris and John Hudson have noted that the French are shocked about these revelations. The question is whether they’re genuinely shocked… or Claude Rains shocked. In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin’s reportage suggest the latter

This seems to me to miss the important aspects of the story. What is interesting is not whether France (or Mexico, or Brazil, or Germany) is being hypocritical in pretending to be shocked at what the US is doing. It’s whether their response (hypocritical as it may be) has real political consequences. And it surely does. The decision of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to cancel a state visit to the US (and start to disentangle Brazil from what had been an increasingly cooperative relationship) is one example. I have few doubts that if Rousseff had had the option, she would have preferred to have ignored US spying, and gone on with the visit and the burgeoning relationship. But she didn’t have that choice (or at least, it would have been domestically very costly). Similarly, the EU Parliament’s decision on Monday to reinstate rules restricting personal data transfer to the US are a direct response to the Snowden revelations. It is going to be tough for European governments to push back on these rules, even though they would probably like to, because they’re going to face a public outcry if they do. France can’t summon the US ambassador to ream him out about NSA surveillance one day, and effectively accede to NSA surveillance the next. However hypocritical this behavior is, it has consequences.

Second, Joshua Foust interprets our piece as evidence that Snowden is indeed intent on damaging America, rather than securing civil liberties.

Seen this way, you could envision all of these disclosures from Snowden not to be a defense of civil liberties — the documents moved past that a while ago. And it is important to remember: the NSA is legally obligated to surveil foreign communications — that is its explicit purpose as constructed by U.S. law. Rather, they are an attack on the very existence and behavior of the U.S. intelligence community. That may be something some of the most ardent anti-NSA activists, such as Glenn Greenwald, are comfortable doing. But it should raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions among those who merely want reform. Putting the U.S. at a stark disadvantage compared to its most active rivals and competitors — neither Russia nor China face nearly as much scrutiny in their intelligence activities, for example — is difficult to see as anything other than an attack on the U.S., not a defense of anyone’s rights.

This seems to me to be basically mistaken. If Snowden, or Greenwald, were looking simply to ‘attack’ the US, they would be behaving in very different ways. It is pretty clear that they are (or, in Snowden’s case, were) sitting on a hoard of material, some of which is potentially far more damaging to US intelligence (by revealing methodologies etc) than anything they have revealed. What they have chosen to reveal is embarrassing, and revelatory of US hypocrisy, rather than striking at the heart of NSA methodologies. You may like this, or dislike this, depending on your political druthers. But it is far closer to the kinds of actions that human rights NGOs engage in than the kinds of action that spies do. NGOs are under few illusions about governments’ profound commitment to human rights, civil liberties and so on – most governments, much of the time, are prepared to water these commitments down where it is expedient, when they do not abandon them altogether. So what NGOs do is to play the politics of hypocrisy against states, strategically revealing hypocritical behavior so as to embarrass governments into behaving better. Snowden’s and Greenwald’s actions seem to fit very well into this framework. Arguing that China and Russia don’t face “nearly as much scrutiny” is belaboring the obvious fact that it’s tougher to use the politics of embarrassment and hypocrisy against non-democracies than democracies.

Summer of the Cat

by Harry on October 23, 2013

Johnny Walker’s Sounds of the Seventies has an interview with Al Stewart this week!

The rest of this post is a complete ramble, full of enthusiasm and entirely lacking in insight and you’d be better off just listening to Johnny and Al. You’ll learn, what you probably already knew, that Al used to be in Tony Blackburn’s backing band!

[click to continue…]