Andrew McCarthy’s Fundamental Error


It is entirely understandable that libertarian-minded conservatives should distrust the Obama administration and resist endowing it with unnecessary additional powers. But the NSA programs are not new – they long predate Obama. And they are – the NSA, the administration, and informed members of Congress attest – highly effective efforts to map terror networks and prevent terrorist attacks. They do not ask us to trust the Obama administration. Indeed, the built-in layers of judicial and congressional oversight reflect the fact that the Congresses that first approved these programs were full of Democrats who deeply distrusted the Bush administration.

Here’s the thing: “a libertarian-minded conservative” should, and likely does, distrust ANY administration with the sort of power that both the Bush and Obama administrations have been acquiring since 9/11.

It’s a fundamental error partisans on both sides make to believe that problems with abusive government arise only or primarily when the “bad guys” are in power. It’s not surprising that strong partisans tend to be more forgiving when their own side is in control. But if you are a “libertarian-minded” conservative, that means that you have an underlying ideology beyond mere partisanship, and that ideology, if nothing else, cautions against giving the government too much power, especially when that power is exercised in secret and reviewed only in secret hearings and by secret courts. So, in fact, “it is entirely understandable that libertarian-minded conservative should distrust [ANY] administration” and not only “resist endowing it with unnecessary additional powers,” but try to check the abuse and potential abuse of powers already granted.

The fact that so many Republicans were willing to vote against NSA surveillance despite the argument that they were voting against policies advocated and implemented by the Bush Adminsitration and therefore were undermining the Bush-initiated War on Terror can be seen as a rare (albeit partial) vindication of the GOP’s purported limited government ideology against partisan drivel and the sort of demagoguery recently exhibited by Governor Chris Christie,* who seems to think that saying “9/11 widows” is a persuasive policy argument. That’s not only cheap demagoguery, it makes one wonder about how secure the rights of the accused would be in a “former prosecutor” Christie administration, given that there are a lot more victims of violent crime out there than there are victims of 9/11.

*Christie stated regarding libertarian objections by some Republicans to NSA spying: “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.” What does it say that about Christie that he uses “intellectual” as a pejorative?