Civil Liberties

Does Concern About Warrantless Searches and Detention Without Trial Mark You As a Right-Winger?

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Because I waded all the way through David Barstow's feature story on the Tea Party movement, which consumed two full pages in Monday's New York Times, I feel a need to justify that effort by posting a few comments. The short version of the story is that Tea Party activists are a diverse group, ranging all the way from harmless cranks to racist conspiracy theorists. Yet Barstow is repeatedly confounded by details that do not fit his easy portrait of right-wing weirdos. He notes that Oath Keepers, one of the groups attracted by the Tea Party movement, "recruits military and law enforcement officials who are asked to disobey orders the group deems unconstitutional," such as "orders to conduct warrantless searches, arrest Americans as unlawful enemy combatants, or force civilians into 'any form of detention camps.'" Although Barstow seems to consider these scenarios outlandish, all three are actual policies that were implemented or at least contemplated by the Bush and/or Obama administrations. And it is hard to see why concern about them is an especially right-wing phenomenon, as the headline on the story proclaims. If anyhing, such civil liberty anxieties are more associated with the left, as Barstow semi-acknowledges:

In some ways…their main answer [to overweening government]—strict adherence to the Constitution—would comfort every card-carrying A.C.L.U. member.

But their vision of the federal government is frequently at odds with the one that both parties have constructed. Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage.

Why "but"? Democrats and Republicans both violate the Constitution, though in somewhat different ways, when they're in power. Even the ACLU's agenda is not the same as either major party's. And once you go beyond that group's focus on certain provisions in the Bill of Rights and contemplate the implications of the enumerated powers doctrine, why would you be agree with either party's platform? Also note Barstow's surprise that people could have political principles that they follow even when it is not in their immediate self-interest to do so.