The left, the right, Tom Junod, and politicized killing

by Sonny Bunch on July 10, 2012

So, Tom Junod has a very, very long piece in the latest Esquire entitled “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama.” Junod seems committed to giving Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt in all cases—he “struggled” with these hard decisions; his administration is “famously disciplined”; he is “known to be on the side of transparency”*; etc.—while also excoriating him for implementing a regime of oversight-free murder.

Moe Lane ripped Junod a new one in response, essentially pointing out that by being so far in the tank for Obama—and so convinced that George W. Bush and the Republican Party are evil—the left allowed this to happen. Ed Driscoll went down the same path, though slightly more charitably. JVL is more charitable still, though he gets to the real heart of the matter here:

The bigger question posed by Moe Lane’s vivisection is why more liberals haven’t turned away from Obama. There’s a small cadre of liberals, like Glenn Greenwald and Junod, who have criticized Obama on principle. And that’s great–God bless ‘em. But you don’t see–or at least I haven’t seen–liberals publicly turning their backs on Obama and jumping ship. And I wonder why that is. There were plenty of Republican types whom Bush drove out of the party. (Andrew Sullivan, Kathleen Parker, Andy Bacevich, Jim Webb, etc.–the list is actually pretty long.) Why haven’t any lefty Dems done the same?

On Twitter, Jason Fagone noted “Reactions to that Junod piece on Obama’s drone war are weird. On the right: misdirected rage, no clean blows. On the left: meh.” When I asked in which way conservatives were misdirected, he replied “I can’t find any engagement w/ the substance of the piece, just potshots at something Tom wrote four years ago.” But I think this misses the point ever-so-slightly. It’s that “meh” conservatives are raging over. Most conservatives don’t actually have a problem with the policies that the president is advocating.** What conservatives have a problem with is the way in which liberals treated incredibly difficult issues of national security—Gitmo, GWOT, drones, waterboarding, etc.—as little more than a political cudgel with which to bash someone they didn’t like and then, when their guy was in office, ceased giving a shit.

Hypocrisy in politics is nothing new, of course. But there is something weirdly, madly galling about people arguing that pretending to drown someone who has information about an imminent terrorist attack is a Hague-worthy offense while blowing them the f—k up isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not a big deal even when they’re American citizens still afforded protection by the Constitution. Certainly not worth getting worked up over. Conservatives, I think, are annoyed by sentences like this one from Junod and the “meh” they inspire from liberals: “He did not understand the administration’s most audacious claim: that the machinations itself were due process; that a citizen’s presence on a kill list was itself proof that due process had been afforded.”

Just imagine the outcry if this was George W. Bush: “This is Buttle vs. Tuttle territory here! Secretly winding up on a secret kill list to be executed at a secret time and in a secret location?! Insane! Fascist! War crime!”

You see a bit of the same dissonance in the discussion over political spending. For years now, the left has declared that big bucks in politics is the worst thing in the entire world, corrupting of the process and a signal to the plebes that democracy is for sale. Yet, when it’s revealed that unions have spent $4.4 billion between 2005 and 2011, most of it to benefit Democrats, well, “meh.” “Our political spending isn’t that big of a deal. It’s those evil Koch Brothers! Our president raining death from above isn’t that big of a deal. It’s that evil Dubya and that psychotic Mormon we need to worry about!”

*That last one’s a real laugh riot, frankly.

**I’ll go out on a limb here a bit and admit that the execution of American citizens, as opposed to random Pakistani/Yemeni/Whoeveri militants, without any judicial oversight makes me uncomfortable. But I understand that this is a difficult war and a difficult concept and would never go on the campaign trail denouncing the president for making such a call.

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