Posted by Rojas @ 6:47 pm on April 20th 2010

The politics of civil libertarianism

Brad has commented here on the intriguing battle within the left over the impending replacement of SCOTUS justice John Paul Stevens, and on Glen Greenwald’s take regarding the weird triangulation strategy of Obama’s nomination. I think that my comment in that thread makes clear my view on the matter being discussed; I think that there is no political calculation to be considered, as Obama has now to be considered a firmly anti-civil liberties President and a staunch advocate of the expansion of executive power. He’s not leaning towards nominating an advocate of executive authority to appease anybody; he’s doing so because that’s what he genuinely wants in a justice.

There is, however, an interesting subordinate question involved from a political perspective. President Obama clearly relies to some extent on enthusiasm from the libertarian left for electoral success, and even if their agenda is not his own, he cannot long endure hardcore attacks from such watchdogs as Glenn Greenwald.

To that end, Simon Owens posts this interesting (and I think persuasive) piece regarding the influence that Greenwald’s writing appears to have upon the administration’s defense strategy. This administration, as no other before it, appears to believe it necessary to engage in the give-and-take of the blogosphere, at least where the most important critics and constituencies are concerned.


  1. I think it’s clear that there is a libertarian left or civil libertarian wing of the Democratic Party that Obama has to give in to, in some moments. For example, I blogged about the extension of the Patriot Act:

    Opposition to the extension came from a wing of the Democratic Party, let’s call them the civil libertarian wing, with only token Republican opposition.

    I’ve combined this vote on the Patriot Act with a vote last year for an exit strategy in Afghanistan to look at the wing of the Democratic Party still focused on the sorts of issues that attracted libertarian attention and support during the Bush years. They aren’t a majority, but they are a wing that Obama can’t ignore unless he feels like he can consistently get Republican support on issues. Although he seems fine to push them aside when he can get GOP support.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/20/2010 @ 8:43 pm

  2. “Has to give in to” in what respect?

    I don’t see an ounce of administration concession to the civil liberties bloc on the Patriot Act.

    As for the Afghan and Iraq exits, can there possibly be anyone who voted for him in the hope that we’d leave who’s satisfied with his progress towards that end? I have to think that if single-issue anti-war dems had it to do over again, they’d vote for Clinton in droves.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/20/2010 @ 11:49 pm

  3. I don’t see much in the way of administrative concession to the civil liberties bloc on the Patriot Act because it’s an issue where Obama can get GOP support to ram through the legislation.

    But when the GOP denies Obama support on a civil liberty or war issue, he’s in a different situation.

    So last year, during the debate over the supplemental to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first bill sailed easily through the House because the Republicans are more than happy to keep funding ( But then additional funding for the IMF was included and the Republicans jumped ship. Obama had to reach out to bring back in the liberal opponents of the war. Or, in another light, they folded under pressure because they can’t negotiate. (

    Do you think the anti-war Dems would vote for Clinton knowing what they know now because they’d just not want to reward Obama, or because there’s an argument she’d be doing better?

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/21/2010 @ 7:35 am

  4. I think I must be misunderstanding your argument. It seems like the examples you’re citing involve Obama reaching out to the civil liberties wing to get support…on issues unrelated to civil liberties. And in return for their support, they get…to support Obama on bills they would have voted for anyway. In terms of actual concessions to their agenda, they get nothing.

    As for the Clinton/Obama argument: I have to think we’d be closer to an Iraq/Afghan withdrawl under Clinton. I don’t think it’s a matter of rewarding/punishing people; it’s a matter of whether their vote was cast for the candidate best able to achieve their agenda. Of course, not having been one of those voters, I can’t say for sure how they’d feel; perhaps some of them will enlighten me.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/21/2010 @ 1:03 pm

  5. Sorry, by linking to my post I thought I would quickly make the case I was making here. There isn’t just a civil libertarian wing of the Democratic Party. The same group of members aligns pretty closely on other issues in opposition to Obama where he seems to be continuing Bush’s policies, such as no clear strategy in Afghanistan. You can’t view the Patriot Act in isolation.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/21/2010 @ 8:54 pm

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