Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania ...”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.
But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense.
This role reversal is a case study in the awesome power of the partisan mindset. Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.
The online version of this piece links to a Ruth Marcus column in the Washington Post.
Ruth Marcus? THIS is Douthat's idea of the "liberal commentariat"? A WaPo hack of a quarter-century's duration? Does anyone even READ Ruth Marcus, let alone take her seriously?
Forget about little blogs like this one, which have been all over this TSA nonsense like flies on horseshit. What are the Big Boiz doing? Yes, Josh Marshall seems far more willing to give the Obama Administration and the entire process the benefit of the doubt than I am. But Digby has been noting the absurdity of it all. HuffPo has had a slew of articles which can hardly be said to defending the TSA. Over at the Great Orange Satan, there's hardly a rush to defend the Obama Administration. The Big Blue Smurf, as is his wont, has his customary series of one-sentence posts, mostly about nonsense, but since this is nothing new for him, it hardly qualifies as a defense of, or even silence about, Obama's TSA.
Here's JUST ONE of the many segments Keith Olbermann has done on the subject:
Rachel Maddow, understandably, is focusing on DADT. But Chris Hayes, subbing on the 22nd, talked about the whole TSA foofarah, and while hardly defending the Obama administration, did point out that a certain amount of the TSA-outrage pot is being stirred by libertarian activists (including John Tyner, the "Don't touch my junk" guy) and others who are exploiting the whole mess to advocate for privatizing the TSA -- as if that would make a difference. But this is hardly a defense of the proliferation of scanning and pat-downs:
Karoli over at Crooks and Liars cites a much-publicized (and much maligned in the progressive blogosphere, which shows that we are far more willing to criticize our own than the right is) article in The Nation which pointed out Tyner's role as a libertarian activist and accused him of being a shill for the Koch brothers. The C&L piece cites other commentary on the Nation article, commentary which blasted it as a smear -- which it is.
What NO ONE on the left is doing is defending the use of x-ray equipment and genital-groping as a means of "keeping us safe" -- not even Ruth Marcus, who seems to feel that this system may be crap but it's all we've got. This is far more skepticism than we ever got from the right, which marched in lockstep to the notion that "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" in the context of the Bush Adminstration's appalling record on Constitutional protections.
And this is the difference between the so-called "liberal commentariat" -- at least the commentariat you get if you stick your nose outside the beltway. On the left, we are having a conversation among many minds. On the right, we get only one theme: Republican Good. Obama Bad.