First is the tendency to take the greatest weakness of our two party system-- when it fails to present meaningful alternatives on issues of considerable controversy-- and render it a kind of twisted defense of that system. Because I am not presented an acceptable alternative by the two parties, many commenters say, I must simply get on board with the side that offers a superior alternative in other areas. This is a kind of aggressive, learned helplessness, a Stockholm syndrome of democracy. I am to get on board because I have no choice. And this is to me a straightforward acceptance of democracy's demise, and one that abdicates all responsibility. The truth is that while I may not have an individual choice, we have a collective choice. The Democrats could end their addiction to the prosecution of violence against Muslims. We are responsible for our own conduct. We do have alternatives. Obama does have alternatives. It is our duty to judge him for his failures to choose something better.
Next is an almost perfect inversion of the previous: if I say that I want an alternative, I must be able to articulate a fully implementable democratic action plan or else keep quiet. Whereas in the previous argument I must keep quiet because I am powerless, in this argument I must keep quiet because I am not all-powerful. This is a truly bizarre understanding of democracy. In no other issue can I recall anyone arguing this way. Certainly, no one treats our inability to articulate a fully practical political plan for ending global warming as an excuse not to talk about the issue at all. You do the long work of democracy by arguing your moral position even when you have no immediately obvious plan. Perhaps especially then.
I am deeply disturbed at how the blogging ethic of 100% self-certainly impacts the discussion of these issues. The idiom of Lawyers Guns and Money, for example, has become a thick lacquer of haughty contempt, a kind of carefully crafted professorial superiority. The LGM mode is to present yourself as someone who has always already arrived at the political truth, and anyone who has not yet arrived at your state of cynical savvy must be a rube who has to be talked down to. This pose makes self-criticism impossible. A related variety is Tbogg, a man who has worked so relentlessly to project a sarcastic knowingness that he strikes me as literally incapable of self-critical inquiry. And with those whose first political conviction is to demonstrate their pose of settled questions and obvious answers, the tendency is always to destroy stridency. Stridency suggests that there is moral work left to be done in our political deliberations; it is antithetical to those who are so dedicated to representing themselves as fully realized, unerring political consciousnesses. This is why people hate Conor Friedersdorf: his stridency and direct talk of right and wrong is incompatible with the now universal progressive attitude of haughty superiority.
Since 9/11, the United States has waged a relentless campaign of collective punishment against the Muslim world. For years, liberals and Democrats have represented themselves as the principled opposition to that campaign. The Obama administration has not curtailed that campaign. There are still thousands of American troops in Iraq. The number of US troops in Afghanistan is twice that of when Obama took office. And his administration has dramatically expanded the breadth of our campaign of assassination and death from above, without judicial or political review. Despite all the talk in my comments of how this represents some sort of tough moral choice, Democrats constantly celebrate this expansion on the campaign trail. The DNC was an orgy of self-congratulation for Democratic toughness and aggression. If the campaign of assassination and violence against Muslims is some sort of ugly compromise, perhaps someone should tell the campaign managers that.
Someday, our post-9/11 conduct will be seen as one of the great evils of American history. As is always the case, those looking back will wonder loudly how it could have happened here, why decent people did nothing to stop it. The rationalization and justification present in prominent online liberalism is the answer. And it is for this reason that liberals and Democrats are now excoriating a tiny group of politically powerless people who have insisted on resistance. In that resistance lies the logic of democracy, and it means both nothing and everything.