Welcome to the Fight Against Unchecked Power

The dangers of wherewereyouism

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Vincent Maher/Creative Commons

You may have heard of whataboutism—the practice of rejecting criticisms of a regime on the grounds that other regimes do bad things too. Well, whataboutism has a cousin. Call it wherewereyouism: the impatient disdain that civil libertarians start to feel right after an election, when many members of the newly disempowered party suddenly rediscover the virtues of limiting government power.

It's an understandable feeling, and I've sometimes been prone to it myself. (Back in 2009, when the Tea Party protests started taking off, my initial response was: "Why weren't you marching when Bush was pushing through TARP?") To an extent, it's not just understandable but valuable. As center-left types watch Donald Trump take control of a presidency whose powers grew greater while Obama was in office, making the executive branch an even vaster and less accountable maze of surveillance and secrecy and unilateral punitive action, it's a fine time for libertarians (and for those progressives who kept their wits in the Obama years) to try to seize the teachable moment: "You see? YOU SEE? Now will you listen when we warn you what could happen?"

But you don't want to get mired there. Eventually you've got to reach out and work with those chastened fair-weather friends of freedom. I don't mean the hacks who gave us Hillary Clinton. (They don't seem all that chastened, and they're not even fair-weather friends.) I mean rank-and-file activists, legislative backbenchers, or anyone else who has suddenly learned how it feels to look at the government and feel dread. We don't know yet whether the worst names being floated for a Trump cabinet will actually land there, but even if we're spared the horrors of David Clarke at Homeland Security or John Bolton at State, it's clear that Trump's presidency will be terrible on a host of issues, particularly where police powers are concerned. And since the number of Americans who are consistent defenders of civil liberties is pretty small, obstructing or rolling back bad policies will require coalitions.

Some of this month's born-again dissidents will learn their lesson and be more skeptical of the state even after Trump makes his exit; some will be back to cheerleading executive authority as soon as President Michael Bloomberg wants the right to call in drone strikes against black-market Big Gulp dealers. But as long as any of them are willing to stand against Trump when he tries to take new powers—or to abuse the powers his predecessors bequeathed him—I say welcome to the fight.

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  1. “Why weren’t you marching when Bush was pushing through TARP?”

    I thought they were. And calling their congressmen 99 to 1. Member that?

    1. I remember the calls well. The big marches didn’t start til Obama was in office.

      1. They didn’t have time. The banks collapsed in August and TARP was passed by October and then in November there was an election. I don’t think it is quite fair to call them out for not having big marches.

        1. It’s also tough to protest when you have to go to work or make a payroll.

        2. I don’t think it is quite fair to call them out for not having big marches.

          Big marches have been organized on much shorter timeframes. But I won’t argue the point, since I was citing my old thought in the spirit of self-criticism.

          1. As I’m sure you know Jesse, this is called ‘missing the forest for the trees’. And a number of regular H&R commentators have become quite good at it.

          2. I had the same reaction as John. TARP was pushed through in a panic.

            And it was supposed to be a relatively safe intervention. Troubled Assets, remember? They were going to buy up the mortgage paper that was making banks insolvent because of the uncertainty in the housing market.

            So the result would have been to stabilize the value of mortgage backed securities during a time of uncertainty and then sell them once the dust had settled. Perhaps at a small loss. Or maybe at a gain.

            But that didn’t happen. Instead they used the money for bailouts of their buddies and the auto unions. They stole $30 billion from secured investors in GM and gave stock to the union. I’m still not sure how they didn’t go to prison for that one. Unless I can’t read, it was patently illegal.

            But in the end they ended up making a $15 billion profit on the entire enterprise. They lost $9 billion on the auto bailout, but more than made it up elsewhere.

            So taken together all of that helps explain why dissent didn’t erupt into marches. But a year later when they had slurped up another almost trillion bucks in stimulus money and were moving to create another boondoggle entitlement, then people started to get organized.

            So it took 3 bites at the apple in 12 months to get people pissed off enough to take to the streets.

            So there’s that. But the real problem with your article is that it is our God-given right as Libertarians to be holier than thou with everyone.

        3. A significant number ‘marched’ in the form of not showing up for McCain.

          1. Yeah, his numbers started dropping pretty much the day he suspended his campaign to go vote it in.

      2. The big marches didn’t start til Obama was in office.

        You’re talking a 6-month period in which an election was happening, and the global financial markets melted down.

        You think people were all supposed to be super-focused on what Bush was doing in the background, instead of reading daily-Sarah-Palin-LOLWUT-news*?

        (which i think set the template for news media this election, if you think about it)

        I think you have a great point about the frequent missing-in-action-ness of right-wing Civil Libertarians. I think TARP is a poor example of that. I think the Patriot Act, or any DHS-related powers are probably better.

        1. I think you have a great point about the frequent missing-in-action-ness of right-wing Civil Libertarians. I think TARP is a poor example of that. I think the Patriot Act, or any DHS-related powers are probably better.

          Well, TARP wasn’t a civil liberties issue. But again, my point was to show an actual real-life case of me falling into the where-were-you trap, not to show the perfect case of someone going MIA.

          1. Well, TARP wasn’t a civil liberties issue.

            ‘limiting govt power’, then.

            1. The point, you missed it.

              1. I was actually referencing to his own definition


                “Call it wherewereyouism: the impatient disdain that civil libertarians start to feel right after an election”

                even tho that example was not a case of that.

                relax, buster.

                1. A more detailed look at TARP will tickle your civil libertarian bone though.

                  First, Obama unilaterally re-purposed a trillion dollars that was specifically apportioned to go toward purchasing mortgages. Not exactly an individual civil liberty, but essentially spending a trillion bucks without authorization from congress.

                  But then he threatened the GM bond-holders into writing off $30 billion in secured debt as a part of the GM bailout which used funds that congress allocated for the real estate mortgage market bailout. That $30 billion was extorted from retirement funds and other institutional investors, exactly as if he had gone in with a gun and stolen it. He had absolutely no legal authority for his actions.

                  Then he gave a similar value of stock to the auto workers union. Also completely without authorization from congress or any legal authority to do so.

                  So although there weren’t classic civil liberties issues at play with TARP, there were plenty of property rights, contract rights and constitutional limits on executive power at play. All got swept away without so much as a whimper.

                  1. And because we are having a discussion on the validity of “where were you when” as a point of contention in political debate, I’ll remind everyone that just yesterday we were talking about how awful it was that Trump had a campaign manager that dared to object to her employer being libeled or slandered. It was ominous.

                    Meanwhile, actual President of the United States Barack Obama went before the American people and threatened to bankrupt the bondholder investment banks during the GM bailout if they refused to give him $30 billion in writeoffs of guaranteed loans. This is an actual President actually threatening companies and extorting billions of dollars from them. It really happened. It wasn’t just some pundit talking on a TV show. And it wasn’t veiled or hinted or reading tea leaves. He plainly said what he was going to do.

                    But what we are worried about is a blowhard complaining about the media and his political opponents. I’d say a little perspective might be in order when we are getting our panties in a twist.

                    1. cool straw guy, bro. we are mostly worried about the civil rights implications of a candidate whose campaign promises included religious tests for citizenship, legitimizing the use of torture & murdering the family members of accused terrorists. but youre obviously the principled guy here since youre focused on real issues like political correctness and the ny times saying something mean about a billionaire. nothing will quite stick it to those big city plutocrats like electing a guy from new york who bought a tv show to grope teenage girls.

          2. eventually you’ve got to reach out and work with those chastened fair-weather friends of freedom

            Sure.

            The problem is that i doubt there will be a moment to get a word in while they’re screaming about structural-racism being to blame for police-misconduct (*and not their own instinct to pile on laws on top of laws and demand more and more use of police to enforce petty regulations)… and i don’t think the people protesting around the country at the moment are doing so because of any fear of “lost liberties” – they just want their own Top People wielding the same velvet fist

            Its the same complaint always made about the presumed ‘overlap’ with the left = even where we theoretically ‘agree’, we do so for entirely different reasons.

            e.g. they don’t want to legalize drugs because they desire greater personal freedom; if anything those same people see things like Marijuana as uncharted territory in which to create new structures of authority and tax-power. New agencies to head, new jobs to hand out, new ways to tell people what they’re allowed to do, and where and how they have to do it

            1. Yeah, we’re talking about a group that thinks “unregulated” is some sort of failing. They don’t want limits to power. They want conditions and exclusions for who can wield it.

  2. But is it ok to feel angry that you got the government other people deserved? That’s ok isn’t it?

  3. It’s pretty hard to convert the acolytes of TopMenism, but I agree that we have to try.

    1. Also, close allies with the Thereoughttabealaw camp. They always – always – forget that the law they want to restrict their neighbor will eventually be at the discretion of their neighbor’s party eventually, and that they themselves may be made the target of the next salvo.

      1. “Me today, you tomorrow” clearly doesn’t apply when we’re on the verge of breaking the glass ceiling and ushering in a thousand years of DNC rule. The logic is invalid.

      2. Exactly. Reagan was wrong. The most dangerous sentence in the english language isn’t ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ The most dangerous sentence is ‘There oughta be a law.’

    2. That’s the problem though. Jesse welcomes them to the fight at the end of the article. But, I don’t believe for a second that they are joining the fight. They simply believe that we are currently in a position where we will suffer from the wrong top man. They aren’t going to get behind any effort to actually limit executive power. They will simply act to limit Trump’s access to that power.

      Maybe it’s just the people I know. I’ve talked to numerous liberals who are distraught at Trump’s access to executive power. And they want to take action to limit this. But, if you ask about how the President can actually be constrained to his constitutional role, they make clear that that isn’t what they want. They just don’t want Trump. They are absolutely firm that they still want the President to have that kind of power… just not Trump.

      1. Some of this month’s born-again dissidents will learn their lesson and be more skeptical of the state…

        (emphasis mine)

        I don’t think he’s under the delusion that there will be that many, but there will undoubtedly be some. He’s welcoming those few to our fold, or at least as ideological allies in the fight against encroaching executive power. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

        1. Fair enough. I suppose it’s reasonable enough to say that I’ll remain skeptical while encouraging them and trying to keep them focused on the office and not the specific individual.

          1. It’s not too different from someone making agreeable noises when they hear a secularist vowing to fight against Sharia law (there have been a few attempts to install it in some places in Britain without much success), but quickly loses the thread as soon as the secularist vows to fight attempts at Christian governance. Secularists make good allies if they’re fighting your religion’s ideological enemies, but they’re allied with the devil when they fight encroachment from your own.

            It’s always about the getting the right Top Men calling the shots. We’re disbelievers of the church of The State, essentially secularists from the dogma that the state knows what’s best for all of us and wants us to be happy.

  4. (Back in 2009, when the Tea Party protests started taking off, my initial response was: “Why weren’t you marching when Bush was pushing through TARP?”

    Bush didn’t “push tarp” until September of 2008. And a lot of people on the right objected to it. I am not really sure how they were supposed to organize a movement and march on Washington in the two months remaining before the election. And maybe you missed it but the resulting election was not exactly an affirmation of the Bush years. So when you asked that question, you sounded like an idiot.

    Beyond that, is it too much to ask you to explain just what Trump has said he plans to do that will continue whereyoubeinism or whatever? Maybe he plans to lock down the border and not let anyone leave. Hell, I don’t know. But I think if he plans to do that, there should be ample evidence he does and a lot more convincing evidence than “he is appointing a bunch of meanies to the cabinet”. Not that that isn’t some evidence, but it is hardly that compelling.

    1. Not to mention, the first bits of the Tea Party had a money bomb for Ron Paul in 2007.

  5. Jesse, Post up blog where Remy sings “where have you been”.

  6. RE: Welcome to the Fight Against Unchecked Power

    Not to worry here.
    Trump will shut down this site in a little while.
    His Highness does not tolerate criticism.

  7. I say welcome to the fight.

    No atheists inna foxhole.

    Nice work, Walker.

    1. “No atheists inna foxhole.”

      What about Red Army commissars?

  8. What’s the Democrat analog to the early Tea Party?

    1. The Progressive SJW movement.

      1. SIV is a member of the Cuck Cluck Clan.

            1. YOOOOOOLOLOLOOOOO LOLOLOLOLOOO

    1. +1 midnight confession

  9. But as long as any of them are willing to stand against Trump when he tries to take new powers?or to abuse the powers his predecessors bequeathed him?I say welcome to the fight.

    I’m still looking down my morally superior nose at them even if I do welcome their eventually useless inclusion into political realty.

  10. I can’t wait for the Anti-War movement to dust off their outrage.

    1. Papermache puppets are back! Praise our puppet lords!

      1. If giant papier-m?ch? heads make a comeback, I will be so happy.

        1. It’s raining pretty hard today – those heads don’t stand a chance.

        2. i think w/ trump in office, “burning in effigy” and or “dummy-lynching” will be something they teach in elementary-school art-class

  11. To my friends on the left: Perhaps now would be a good time to reflect upon how much power and control you would like to grant our “leaders” to have over your lives, and mine.

    To my friends on the right: Perhaps now would be a good time to reflect upon how much power and control you would like to grant our “leaders” to have over your lives, and mine.

    To my friends on both sides: Eventually, the shoe WILL be on the other foot – consider carefully whether you want that shoe to be a moccasin or a hobnailed boot. It might make a difference when it’s on *your* neck.

    #WEaretheshoemakers #footwearsanity #letscobbletogether

    1. “To my friends on both sides: Eventually, the shoe WILL be on the other foot – consider carefully whether you want that shoe to be a moccasin or a hobnailed boot. It might make a difference when it’s on *your* neck.”

      Boxer is properly renown for her, shall we say, ‘limited abilities’ and she’s not about to let anyone forget it!
      “California Senator Barbara Boxer files bill that aims to abolish the electoral college”
      […]
      “In my lifetime, I have seen two elections where the winner of the general election did not win the popular vote,” Boxer said in a statement about the filing.”
      http://www.sfgate.com/election…..616019.php

      Yes, Ms. Dimwit, that’s because the campaigns were aimed at winning the office.

      1. Jesus she is a stupid twat. A bill? Wasn’t the EC set up in the constitution? Wouldn’t it require a Constitutional Amendment to do away with it? Does this idiot even understand basic civics?

        1. Does this idiot even understand basic civics?

          Senator from Calinfornia.

          I think that speaks for itself.

          1. Yeah but don’t they have unpaid interns to deal with this?

  12. Just remember, that as soon as a Democrat is made President again their coats are going to turn faster than the eye can follow.

  13. To my friends on the left: Perhaps now would be a good time to reflect upon how much power and control you would like to grant our “leaders” to have over your lives, and mine.

    I was told that they shouldn’t have to do that because it could be that bad things happened because government shrank.

    I wish I could’ve pushed the guy on what he meant by that, but it wasn’t in the top 5 of stupid ideas in that one facebook comment.

    1. Sure, bad things* could happen because government shrinks. But bad things (high taxes) are actually happen and will continue to happen until government shrinks. Of course progs don’t care about taxes, taxpayers or the middle class.

      (*)As defined by progs.

      1. No, no, no. See when people are still going bankrupt and closing companies due to rising health insurance costs, that’s an accident that can be cured by adding another layer of rules and subsidies. When an occasional healthy person who failed to carry health insurance in the old regime had a medical emergency or sudden sickness and encountered medical bankruptcy, that was a preventable tragedy. If you can’t see the difference between people maxing out their credit to cover their deductibles and then declaring bankruptcy, and people taking risks they wouldn’t get sick and then declaring bankruptcy, we have nothing to discuss.

        1. +1 We can’t be responsible for every under-capitalized small business in America.

      2. +1 Gustave de Molinari

        “Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud, or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will.”

  14. Come on, Jesse. When Obama tramples civil liberties and drone-bombs citizens, he’s doing it for good, progressive reasons. When Trump does it, it will be for bad, right-wing reasons.

    1. ^This. Intentions matter.

      1. According to certain people, intentions are the only things that matter.

  15. Is it that some on the left are re-discovering the virtue of checking unchecked power, or that these people are simply looking for a convenient tool to check the power of the other party?

    As I see it, the principle of limited government is still undiscovered by too many of these people. Case in point: the latest, fadish push to jettison the electoral college (see now: Boxer’s bill to amend the constitution and eliminate the electoral college). Nothing says abuse of power (here, violating individual rights) like majority rule.

    1. Ima go with “convenient tool.”

    2. Did Boxer actually push that into the record?

      She’s even dumber than I thought.

      1. What, Californians (who vote) are going to develop a taste for change and vote against the senior Democratic senator? She could push mass incarceration of gays and get re-elected.

  16. Back in 2009, when the Tea Party protests started taking off, my initial response was: “Why weren’t you marching when Bush was pushing through TARP?”

    Ummm…did you miss Ron Paul’s entire campaign?

    1. Ummm…did you miss Ron Paul’s entire campaign?

      If all those marchers in 2009 had voted for Paul, the 2008 election would have looked very different.

  17. The hope is that some of the fair-weather Republican-Libertarians stay or at least keep elements of libertarian philosophy now that the right guy is in office.

    We will have to do a good job talking our new Democrat-Libertarian friends into adopting some of our premises and keeping our predispositions.

  18. Neither of the derps that I engaged with back in the crisis could understand why I was happy to see banks fail. It was incomprehensible to them.

    1. I know. Imagine if other banks who hadn’t engaged in those misallocation of risk MBSs bought up the mortgages secured by those worthless instruments for fifty cents on the dollar, and then had room to negotiate with the people who had either been dealt a really raw hand through little fault of their own, or could sell the property 70% of what they were owed.

      1. That would have been unthinkable, a travesty!

        Instead, we got s wonderful bailout where the bad actors mostly skated.

  19. I prefer the Die Hard “welcome to the party, pal.”

  20. So far, so far as I could stand looking at their ideas, the lefties protesting Trump are looking for reforms in the following areas:

    -Abolish the racist Electoral College!

    -Let convicted felons vote, you’re not a racist, are you?

    -Let’s toss out some rhetoric about executive overreach

    -Also, Hitler

    Basically, it’s about purifying democracy so the racists won’t be able to elect a Republican again, and the Democrats will regain their rightful place in control of the government.

    1. -Let convicted felons vote, you’re not a racist, are you?

      I don’t think convicted felons should be disenfranchised. There, I said it.

  21. The… horrors… of John Bolton at state?

    The New York Times, in its editorial The Shame of the United Nations, praised Bolton’s stance on “reforming the disgraceful United Nations Human Rights Commission”, saying “John Bolton, is right; Secretary-General Kofi Annan is wrong.”

    God, the horror. How dare he say what everyone knows?

    1. Turn him loose on the UN bureaucracy, just don’t let him do any warmongering.

  22. I’ve already heard two talking heads on tv say that it would be unfair for the GOP to use the same Senate rules that Harry Reid used to get things done when the Dems had a slim majority.

    1. You know, I’m not in favor of removing the filibuster and sixty vote requirement for suspending debate, but its going to be hard to be sad the first couple of times they absolutely fuck the Democrats. I’m hoping its a bunch of skeptical judges and the repeal of the ACA. That would make me feel less worse.

  23. I’ll miss the previous eight years, when Reason reached out to conservatives whose opposition to Obama revived their traditional distrust of government power.

    I loved the way Reason staff appeared on right-wing talk shows to show how ending the federal drug war matched up with conservative concerns about overreaching federal power, and how the legal harassment of gay bakers showed the wisdom of Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

    Thus during the years of Democratic rule, at least libertarians and conservatives were allies against a common foe.

    /sarc

    1. Oh, and remember how the Libertarian Party candidate reached out to alienated conservatives with a platform of fervent support for religious freedom and freedom association?

      /sarc

      1. What do you mean. They keep ignoring me when I click “report spam”. :p

  24. Luke 15:7, yes. “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

  25. “Some of this month’s born-again dissidents will learn their lesson and be more skeptical of the state even after Trump makes his exit”

    Source?

    1. Source: Hopeless romanticism? Divine comedy?

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