Liberal libertarianism and the Associated Press

And I immediately think about El Mercurio in Chile in 1972 and Radio Rwanda when it was urging its listeners to kill the “cockroaches”. Or perhaps when Rush Limbaugh refers to liberals as cockroaches. To me, the Allende government should have prosecuted El Mercurio editors for treason, bugged their phones, arrested the CIA agents who were paying them, and traced their connections to the military traitors who were planning to overthrow the government. To me Radio Rwanda’s eliminationist rhetoric or Rush Limbaugh’s, for that matter, are not examples of free speech or the operation of the free press. I’m interested in justice and freedom not empty formalism or reflexive libertarianism. The government is not always in the wrong or even a single entity.

What did the AP do? Did they expose government misconduct? No. Did they inform the public of policy issues of great importance? No. Did they practice journalism? No.  Did they express a political opinion? No. What they did, in all probability, was provide a channel for one faction in the bureaucracy to attempt to disrupt the functioning of the elected government. They exposed a US covert operation in Yemen that was spying on people who are manufacturing bombs and trying to send them into the US or onto US airplanes. That’s not an exercise of freedom of speech or press. It would have been irresponsible of the Obama administration to let such sabotage go un-investigated. When the Clinton administration passively allowed Ken Starr to violate grand jury secrecy with the assistance of the media they were not supporting freedom of the press, they were failing to protect democratic government - not to mention the rights of grand jury witnesses. 

As candidate for President in 1968, Richard Nixon sabotaged peace talks. Ronald Reagan’s team likely sabotaged or tried to sabotage Carter’s efforts to get back US hostages before the Presidential election. The far right has spent decades planting loyalists inside the armed forces, the security apparatus, and the bureaucracy. And the far right, the evangelical right in particular, does not believe in democracy, rule of law, constitutional process or any of that stuff. Sharlet’s book The Family is a chilling documentation of the mindset of one right wing faction. And yet …

There are obviously significant parts of the US security bureaucracy that hate the Obama administration. The right wing in Congress is not opposed to the President within the context of a political system in which law and voting determine outcome, but in the context of what they see as a crusade. Former Representative Alan West, without a single complaint from even his “moderate” GOP colleagues said that Obama supporters are “a threat to the gene pool”. The last election cycle saw a lavishly funded campaign to deny the right to vote to African-Americans. Anyone who lives outside of the liberal villages can testify that the level of anger and open threat from the right is high. I take those people seriously.

So here we have a situation where someone inside the government is working with a hostile corporate media operation to sabotage a legitimate, even vital, US national security operation. Attorney General Holder has spent 5 years attempting to clean up the right wing destruction of the Department of Justice, to start enforcing civil rights laws and environmental laws again, to at least remove some of the most noxious right wing ideologues buried in the bureaucracy by the Bush administration, to get rid of the people in  the DOJ who claimed torture was legal, to defend the right to vote against legal and extra-legal intimidation. Faced with a national security violation, a real one - not like the fake ones Bush and Cheney and Nixon invented - the AG goes out of his way to follow both the letter and spirit of existing law by recusing himself from the investigation. A subpoena that is clearly legal within existing law gets phone records. There is not even a hint that AP journalists will face any criminal charges.

And yet, the formalist “left” wants Holder fired - they join the far right which has been demanding his ouster from day one ( and imagine the confirmation hearing for a replacement AG in the Senate as Lindsay Graham defends “liberty”). They even go so far as to echo the bullshit “tyranny” rhetoric that Confederates have used in this country since the 1840s. The civil liberties “left” urges us to “Stand With Rand” as he echoes the paranoid anti-government rhetoric of Dixiecrats.   And then they take it as self-evident that they are principled supporters of liberty and those of us who find their arguments grossly unpersuasive are unprincipled or worse. But privilege and naivete are not principled. You want to call for Holder’s resignation? Tell me who is going to defend the Voting Rights Act over the next 3 years first.  And if the voting rights act matters less to you than the sanctity of the AP’s phone records, then - well then we know who you are. And it’s not admirable at all.

See also this story on Tomasky and Pierce.