Monday, September 27, 2010

John Yoo and the Tea Party

John Yoo believes that during wartime there's virtually no limit -- legal, constitutional, treaty or otherwise -- on a president's power. He can suspend the First Amendment. He can order the testicles of a small child crushed. It was his legal advice that helped pave the way for the American torture regime.

So, of course: John Yoo is a featured speaker at Tea Party events.

Now: There are undoubtedly many fine and sincere Tea Party participants who legitimately want to see government restrained and fitted for a Constitutional straightjacket. That's fine. But even now, it's easy for me to believe that there's also a sizable chunk of people who didn't mind expanding deficits and tyrannical government overreach as long as a Republican is president. Tea Partiers who turn out for a John Yoo speech? Almost certainly in the latter group.


emawkc said...

"it's easy for me to believe that there's also a sizable chunk of people who didn't mind expanding deficits and tyrannical government overreach as long as a Republican is president."

This is a kind of fake argument that you've used before. It seems you think that you can discredit an idea by discrediting those who put forth the idea, rather than arguing the idea itself.

Why don't you let us know if you thing the government is overreaching and overspending? Should the current administration continue the constitutional abuses pioneered by previous administrations? What should be done about the unprecedented deficits and debt?

Your logical fallacies only serve to promote the partisan nature of what passes for debate in this country.

Joel said...

Emaw: Obviously I don't think it's a fake argument, but let me restate it perhaps more directly.

I believe that many of the people who are ripping their shirts over deficits and tyranny right now don't actually care that much about deficits and government overreach. What they care very much about is that they and their ilk are out of power. And that given recent history, if those people take power again, their actions will prove -- once more -- to be almost completely at odds with their rhetoric.

I think the topics of deficit spending and government overreach are important. But I also think it's important to note when people who say they're worried about those things seems to be lying.

Really: John Yoo as a Tea Party lecturer? To a group that bandies the word "tyranny" and "tyrant" about like a couple of pennies? Sorry: That stops me short, and it should.

KhabaLox said...

I'm not sure Yoo speaking at a Tea Party rally is actually that contradictory. My impression of the Tea Party movement (from the outside, and through the lens of mainstream and blogosphere media, so take it for what it's worth) is that the TP is for a tightly constrained government when it comes to the economy and property rights. Period.

There doesn't seem to be any significant portion of the TP movement that wants the government out of our bedrooms or grow-closets. They don't seem to be advocating that the government erase laws against abortion (and not make any more), or stop interfering with our privacy. I think it is, by far, primarily an economic movement platform. And this is certainly due in large part to the economic situation (i.e. recession and deficit).

I agree that someone arguing for small government in some spheres but not in others appears contradictory from a more standard libertarian viewpoint, but I think it's internally consistent. However, I also think that the TP movement doesn't live up to the fact that they are being somewhat philosophically contradictory.

emawkc said...


The same can be said about the supporters of the current party in control? How many of them were going crazy about corporate influence in the previous administration? Or the troops abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq? Or the constitutional overreach of the executive branch?

What happened to Hope and Change after Obama was elected? Two years later, we still hear more "blame Bush" and "Tea Partiers are hypocrites" than holding their own candidate to task.

Regardless of how sincere they may or may not be, anyone who points out that the government continues to overspend and overreach is correct.

Joel said...

Emaw: Those are all fair points. I've written a little bit about my frustration with the ongoing wars -- particularly in Afghanistan -- and outrageous executive power claims the administration has made. I call BS wherever I see it. You don't see me defending Obama right or wrong. (Of course, our perspectives of "right" and "wrong" might be a touch different...)

And for what it's worth: I agree that anybody who talks about the problems of a big ongoing deficit is rhetorically correct. But that's not enough. Why are they talking about those things? Because they want to fix the problem? Or because it's an easy cudgel with which to take back power and keep on doing the same old bad things? The answer lets me know how seriously they deserve to be taken.

And to bring this all around back to the beginning: John Yoo is not a credible activist against government overreach. Period. And a movement that puts him forward as such has to be taken about that seriously.

emawkc said...

"Or because it's an easy cudgel with which to take back power and keep on doing the same old bad things? "

If you apply that criteria fairly across all candidates, you would end up voting for nobody. "Hope and Change" was nothing more than an advertising slogan used to get people to vote for a certain party in order to regain power and go on doing the same bad things.

Monkey RobbL said...

You know that I share some of your skepticism toward the TPM, but I think It's very important not to compare a (still) very new populist movement with fully developed political parties.

And it's not like the term is trademarked. Any group of disaffected yahoos can call themselves a "tea party" group. For that matter, the media can choose to characterize any right-leaning non-affiliated outrage as "tea party" and there is no formal organization to contradict them. When right-wing "birthers" spew their nonsense, the RNC can choose to formally disown both the remarks and the people who say them. When left-wing "truthers" did likewise, the DNC was able to choose to distance themselves publicly.

The TPM has no official institutional structure. This means I have as much (or as little) authority to "speak for" the movement as anyone. They can't "drum out" extremists, disown bizarre views, or even effectively resist being co-opted by the RNC.

It's up to you, but I would suggest that it's not fair to even refer to the "Tea Party" - because no such party exists. There's a nascent populist movement that appears to be chiefly concerned with debt, deficits, and other chiefly economic issues. But they are not a political party, and they have no institutional dogma. To subject them to the same scrutiny as a pair of 150+ year old political parties is fundamentally unfair.

Joel said...

Robb: I don't share your conclusion. The TPM may be diffuse, leaderless, populist, etc. -- but it's also having a real effect on our politics.

Because of its nature,there's a real risk that anybody trying to critique or describe it ends up a bit like the proverbial blind men trying to describe an elephant -- partly wrong, but also partly right. But when an elephant's stomping through your house, I don't know how you don't try to make sense of it, at least.

Rick Henderson said...

Submitted ... for your consideration ... Jonathan Rauch on the leaderless TPM.


Rick Henderson said...


I also believe part of your problem with the TPM is that its goals (reducing government debt by reducing the scope of government) are inconsistent with what I take yours to be (expanding the scope of government, keeping your fingers crossed that it can be done without running up too much more debt).

I also believe you're not exactly convinced that any group with the stated goals of the TPM can be taken seriously because it's been nearly a century (the Coolidge administration) since a federal administration has truly attempted to reduce the size and scope of government. And you disbelieve this could happen again.

That's my armchair analysis, anyway.

Joel said...

To be clear: My goal is never to "expand the scope of government" for its own sake. There are some things I think a government can provide for its citizenry more ably and (necessarily) equitably than, say, markets. But that's where I part ways with the TPM, yes.

But you're right, to some extent: I might buy into limited-government conservatism if limited-governance conservatives ever limited government while in power. I might decide that approach, while it ends up leaving a few more people behind than I'd like, does the greatest amount of good. But I don't see much evidence of that, you're right. What happens, IMHO, is that government keeps on growing -- but to the benefit of a much smaller group of people.

Rick Henderson said...

My goal is never to "expand the scope of government" for its own sake.

I'll take your word for it, Joel. But you're not being very convincing when you follow that up by saying that the cost of reducing government is a embracing a system that leaves people behind. Again, that's a philosophical split, plain and simple.

Joel said...

Perhaps you misunderstand: I'm not talking about "leaving behind" the people in government -- I'm talking about people served by government. That's not government for its own sake; that's government for the sake of actually helping people get by.

We can -- and do -- disagree about the value of that project. But I'm not interested in growing government merely because I want to see government get bigger. Few liberals do. We actually have things we want the government to accomplish; the biggerness is just a byproduct.