Sacrifice Civil Liberties? You First

Both sides want to chip away at your civil liberties, even if sometimes they argue about it.


Terrorism and gun violence aren't just directly dangerous. Even the national conversation about them is: You could get whiplash from watching liberals and conservatives switch sides.

Back during the Bush administration, security hawks such as Vice President Dick Cheney took the view that public safety was more important than abstract considerations like individual rights or constitutional law; practices such as indefinite detention and waterboarding might be disturbing, but they saved lives. As Cheney said at one point in late 2008, "I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11."

Liberals, by and large, found this sort of talk horrifying. They spilled millions of gallons of ink excoriating the Bush administration for sacrificing America's most treasured principles—due process, the presumption of innocence, the right to privacy—on the altar of national security.

Conservatives in turn spilled millions of gallons of ink defending them. They took the view of David Addison, Cheney's chief of staff, who told a White House lawyer that if he ruled against a particular counter-terrorism program, "the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands."

Yet when there is a mass shooting—as in Orlando—the two sides switch. Liberals start arguing that public safety overrides constitutional liberties. In fact, they contend, protecting public safety is so important that we should take a pair of scissors to the Bill of Rights and cut out the Second Amendment, if that's what it takes to get meaningful gun control passed. In the meantime, they say, can't we at least prevent people on the terrorism watch list from buying firearms?

Conservatives, meanwhile, turn into civil libertarians—at least with regard to guns. Keeping guns from people on the terrorist watch list would violate due process, they insist, especially because many people don't belong on the list in the first place. And in any event it would be wrong to curtail the constitutional rights of millions of law-abiding people for the sake of preventing the next mass shooting.

Except if those Americans happen to be Muslim, that is. Many conservatives who bristled at broad-brush accusations when the Department of Homeland Security warned about the danger of homegrown terrorism from right-wing groups, who find the idea of "profiling gun owners" insulting, see nothing wrong with efforts to monitor entire Muslim communities, as the New York Police Department infamously did a few years ago, or "patrol and secure" them, as Ted Cruz has suggested. (This from the man who tweeted, "religious liberty for me has been a lifelong passion" and who wrote in National Review that "on questions of the Constitution—and the Bill of Rights and our fundamental liberties—I, for one, am content to stand with Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison.")

The two sides also borrow other arguments from each other. After Jared Loughner's 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson, many liberals wasted no time blaming conservatives such as Sarah Palin and conservative rhetoric generally. Republicans and conservatives were responsible for the "gale of anger" that had produced so many threats, wrote The New York Times: When the right keeps insisting that government is evil, is it any wonder unstable people act on that belief?

Conservatives ridiculed such attempts to blame the actions of a mentally deranged lone gunman on an entire political philosophy. Now many conservatives want to blame an entire religion: Islam. You can find plenty of conservative pieces arguing that, given Islam's belief about the inherent evil of homosexuality, we shouldn't be surprised when an unstable individual acts on that belief.

And liberals, naturally, now say just the opposite: You can't blame Omar Mateen's atrocity on Islam. (Although, paradoxically, some liberals argue that blaming Islam for terrorism only helps radicalize Muslim youth. So Muslim youth cannot be radicalized by Islam, but can be radicalized by criticism of it.)

The reason for all of this is simple enough: tribalism. Liberals treat their own perceived in-groups (such as Muslims) differently from their perceived out-groups (such as gun owners)—and conservatives do the same. The result is an F-5 tornado of head-spinning inconsistency.

So herewith a modest proposal. From now on, anyone proposing to curtail the civil liberties of the perceived other side should have to agree to curtail the civil liberties of his own side first.

If you're Ted Cruz and you want the government to patrol Muslim neighborhoods, you have to agree to sweeping gun control measures. If you're Hillary Clinton and you're sympathetic to Australian-style gun confiscation, then you first have to agree to Cruz's proposal.

It's always so easy to sacrifice other people's rights in the name of something dear. The real test is whether you're willing to sacrifice your own.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor Join Forces in Gun Case Dissent

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  1. And they don’t have any shyness about teaming up to make it happen. That arguing we’re talking about, that’s just trying to distract the peasants until the dirty deeds are done.

    1. Nothing like a mass killing to bring stupid and evil together, is there.

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  2. So herewith a modest proposal. From now on, anyone proposing to curtail the civil liberties of the perceived other side should have to agree to curtail the civil liberties of his own side first.

    If you’re Ted Cruz and you want the government to patrol Muslim neighborhoods, you have to agree to sweeping gun control measures. If you’re Hillary Clinton and you’re sympathetic to Australian-style gun confiscation, then you first have to agree to Cruz’s proposal.

    And they shall call it a compromise and everyone will be happy.

    1. Reaching across the aisle to screw over everyone. Moving us forward, one FYTW at a time.

  3. Well, at least we have these sensible, moderate, pick the best from each party, middle of the roaders. They’re so proud of themselves that they follow the “issues” and make the best choice from either party. So long as there’s a governmental, Force first, “doing something about it solution”, they’ll be there with their votes.

    It’s these swing people that are the REAL problem, and are largely responsible for the ratchet up effect of Statism. We supposedly are better off when we have government split between the Repubs and Dems, but we’re moving toward Statism one way or the other,and in tandem. The enemy to defeat is the child like belief in the State for these people.

    1. “Bipartisan” is as sure a sign as naming a law after a dead kid.

      1. Correct.

        I look at America as an abused woman see-sawing between two abusive lovers. She gets beat up by Bobby and goes to live with Robby, until Robby begins to abuse her, at which point she forgets how bad she had it with Bobby and calls him up.

        If she ever finds a guy who treats her well, she might be able to break out of the cycle, but Bobby and Robby are basically the only two guys she knows, and it never occurs to her that she could date someone else.

        1. “and it never occurs to her that she could date someone else.”

          more to the point, it never occurs to her that she is entitled to better, and the only way to get better is to shoot robby and bobby in self defense and go find a nice guy on e-harmony or something.

          1. You say that as if Bobby and Robby would ever let her spend enough time with another man to realize he’s better

  4. This article is much better. There’s no weak asshole talk about acid, amnesty, abortion, or butt sex and is ultimately (despite the Muslim white-washing) about the binary poll-star of the right-to-blow-your-head-off-with-an-AR 15-unfettered-by-a 15-minute-background-check-to-make-sure-you-aren’t a-nut-or-a-terrorist-right. That’s protected by the 2nd amendment.

    1. What socialist would be complete without his secret enemies list?

    2. Fail.

      Weapon of choice for suicide-by-gun is most definitely not the AR15. Once in a while it’s a shotgun, like Cobain or Hunter Thompson, but overwhelmingly that is a pistol you’re talking about.

      1. I wonder how many people actually have committed suicide with an AR-15, or any “assault rifle”? I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was zero.

        1. Not counting military, I presume?

          I was close to two – one Bosnia, one Afghanistan.

    3. Well on its face it certainly appears to be a more useful right than your right to match around like an asshole with crude signs at a funeral, or your right to make cartoons mocking the prophet, or your right to avoid punishment for murder even though everyone knows you’re guilty, or…

      Surely a reasonable person doesn’t need to do these things.

  5. I strongly suspect that after the Democrats and Republicans lambast each other in public debates, they retire over expensive liquor and caviar together, laughing at how the rubes keep buying into the notion that the two parties are different.

    Authoritarian is as authoritarian does.

    1. Since Reason lacks a “thumbs up” button, I’ll just say well said

  6. RE: Sacrifice Civil Liberties? You First
    Both sides want to chip away at your civil liberties, even if sometimes they argue about it.

    Both political parties are doing what is best when they slowly but surely erode our civil liberties.
    You must have faith in them.
    They went to college and were indoctrinated by the finest useful idiots available in our re-education camps of higher education.
    They recognize that in order to eliminate a capitalist hell hole, such as the one we all suffer in today, civil liberties (and civil rights) must be terminated for the sake of the collective.
    Once these archaic notions of rights, liberties, financial freedom and personal responsibility are gone, then progress toward The People’s Revolution here in Amerika will blossom, the masses will be liberated from their bonds of freedom and will finally enjoy all the benefits and wisdom of a Stalinist state.
    Therefore, we must embrace the prudent and beneficial policies our socialist slavers are imposing us with a smile on our face and a song in our hearts.
    They know what’s best for all of us.

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  8. Now, most Repubs in office are very bad when it comes to the Bill of Rights, which they probably couldn’t recognize if it bit them on the ass, but patrolling Muslim neighborhoods…please specify where that’s unconstitutional?

    Or is “patrolling Muslim neighborhoods” a euphemism for warrantless surveillance and detention without trial?

  9. Well, when Bush/Obama does it, it’s necessary because terrorism, but when Obama/Bush does it, it’s because he’s a power-hungry Fascist. Hope this makes the difference clear.

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  11. I think it is also very clear that political “liberals” are supporting far less civil liberties now than they used to while many conservatives are clearly supporting more.

    I refer to former as political “liberals” with quotes. Adding an adjective in front allows me to attempt to take the liberal brand away from the increasing fascist left and taken (back) by libertarians who are liberal and support civil liberties.

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