Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Late to the party

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's all fine and dandy that the American Freedom Agenda, "a growing group of disaffected conservatives who are demanding that the Republican Party return to its traditional mistrust of concentrated government power" -- co-founded by ideologists of the hardcore right Richard Viguerie, Bruce Fein, and David Keene, along with born-again libertarian Bob Barr -- is pushing "all candidates in both parties" to pledge not to wiretap illegally, make signing statements, prosecute journalists, and deny habeas corpus rights to the accused, but, well, count me among the cynical.

These conservatives are doing what so many other conservatives are doing, which is denying that Bush is or ever was a true conservative -- for what else is this but a pledge not to do what Bush has done? -- but where were they (Barr aside) when this, and so much else besides, was going on before? 9/11 didn't happen yesterday, after all. The Patriot Act has been around for a long time. And Bush has been trampling all over the Constitution pretty much throughout his entire presidency. Was it alright back then but not now? If so, why? If not, why come out only now? Could it have anything to do with a) the fact that Bush is wildly unpopular, prompting disillusioned conservatives to seek to purify their movement, and/or b) the strong possibility that a Democrat will win the White House next year?

Otherwise, so what? Should we applaud their courage, their principled commitment to civil liberties -- however disingenuous, however belated, however self-serving? Hardly. Liberals, Democrats, and other critics of Bush and his authoritarianism, myself included, have been writing against these various abuses for many, many years now. I could go back and find post after outraged post -- and I'm no Glenn Greenwald.

I have two words to describe what the AFA is up to: Convenient conservatism.

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