1. “Three Democratic myths used to demean the Paul filibuster
The progressive ’empathy gap’, a strain of liberal authoritarianism, and a distortion of Holder’s letter are invoked to defend Obama
Yesterday, the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole, in an interview with Mother Jones, said the key fact about US drone killings is that what “we’re facing here is an empathy gap”. He added:
“Killing a bunch of people in Sudan and Yemen and Pakistan, it’s like, ‘Who cares – we don’t know them.’ But the current discussion is framed as ‘When can the President kill an American citizen?’ Now in my mind, killing a non-American citizen without due process is just as criminal as killing an American citizen without due process – but whatever gets us to the table to discuss this thing, we’re going to take it.”
Writing in Salon, the South-Asian-American philosophy professor Falguni Sheth blasted Democrats and progressives for leaving it to Rand Paul to protest “the White House’s radical expansion of executive power”. She noted: “rather than challenge a Democratic administration in defense of constitutional principles that all citizens should insist be guaranteed, Democrats embraced party tribalism.” She argues in particular that as Democrats attack Paul on the grounds of his support for racist policies, they support or acquiesce to all of these War on Terror policies that have an obvious racial – and racist – component, in light of the very specific types of individuals who are imprisoned, and whose children are killed by drones, and whose rights are systematically abridged.
Some progressives are unintentionally candid about their self-interest leading them to dismiss these issues on the ground that it doesn’t affect people like themselves. “I can think of lots of things that might frighten me, but having a drone attack me in my bed tonight is not one of them”, declared one white progressive at a large liberal blog in the course of attacking Paul’s filibuster. Of course that’s not a concern of hers: she’s not in the groups who are so targeted, so therefore the issues are irrelevant to her. Other writers at large progressive blogs have similarly admitted that they care little about “civil liberties and a less bellicose foreign policy” because they instead are “primarily interested in the well-being of the American middle-class”: ie, themselves. And, of course, the same is true of all the MSNBC hosts mocking Paul as paranoid: they are not the kind of people affected by the kinds of concerns they aggressively deride in order to defend their leader.
When you combine what Teju Cole describes as this selfish “empathy gap” among progressives with the authoritarian strain in American liberalism that worships political power and reveres political institutions (especially when their party controls them), it’s unsurprising that they are so callous and dismissive of these issues (I’m not talking about those who pay little attention to these issues – there are lots of significant issues and one can only pay attention to a finite number – but rather those who affirmatively dismiss their significance or rationalize these policies). As Amy Goodman wrote in the Guardian: “Senator Paul’s outrage with the president’s claimed right to kill US citizens is entirely appropriate. That there is not more outrage at the thousands killed around the globe is shameful … and dangerous.”
For a political faction that loves to depict itself as the champions of “empathy”, and which reflexively accuses others of having their political beliefs shaped by self-interest, this is an ironic fact indeed. It’s also the central dynamic driving the politics of these issues: the US government and media collaborate to keep the victims of these abuses largely invisible, so we rarely have to confront them, and on those rare occasions when we do, we can easily tell ourselves (false though the assurance is) that these abuses do not affect us and our families and it’s therefore only “paranoia” that can explain why someone might care so much about them.
2. “The NYT and Obama officials collaborate to prosecute Awlaki after he’s executed
A joint media-government attempt to justify the assassination of a US citizen ends up doing the opposite
But all of this only underscores why governments of civilized nations don’t first execute people without charges or due process and seek after the fact to prosecute and convict them in a one-sided, non-adversarial process of newspaper leaks; these are exactly the kinds of questions that are resolved by adversarial judicial procedures, precisely the procedures the Obama administration made sure could never take place. It also underscores why responsible media outlets should do more than print these unverified government accusations as truth, especially about a matter as consequential as the government’s assassination of its own citizens. That the Obama administration and the New York Times did neither of those things in this case is quite revealing about the function they perform.”