Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Democratic Platform and Torture/Civil Liberties

Greg Sargent has a nice item up today pushing the press to question Mitt Romney over torture, and specifically whether Romney would overturn Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting Bush-era torture techniques. Fair enough.

But there's a parallel question for Obama and, perhaps more importantly, for Democratic activists and party-aligned interest groups: will the Democratic platform repeat its strong 2008 language not only condemning torture but also supporting civil liberties? Language which Obama, in office, has sometimes wound up far away from? As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the 2008 Democratic Party platform is promised to “close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay” and “revisit the Patriot Act” and reject sweeping claims of “inherent presidential power.” The key promise? “We will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools to hunt down and take out terrorists without undermining our Constitution, our freedom, and our privacy.” (I recommend reading the full platform plank, under the heading “Reclaiming Our Constitution and Our Liberties).

Now, as I said then, it's not as if voters will be eagerly reading the platform; once they're published, no one really pays attention to these documents once the opposition researchers are done with them, usually realizing there's little there to exploit. But despite that, it's not unusual for serious fights to break out over various planks, and for groups within the party to work hard to win the positions they care about.

Which leaves the question: do significant groups within the Democratic Party care about civil liberties and other such issues? Or did they only care about those things when George W. Bush was in the White House? The truth is that there are good questions to ask both parties about these issues -- and for those who care about them within both parties, an opportunity to get involved and try to do something about it.


  1. Politics is like football. It's engaging and fun and generates lots of material (plus no off-season). People root for the team that their social group roots for. They obsess about the other team's misdeeds. They assume that their team does the same rotten things because they're playing against cheaters. If you asked most of them why the other team acted as it does, they'd blame evil or stupidity (Dowd, Krugman, DeLong, etc.)

    It's too lizard-brained to be viewed as hypocrisy.

  2. There is a constituency on the left that cares very much about civil liberties ... my impression is that this constituency is sharply divided, with some rejecting Obama and Dem. Party over their failures, the more hard-headed and worldly (IMHO) looking at Republican Party and Republican-leaning media opposition and reluctantly favoring Obama, considering the alternatives and the overall picture, and perhaps another segment that is just confused by it all and is floundering.

    I would urge activists and delegates to strongly support keeping the '08 language, and using the issue to point at how the R's blocked any progress and are so much worse overall on both torture and civil liberty issues overall.

    1. Ron, applying pressure to Democrats doesn’t necessarily require withholding one’s vote from them.

      And are Republicans really “so much worse” than Democrats? Americans can now be taken into military custody by order of the President -- is it really much comfort that they won’t also be tortured? Outside of the US, we don’t generally bother to take prisoners anymore -- we just kill terror suspects, even American citizens, with drone strikes. Our FBI director admitted to Congress that he wasn’t sure if it was legal to kill terror suspects on American soil. Can you _imagine_ if it were a Bush administration official saying this?

  3. Yes, the Republicans are so much worse than the Democrats on this issue, precisely because the Democratic base does have a constituency which cares a great deal about civil liberties, and a much larger portion of the base which does understand the reasons to be concerned about civil liberties in general, yet sees little possibility of achieving any progress against Fox News and the Republican Fear & Lies Machine in the post 9-11 environment.

    There is a portion of Republican base that is infatuated with Libertarian rhetoric which does favor civil liberties (yet never ruffles their Republican friends to actually work for them), while the much larger (and overlapping) Religious Right, Christian Zionist, College-educated NeoConservative, and Un-educated Jingoist PaleoConservative sections of the Republican base, with the stage direction of Roger Ailes and Karl Rove, are the ones who make it impossible for Americans to either hold intelligent discussion on these matters or for any coalition of forces to actually lobby Congresspersons to have the courage to vote against the many bills, budgets and resolutions which institutionalize Orwellian Empire -- let alone argue for, introduce and pass legislation which would roll back Orwellian Empire.

    So yes, the Republicans are much worse than the Democrats on issues of Empire, Torture and Civil Liberties.

    I spent 15 years out on the street corners and the phone lines, trying to organize a left party that would fight for civil liberties. We failed. However a lot of my friends are far-left Obama rejectionists. I've gone back to fighting the Democrats from within (and I have no idea how you think I said that influencing Democrats equaled not voted for them, I am quite familiar with effective communication and shades of grey). Anyway, I would love to see Libertarians actually joining with the real and effective civil libertarians within and to the left of the Democrats, however in my experience the Libertarians prefer posturing ineffectually on civil liberties, usually aiming their barbs at liberals, and voting Republican in November.

    A realist can only conclude that Orwellian Empire (including the Petroleum Economy) will soon prove that human beings are not intelligent enough to maintain a technological "civilization." So I'd love to see the Libertarians grow into intelligent political action aimed at coalition-building and
    legislative change, with the ultimate aim of proving that pessimistic conclusion false.

    1. I think it would be difficult to build a long-term coalition between Liberals and Libertarians because they're going to disagree on so many other issues. An ad hoc, issue-oriented, and probably short-lived coalition on civil liberties, perhaps.

    2. Ron, thank you for fighting the good fight. I agree that there is a greater Democratic constituency for civil liberties, but they've completely dropped to ball as of late. As for the libertarian Republicans... I'm not sure you could ask for a more stalwart defender of liberty than Ron Paul, who never exactly hesitates to call-out his own side in the most explicit terms possible. So far, his son has been equally vocal... to the extent that he's resented for not "playing ball" with the rest of the boys. Ron Paul also has a record of co-sponsored bills with Barney Frank and other principled libertarians of the left.

  4. If only a majority of one party wants something done, it still isn't going to happen. 60% of 60% isn't 50% of the whole, that's for sure.

    Even if a majority of Americans want something done, but they're split between parties, that something still won't get done. They need to have enough to have majorities enough to get politicians on board that support them... And since a majority of Republicans apparently don't want these things to happen (counting from the totality of Republicans in Federal office that don't), it just won't happen.

    But that doesn't mean we shouldn't support these things, just that we should have realistic expectations on the actions of our officials.

    1. Crissa, it really depends on the issue. For hot-button issues (say: privatizing social security), you're going to need a solid majority to make the policy change and make it stick. But civil liberties are different, as there's very much a people vs. the government aspect to it (Was any group of citizens really lobbying for the military detention of Americans on US soil?). And remember, the average voter won't form an opinion on these issues (or even know about them), until someone makes a stink. I think we saw this with SOPA -- the majoritarian opposition followed a protest started by an irate minority.

  5. I tend to think that there is a constituency for civil liberties in the Democratic party but that group is made up of the most educated and partisan Democrats who care about all the other priorities of the party as well. They are thus simultaneously easy to ignore because they are staying with the party no matter what, and easy to distract because they care about so many other goals.

    The last time around we (since I am among this group) were persuaded that there were only so many goals that could be focused on at once and that it was time to major in health care and fixing the economy with a minor in gay rights. It doesn't mean that we don't care about human rights (or the environment or our other goals) it just means our class schedule was full.

    Is there a constituency that cares about human rights the way there is a constituency for gay rights, unions or the environment? Probably, but it is so tiny it can be pretty safely ignored.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.