A King is fine, so long as he’s one of us

Living today in longstanding democracies, it can be hard to comprehend why so many people living in the past, or other countries, would permit or even enthusiastically support the unchecked power of their monarchs and dictators. Wasn’t it obvious to them how dangerous and corrupting the accumulation of power by individuals could be?

When someone we don’t like is in power, all of the intellectual arguments for separation of powers jump to mind to justify our fears. But sadly our tribal minds go looking for totally different rationalisations as soon as ‘one of us’ is in charge. This is nicely demonstrated by the acquiescence of US progressives to the further expansion of Presidential powers that supposedly horrified them during the Bush administration:

For the last four years, Barack Obama has not only asserted, but aggressively exercised, the power to target for execution anyone he wants, including US citizens, anywhere in the world. He has vigorously resisted not only legal limits on this assassination power, but even efforts to bring some minimal transparency to the execution orders he issues.

This claimed power has resulted in four straight years of air bombings in multiple Muslim countries in which no war has been declared – using dronescruise missiles and cluster bombs – ending the lives of more than 2,500 people, almost always far away from any actual battlefield. They are typically targeted while riding in cars, at work, at home, and while even rescuing or attending funerals for others whom Obama has targeted. A substantial portion of those whom he has killed – at the very least – have been civilians, including dozens of children.

Worse still, his administration has worked to ensure that this power is subject to the fewest constraints possible

President Obama was recently convinced that some limits and a real legal framework might be needed to govern the exercise of this assassination power. What was it that prompted Obama finally to reach this conclusion? It was the fear that he might lose the election, which meant that a Big, Bad Republican would wield these powers, rather than a benevolent, trustworthy, noble Democrat – i.e., himself.

This is a nice example of human hypocrisy, as if we needed another. So long as a member of the other political tribe was in control, progressives would convince themselves that such a power grab was Wrong On Principle. But now that their man is in control, we can all relax and just trust him to be a Nice Guy:

… the primary reason for this fundamental change in posture [among progressives] is that they genuinely share the self-glorifying worldview driving Obama here. The core premise is that the political world is shaped by a clean battle of Good v. Evil. The side of Good is the Democratic Party; the side of Evil is the GOP. All political truths are ascertainable through this Manichean prism.

The result is that, for so many, it is genuinely inconceivable that a leader as noble, kind and wise as Barack Obama would abuse his assassination and detention powers. It isn’t just rank partisan opportunism or privilege that leads them not to object to Obama’s embrace of these radical powers and the dangerous theories that shield those powers from checks or scrutiny. It’s that they sincerely admire him as a leader and a man so much that they believe in their heart (like Obama himself obviously believes) that due process, checks and transparency are not necessary when he wields these powers. Unlike when a GOP villain is empowered, Obama’s Goodness and his wisdom are the only safeguards we need.

Thus, when Obama orders someone killed, no due process is necessary and we don’t need to see any evidence of their guilt; we can (and do) just assume that the targeted person is a Terrorist and deserves death because Obama has decreed this to be so. When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that’s unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous – or else Obama wouldn’t order him imprisoned. We don’t need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, this blind trust in wise and just rulers is the antithesis of how the American system, designed in reaction to a foreign ruler who wasn’t ‘one of us’, was supposed to work: “in questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Unfortunately the constitution isn’t doing much of a job of binding down the President, and the public never managed to bind themselves to the mast to keep caring.

It is especially reckless to allow this precedent to be set for a new technology for surveillance and assassination that will become gradually more accessible to both state and non-state actors. If it had its eyes on the long term, the US would be trying to develop laws and international norms to make sure that this technology is not used in a way that backfires on them in the future. This issue appears not to have been considered much at all.

If you ever find yourself mystified by the tolerance people across history or the world have for giving their rulers great discretion, just because they are charismatic or part of the same cultural group, just look around and you’ll see the same instinct remains all around us today.

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  • Salacious

    I reject your premise.  Tons of progressives have attacked Obama’s executive powergrabs.  They may not have abandoned Obama, but that’s a feature of (1) we have a two-party, zero sum political system where abandoning Obama does nothing but empower someone worse and (2) they substantively agree with Obama’s agenda on other issues.

    • Robert Wiblin

      I would be pleased to be shown to be wrong on this. I live in the UK, so mostly rely on the perception of Americans who feel the issue isn’t taken seriously by those around them. One of my links leads to this survey of public opinion suggesting broad support among Democrats:

      “Fully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, meaning that Obama is unlikely to suffer any political consequences as a result of his policy in this election year. Support for drone strikes against suspected terrorists stays high, dropping only somewhat when respondents are asked specifically about targeting American citizens living overseas, as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American killed in September in a drone strike in northern Yemen.”

      Do you have any contrary evidence?

      • iamid

        “Living today in longstanding democracies” – well, up to a point , Lord Copper.  As Salacious hints, it’s democracy, but perhaps a limited form therof.

        Also, there are two aspects to what you suggest is an instinct for tolerance: perhaps it’s resignedness at a system they are stuck with (an too personally costly to change), plus a belief in leaders (“he’s in the job, so he must be right; I know my place”).

        Things have to be really, really bad before you get enough people motivated to change the system.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond


        One hypocrisy (shall we call it metahypocrisy) is hypocritically overlooking one’s own hypocrisy. Consider that when the U.S. invaded Iraq, most everybody (Obama was an honorable exception, which won him cred) supported it, based on the claim that Iraq was building “weapons of mass destruction.” When the “progressives” later faulted themselves, it was for gullibility. Nobody–did you?—challenged the invasion notwishstanding the fake pretext.

        But is it not a far greater hypocrisy for the largest holder of weapons of mass destruction in the world to justify invading a country by its acquiring the same?

      • Stephen Diamond

        Far greater, that is, than is manifested in party loyalty.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      You’re right that some progressives have attacked Obama on this issue (and I’m proud to call myself one of them(, but they seem to be a pretty small minority. Certainly Obama and Congressional Democrats don’t seem to fear them in the way that Republican politicians fear their base.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599840205 Christian Kleineidam

      Abandoning Obama in a two party system isn’t harder than opposing the king in a monarchy. It’s rather a lot easier. Most progressives who abandon Obama don’t have any substantial personal consequences to fear for doing so. 
      They will get a bit of negative pushback from their peer who blindly believe in Obama but otherwise it’s pretty easy to abandon Obama. 

      Some progressives publically voice disagreement but very few take the issue seriously.
      There are people who are willing to die for opposing the king. Most of those progressives who voice public disagreement with the absolutists powers that Obama grabs for himself don’t care on that level about the issue. 

      Writing some blog posts, twitter messages and facebook updates that criticize a president for a policy like this isn’t attaking him in a political meaningful way.

    • spindritf

       > Tons of progressives have attacked Obama’s executive powergrabs.

      And tons of people rebelled against monarchs, that’s not the remarkable part. The remarkable part is that so many people remain loyal and how that loyalty can sway opinions, for example:

      “It’s worth comparing the data to older polls.  Regarding Guantanamo, overall 70% of respondents agreed with President Obama on keeping Guantanamo open.  But in June 2009, more Americans favored closing the facility than keeping it open.  In 2006, only 57% of Americans supported using the Guantanamo detention center house accused terrorists.  Even in 2003, support was only at 65%.  Now, under the leadership of a President who campaigned with the promise to close the facility but reneged, support for the detention center may be at its highest level ever.”[1]

      [1] http://equalityanddemocracy.org/2012/02/08/do-you-give-up-your-autonomy-by-joining-a-political-party/

  • Rasputin

    Considering the demographics of the audience of OB it would probably have been better to make the point by refering to republican hypocrisy in only being concerned about limiting executive powers once Bush left office.

    Now we’re going to get 20+ comments about how progressives, unlike those dirty conservatives, certainly are not in any way biased re: Obama.

    • Robert Wiblin

      I don’t perceive OB as having a strongly Democrat or Republican audience. But even if it did have a lot of Democrats, wouldn’t it be more important to point out this inconsistency to them?

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

     I (although voting for Obama (based on the only clear difference, universal medical care) agree, of course, with your outrage about drone strikes, but your analysis of the hypocrisy involved is obviously off mark. The refutation of your “analysis” is simple. If Democrats supported Obama’s murders mainly because it’s a Democrat in charge, then Republicans ought to oppose them for the same reason. But it’s not the case. Most of the few vocal opponents of drone strikes are non-Republicans.

    How can you ignore this obvious anomaly and consider yourself to have written an analysis. Instead, you’ve written an LW-type cliche: ‘politics is a tribal, team sport, boo hoo.’

    • Robert Wiblin

      No, Republicans coud be inclined to support drone strikes in all circumstances – Democrats only willing to overlook their more principled objections when one of them is in charge.

      I’d be interested to see how Republican support for these policies has drifted under Obama.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        No, Republicans could be inclined to support drone strikes in all circumstances – Democrats only willing to overlook their more principled objections when one of them is in charge.

        Well, yes, I wasn’t intending to state an analytical truth. The point is explanation by party loyalty fails completely to predict Republican positions regarding the Obama drone strikes. This should make you consider that your explanation is wrong for the Democratic support of the Obama strikes.

        The Democratic opposition to Bush, after all (even Obama’s) wasn’t based on principle–whether moral or political. You’re trying to convict them of inconsistency, where no inconsistency is shown: Bush lost all  credibility over Iraq.

        Part of your mistake is to accept rhetoric for position. The Democrats would indeed be absolutist in tone if Bush launched drone strikes. The absolutist rhetoric would encompass Obama, but everyone acknowledges that rhetoric is hypocritical. There are rational (if ultimately false) reasons to allow Obama to make drone strikes than Bush.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

    Another point you fail to consider is the informational value of being a “Democrat.” It’s NOT a form of hypocrisy to look to your epistemic superiors to ground your beliefs. (See my “Is epistemic equality a fiction?http://tinyurl.com/6kamrjs ) People have more rational basis for trusting Obama than the Republicans (which is not to say I think they should trust him!) The Republicans instigated a war that both caused massive losses to Iraq and pretty much brought down the U.S. economy. It’s considerably more rational (if ultimately mistaken) to trust Obama’s judgment than to trust the crazy Republicans who brought this on–the ones who appeared in the Republican “debates” as simply insane on both foreign and domestic matters.

    You would like people to reject Obama’s policies on purely moral grounds, but morality is the ultimate hypocrisy. (See “The unity of comprehension and belief explains moralism and faith”http://tinyurl.com/cxjqxo9 )

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599840205 Christian Kleineidam

      Bush campaigned in his first debate on “no nationbuilding” and then did wars that produced massive nationbuilding projects.
      Obama did campaign on supporting whistleblowers and then charged more whistleblowers than previous presidents combined.  

      The position that US politican’s take when the campaign has little predictive value on their behavior when they are in office. 

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

         It seems to me that while candidates seldom honor promises, campaign promises do tend to make correct ordinal predictions. I don’t recall what McCain said about whistleblowers, but the likelihood (it looks to me) that if he were to have opposed Obama’s campaign for them, he would likely imprison even more than Obama has. The situation (opportunism) carries more weight than the promise, but the promise isn’t weightless.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599840205 Christian Kleineidam

        Bush campained on “No nationbuilding” because the Republican’s opposed Clinton’s Kosovo war. Do you think Al Gore would have started more nationbuilding projects than Bush?

        Campaign rhetoric is entirely determined by well payed political consultants who choose the rhetoric that’s most likely to win the election. 

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Bush campaigned on “No nationbuilding” because the Republican’s opposed Clinton’s Kosovo war. Do you think Al Gore would have started more nationbuilding projects than Bush?

        Very good question. And while I admit my answer is counterintuitive, I’d say yes. Gore was even more committed to imperialist adventurism under humanitarian cover than Bush, as was manifested in supporting the Kosovo war. Most Democrats supported Bush in Iraq.

        (And anyone who watches South Park knows Gore is a loon.)

  • René Milan

    “This is nicely demonstrated by the acquiescence of US progressives” – no, it’s not.  While some are indeed forgiving towards ‘one of us’, a tendency prevailing in all political (and other) aggregations, others are accepting this behaviour because of willingness to pay the price of 2500 drone dead for preventing the possibility of hundreds of thousands of dead resulting from another unprovoked and illegal war implicit in the continuation of Bush’s policies by a new (and old) set of republican protagonists.  Drone strikes are a half-suitable answer to suicide killings, and the american public, steeped as it is in “eye for an eye” attitudes, would not accept a laissez-faire policy in this context, so short of conceding power there is not much degree of freedom.

    • Robert Wiblin

      That wouldn’t explain a change in attitudes.

      Also note it would be possible to continue using drone strikes with less secrecy and more accountability for the standard of evidence used to sentence people to death. The extraordinary thing is the lack of process – people are sentenced to death away from any battlefield on suspicion of being terrorists, on the basis of evidence nobody else can see, and that’s that.

      • Stephen Diamond

        It would. People rationally—not as a matter of mere party loyalty—distrust Bush more than Obama.

      • http://cryptome.org/ Peter

        Well except it isn’t rational as Obama is magnitudes worse than Bush on the civil liberties front.  Also Bush was much for forthcoming and honest as an administration.  You might not like what he was telling you or his reasoning but at least he would tell you (once caught in some cases) unlike the current administration.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond


        It’s rational because, however taken, Obama’s decisions are far more competent than were Bush’s. Rational people don’t elevate style over substance.

        Put less personalistically, Obama isn’t surrounded by a coterie of crazy neocons.

      • Robert Wiblin

        Even granting his awesome judgement, Obama won’t be the last President, and powers taken by one President are usually retained by others in the future.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Even granting his awesome judgement, Obama won’t be the last President, and powers taken by one President are usually retained by others in the future.

        That fails to create an equivalence. People can rationally say of Obama, ‘We think we’re OK with him enjoying the power, but if another madman gets in power, we’ll deal with that then.’

        There’s probably a time-discounting type irrationality involved here, but that’s a bias different from hypocrisy.

        You can’t evade the obvious fact that it makes more sense to show confidence in a person of good judgment plus risk setting a precedent than showing confidence in a person of bad judgment plus risk setting a precedent–unless you think the precedent is all that counts (which would be hypermoralization).

        You have to take into account that far more people have confidence in Obama than they ended with in Bush. So much so that even in their looney rightist debates, the Republicans dared not invoke the Bush name–and the elder Bush has been seen crying that G.W. Bush ruined Jeb Bush’s career! You want to convict of hypocrisy by ignoring the simple fact that it makes a difference–even to many Independents–that Obama is a person whose judgment is respected.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

         By the way, I don’t unequivocally think Obama’s judgment is awesome. I think his near-mode judgment pretty much is–excellent Presidential temperament–but his far-mode is wanting.

        I do have far more confidence that he isn’t going to go slap-happy with drones like Bush would be doing today; that he at least understands the seriousness of these endeavors, as Bush didn’t.

        But Bush was truly phenomenally bad; he will go down in history as the worst American President of all time. So this also adds another perspective to the precedential significance: it is unlikely that we will soon have another President as bad as Bush, and a large part of the opposition to drones under Bush direction resulted from Bush’s personal total disreputability–more than from Obama’s awesomeness.

      • http://www.facebook.com/CronoDAS Douglas Scheinberg

        W. Bush is going to have a hard time unseating James Buchanan for the “Worst President Ever” crown.

      • René Milan

        “a change in attitudes” – if there is one.  I assume it’s more the acceptance of compromising a principle than the revocation of it.
        “possible to continue … with less secrecy and more accountability” – as well as desirable.  
        “lack of process” – detractors will point to the  greater extent of similar properties of suicide killings. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         I’ll say it again: the lack of process is only extraordinary by civil standards, not those of war.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

         But “civil” standards are the relevant ones, in that the administration admits that it only resorts to drones against individuals when there’s no workable extradition law. In other words, we’re seeing an expansion of war standards into what was once a civil (actually, criminal) matter.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599840205 Christian Kleineidam

      If the point of the drone policy would be to provide an appearence of not engaging in laissez-faire policy Obama could have directly admitted it when he started clusterbombing Yemen. 

      • René Milan

        Publicly admitting it amounts to negating the desired effect of the appearance.

  • newqueuelure

    What is the evidence for specific “progressives” who opposed this policy during the Bush administration and have changed their minds during the Obama administration? A fraction of the Democratic party never opposed the policy during the Bush administration and continues not to oppose the policy today. A fraction of the Democratic party opposed the policy during the Bush administration and continues to oppose the policy today.

    The only evidence cited is that … “It’s hard to imagine that Dems and liberals would approve of
    such policies in quite these numbers if they had been authored by George
    W. Bush.”!!

    Lack of imagination is not evidence! There is no survey evidence from before and after on the same question!

    This is poor scientific method!


  • thinking before criticizing

    Mr Wiblin, I think you are mistaken in the premise that it can possibly be hard to understand the love people have had through the ages for a simple king-subject relationship, or that it can possibly be mystifying to many people that (other) people love charismatic rulers. The majority of commenters here who obviously detest and distrust George Bush and respect and trust the rather similar (although, in my opinion, much less well philosophically grounded, with his facile semi-atheism and sad efforts to be cool ) Barack Obama demonstrate this in a way that, for my part, I find completely easy to understand and unmystifying. And I am not claiming to have any special insight into this, just normal common sense. I also think you are mistaken in thinking that an academic site like this could  possibly be evenly split between “Republicans” and “Democrats” when academia itself is split 80 to 20 or more Democrat-Republican, with the Republicans consistently discriminated against in most locations in big clear ways and nasty subtle ways.  Why would the discriminated-against, in any large numbers, want to hang around?  For the record, I completely agree with the points you make in your post, and I am certain that in the future the military fashions followed by our current and recent unwise and unsoldierlike ( but charismatic to 48 to 51 percent of the voters )  leaderships will look as foolish to people of future decades as the sartorial fashions of the past look to our current beaus and dandys. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

    “Living today in longstanding democracies, it can be hard to comprehend
    why so many people living in the past, or other countries, would permit
    or even enthusiastically support the unchecked power of their monarchs
    and dictators.”

    That’s not particulalry hard to understand. For one thing, they dodn’t have much of  a channel to oppose or restrain absolute rulers (short of revolution) precisely because they weren’t living in liberal democracies. For another, absolute rulers put out a huge amount of propaganda about how great they, how they were put on the throne by God, how loyalty is Good and  disployalty Bad.

    None of that has anything to do with them being “One of us”, which they often weren’t.Generations of Britons have drunk Loyal Toasts to german monarchs.

    • broggly

      Protestant German monarchs. Ethnicity isn’t the only, or most important, aspect of identity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

    The overall argument has two parts: that Obama is Bad because Drones are bad: and that progressive are overlooking Obama’s undisputed Badness out of irrational tribal loyalty. Now to the first part.

    Mr Wiblin’ argument against Drones is framed in the context of *civil* law: drone assassinations are “executions” that have been carried out without a fair trial. If you make that comparison, they look bad. Compare them to all-out warfare, and suddenly the picture changes. Any number of people, and much larger numbers of people, are “executed” on battelfields just for wearing the wrong uniforms. Drones take out key individuals without killing large numbers of civilians, or for that matter, other combatants (who may well be unwilling conscripts). Where drone attacks do kill innocents, that is a failure of the technology, not an inherent part of it. During Iraq II, a resturant was blown up becuase of  rumour that Saddam was in it. He wasn’t, but the diners dies anyway. Why woild anyone things a drone strike
    is *worse* thant that?



    • Stephen Diamond

      I don’t thinks that’s a fair statement of the argument. The main point is that “progressives” are inconsistent in opposing drone attacks when launched by Bush (for Robert’s reasons) but not by Obama.

  • mjgeddes

    Slight correction:

    A king is fine, as long as he’s me

  • Drewfus

    Great blog Robert.

    “This is a nice example of human hypocrisy, as if we needed another.”

    I assert that this assumes non-hypocrisy is the default position of the individual on social matters, and hypocrisy is a conciously chosen departure from the norm. Since [the] cognition of ‘self’ is inherently high-level and high-load, i would suppose that it is mentally easier to be a hypocrite than not one. It is hard to apply the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others.

    “As Glenn Greenwald notes, this blind trust in wise and just rulers is the antithesis of how the American system, designed in reaction to a foreign ruler who wasn’t ‘one of us’, was supposed to work:”

    Blind trust is easy. ‘Thinking for oneself’ is hard.

    I think this issue is an example of two other and wider issues.

    1. The human brain cannot cleanly or at least easily seperate presentation from essence. How an issue is formatted is logically irrelevant, but often critical for the brains understanding and regard for a problem. The Wason selection task is an example of how format matters http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wason_selection_task Similarly, if an individual considers that the first three prime numbers might be different depending on the base used, they have been fooled by formatting. If an individual considers the ethics of drone attacks as being highly dependent on the party of the President who authorizes the attacks, is this not also a formatting error?

    Conceivably the brain makes these errors because it has an explicit presentation layer in its architectural sequencing. This layer has evolved for social purposes, but comes at the cost of compromised logic.

    2. We misunderstand the purpose of the political left and right in our society. We see these forces as groups seeking their own goals, and often for their own benefit. Probably false – that confuses presentation with underlying purpose. The real purpose of the left and right is to act as social agents that exploit their philosophical reputations to make doing things that contradict their reputations, palatable to the public. The left presents itself as anti-war and pro-human rights; therefore the left can get away with drone attacks and Guantanamo, because if they are doing these things it must really be necessary (is the rationalization). If a left-wing government inacts austerity measures, then it must really be necessary to have austerity policies, because the left are compassionate (is the rationalization). If a right-wing government blows out the budget deficit, or passes environmental legislation, then these things must really be necessary, because the right believes in balanced budgets and economic growth (is the rationalization).

    They are not just rationalizations. Exploiting reputations is this manner is the point. We allow the left and rights view of themselves to permeate society because we like what these exploitations allow us to get away with. So Clinton runs a small surplus (for a while at least) and then under the Republicans “deficits don’t matter”. If the left said that they would be vilified. Likewise, if society wants to give hundreds of $billions of bailout money to Wall St firms and auto firms, we get the left to do it. The right can’t get away with supporting the corporate world like that, but the left can. No paradox – that is simply the point of the left and the right. The anonmalies in their behavior are so great relative to their fidelities, that by now we should have realized what is going on.

    • Drewfus

      “We misunderstand the purpose of the political left and right in our society.”

      So recently i was talking with a woman who was doing the short course required to take up a franchisee position in a coffee shop chain. She was looking forward to having lots of free time each week and living a fairly luxurious lifestyle. She imagined that staff would be doing most of the opening hours and she would live off the generous profits the franchise would generate. She had an almost cartoonish understanding of what it meant to be a ‘Capitalist’.

      Now which political group is most reponsible for this woman’s perception of life as a franchisee or small business owner – the Left or the Right? The Left. Who benefits from her perception? The coffee shop chain – in other words, private enterprise, and probably her customers, because the more commonly shared her perception is, the greater the supply of franchisee applicants.

      Most people overestimate the average ROI of companies, often hugely. This ensures a strong and steady flow of people willing to try their hand at owning and operating a small business. Without this overestimation, ROIs might have to be much greater. What political group is most responsible for creating this society-wide perception of huge returns to companies? The Left. Who benefits, in mostly private enterprise societies? Everyone (except perhaps, the struggling small business owner), but not the Left specifically.

      The Left exists to support Capitalist society, every bit as much as a right-wing think-tank or the Libertarian Party. Ostensibly the Left support’s it’s own principles and agendas. In reality they are social actors with an important role to play in maintaining Capitalist society, not the independant observers with private goals we see them as – that would be an example of being fooled by formatting.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

         But the “Left” (since by that you must mean liberals, “progressives,” and rightwing Social-Democrats) has never denied that they are the best supporters of capitalism. The brag (I think probably correct) is that F.D.R. “saved capitalism.” It’s the Right that says the “Left” is socialist, not the “Left.”

        As far as the near left propping up capitalism, the far left beat you to the accusation by more than a century.

      • Drewfus

        ” But the “Left” (since by that you must mean liberals, “progressives,” and rightwing Social-Democrats) has never denied that they are the best supporters of capitalism”

        … Or their immodesty? “She had an almost cartoonish understanding of what it meant to be a ‘Capitalist'” means her outlook is quasi-Marxist, not Liberal or Progressive.

        “The brag (I think probably correct) is that F.D.R. “saved capitalism.” It’s the Right that says the “Left” is socialist, not the “Left.”

        So no one of the Left is, or has ever been, Socialist? Okay, so it’s the Left that says the Right is Fascist, not the Right.

        Whatever the case, you have missed my point. No doubt the Liberal/Progressive Left believe they support Capitalism both conciously and on their own terms. In the example above, i’m seeing the Left (generalized) support Capitalism unconciously, and on social terms. That might offend some people’s sense of self-control, but that’s not my concern. My wider point (@original comment) is that both the Left and Right are social role-players. It is pure collectivist thinking, and not the normal analysis of self-interest or even obscured self-interest. I prefer to see the Left and Right in terms of handedness, not their respective marketing.

        As far as your specific point re F.D.R. saving Capitalism, that is era specific, not ongoing. Role-playing is not something one does once every half-century or so. As for the mythology of F.D.R., maybe you should reflect on the fact that the United States economy almost uniquely suffered depression in 1937, before committing to a World war – so what did F.D.R. “save Capitalism” from? Perhaps leaders even more left-wing and business hating than he was?

        “As far as the near left propping up capitalism, the far left beat you to the accusation by more than a century.”

        Oh yeh, why ‘prop-up’ such a wretched system when they could be leading us to the promised land instead? Except what would that far left nirvana be, if not Socialist, given that the equating of Left with Socialism is just right-wing propaganda?

        One more question; why do you put “Left” in quotes but not Right? Right means authoritarian/Facist to some, Libertarian/small government to others. That’s broad enough to make Right an ambiguous term. I doubt the term Left carries anything like that ambiguity – an interesting asymmetry.

      • Stephen Diamond

        One more question; why do you put “Left” in quotes but not Right? Right means authoritarian/Facist to some, Libertarian/small government to others. That’s broad enough to make Right an ambiguous term. I doubt the term Left carries anything like that ambiguity – an interesting asymmetry.

        I disagree that your friend has a Marxist understanding. Marxists have a profound understanding of the travails of thelower petty bourgeoisie like your friend. 

        (To see something of what Marxism is really about, see my just-posted “Capitalism and socialism express conflicting reciprocity norms: A reinterpretation of Marx’s theory of capitalist decline.”http://tinyurl.com/blhdluc )

        I put your Left in scare quotes because I agree with you they’re not qualitatively different from the Right, which really is  Right (defenders of economic inequality). I understand the distinction you are making between episodic acts and unconscious social roles, but my point is that where the “left” acts routinely to save capitalism consciously, it is somewhat unsurprising (and ultimately somewhat trivial by comparison) to discover that they also support capitalism in more subliminal ways. Still, it’s a valid point you make but only as applied to the “establishment” “left.”

  • René Milan

    This started as a discussion about bias but quickly degenerated into a political debate.  The reason is that that the author is attempting to use his article to disseminate his own bias by pretending to try to overcome it.  Just one example: “It was the fear that he might lose the election”, which is not supported by evidence, but a projection based on bias.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Just one example: “It was the fear that he might lose the election”, which is not supported by evidence, but a projection based on bias.”

      He got it from Greenwald, who had evidence.

      But be honest: isn’t this exactly what Obama would be apt to do? (Because it’s actually completely rational and not hypocritical except rhetorically.)

  • Anon

    Another example of hypocrispyare filibusters:

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584287703 Michael Anissimov

    Why is a king a bad idea, again?

    • iamid

       Hard to get rid of a bad one.  The key advantage of democracy is that you can get rid of bad rulers bloodlessly.

      No guarantee of getting a good one though.

  • JW Ogden

    People are illogical in this area of who governs them. Consider, if one were living Gaza the best possible outcome might be for Gaza to be incorporated into Israel with the current inhabitants given the right to work there.  Israel is real a first world country, It is unlikely that Gaza will be first world for a long time apart form Israel. Yet  people will fight and die to support having their own ethnic group be dictators over them. 

    • mike

      Good point.  We’ve seen the same thing in South Africa.

    • iamid

      ” Yet  people will fight and die to support having their own ethnic group be dictators over them”

       A significant proportion of the people in Gaza were ethnically cleansed from “Israel”.  The very last thing “Israel” wants to do is to allow them back.  For a first world country, it is quite medieval on this point.

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  • Chad S Gilbert

    There’s an obvious alternative explanation for the same observation: Democrats who complained loudly about this during Bush, and now ignore it during Obama are being politically strategic. They needn’t embrace any principle, they only need to prefer Democrats as a preferable alternative.

    I believe that your explanation – hypocrisy – becomes the only explanation if the same Democrats who opposed Bush’s expansion of power are now openly embracing Obama’s expansion of the same powers. That seems very unlikely to me, though data would be convincing. If instead one faction has just become quiet about this issue for now, it seems more likely that they just aren’t willing to air dirty laundry.

    • davidmanheim

      You have data now; I think it leans convincingly towards Robin’s explanation.

  • http://www.sas-ph.com/ SAS Accounting Services

    well done, love to read it again.