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6/3/2009
CONOR FRIEDERSDORF AND HIS ABOMINABLE STRAWMEN

1-1
Conor Friedersdorf receiving some words of wisdom from one of his many strawmen.

A few days ago when the Levin/Dreher/Friedersdorf war was waging at various points around the internet, I wanted to weigh in on it to defend Conor Friedersdorf from charges by some that he was just some youthful lightweight whose attacks on Levin for suggesting a woman’s husband put a gun to his head for being married to such a dolt were misguided and ignorant of the “context” found on conservative talk radio.

After reading this piece at The American Scene by Mr. Friedersdorf, I’m glad I didn’t.

I have given up trying to understand why conservatives place such importance on what comes out of the mouths of pop righties like Levin whose shtick, while entertaining, is taken far too seriously by way too many. Fine. Color me a old fuddy duddy but it used to be conservatives were perfectly able to find inspiration and guidance from genuine thinkers or even thoughtful politicians. I suppose every mass movement needs its popularizers and celebrities these days (I recall the guff astronomer Carl Sagan endured from his colleagues for trying to make extraordinarily complex concepts accessible to minds less scientifically inclined - like mine). But really now, must we elevate to hero status people whose claim to fame is that they can savage the opposition in more colorful and amusing ways than some other shock jock?

Yes, yes, I know that Rush, Levin, and the rest do more than simply make liberals look like idiots, and even dangerous idiots at times. They also dispense conservative wisdom - or, at least what their adoring fans believe is wisdom. Mark me down as unimpressed with most of these shock jocks forays into the realm of conservative ideas. Listening to Limbaugh sometimes reminds me of my best friend John when I was in high school who didn’t read Moby Dick, or The Red Badge of Courage, or any of the classics assigned in literature class but instead bought the comic book version, usually on the morning of the test. Needless to say, he passed the exam but lost out on the richness of Melville’s prose and Crane’s towering anger at the waste of war.

I like a good verbal slap at liberals as much as the next conservative but why must it degenerate into the kind of crude vulgarities used by Levin et al? In the race for ratings, the more inventive the invective, the more friendly that Arbitron meter becomes, I guess.

At any rate, I agreed with Friedersdorf that Levin stepped over the line and should have been smacked down for it. But when a young man like Friedersdorf comes up with a shockingly ill conceived post like this one on “terror hawks” and how Obama could use the same excuses used by Bush to start going after anti-abortion activists, I am glad my support for his arguments against Levin was never put in a post.

This piece has a double dose of straw men, a generous dollop of reductio ad absurdom argumentation, with a heaping pile of manure for desert.

First, what’s with this?

The attack on Dr. Tiller is widely referred to as “terrorism” in the blogosphere. Agree or not, it is easy to image an ongoing terrorist campaign run by fringe pro-lifers to shut down abortion clinics. Heaven forbid that this recent murder is followed by bombings at a few Planned Parenthood locations, but that scenario isn’t unthinkable — copycat atrocities are a sad fact of modern life.

“Easy to image” an “ongoing terrorist campaign” carried out by fanatical pro lifers in a scenario that “isn’t unthinkable? No, it’s not easy to imagine and barely thinkable (Dismissing the possibility entirely cannot be done but “easy to imagine” it is not.) In fact, one would have to deliberately ignore history to imagine anything of the sort. Such acts of murder by unbalanced fanatics have been blessedly rare and have never come in the kind of terrorist wave attack Friedersdorf posits above. The self evident reason is that abortion providers are on high alert after such a terrorist act as are clinics, making further atrocities nearly impossible.

But someone must have put a burr up Mr. Friedersdorf’s behind for him to go off like this:

Should something like that come to pass, I wonder how “War on Terror hawks” would react. My admittedly flawed term is meant to reference folks who believe the executive branch possesses broad unchecked powers to combat terrorism, including the designation of American citizens as enemy combatants, the indefinite detention of terror suspects, wiretapping phones without warrants, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and other powers initially claimed by the Bush Administration and its defenders. Would these predominantly conservative officials, commentators and writers be comfortable if President Obama declared two or three extremist pro-lifers as “enemy combatants”? Should Pres. Obama have the prerogative to order the waterboarding of these uncharged, untried detainees? Should he be able to listen in on phone conversations originating from evangelical churches where suspected abortion extremists hang out? The answer is probably that different “War on Terror hawks” — anyone have a better term for this? — would react differently, but as a matter of law, it seems to me that if they’d gotten their way during the Bush Administration, President Obama would have the power to take all those steps and more, a prospect that is terrifying to me, not because I think our Commander in Chief is looking for a pretext to round up innocent pro-lifers, but because it doesn’t take many violent attacks before Americans start clamoring for a strong executive response, a dynamic that tends to erode liberties in previously unthinkable ways and spawn mistakes whereby innocents are made to suffer.

First of all, take a breath, my friend. My eyes are turning red just from reading that last sentence.

I must congratulate Mr. Friedersdorf on setting up such a fine strawman. Obama holding pro-life activists as “enemy combatants” sure is dramatic but really now, the odds of that happening fall somewhere between my becoming starting right fielder for the Chicago Cubs and the moon careening out of orbit and hitting the earth before I finish writing this sentence. Still here? Good.

So the idea that “terror hawk” commentators would be faced with such a question has as much chance of occurring as me being elected Governor of Illinois - especially since I am a nominal Republican and, while I wouldn’t mind a little harmless graft now and again, the crooks and rogues who inhabit the sewer of Illinois politics are major leaguers compared to anyone else.

It is a ridiculous argument to make, this idea that any president would come down on anti-abortion fanatics like that. Ditto waterboarding pro life activists (Why??). And Mr. Friedersdorf is naive indeed if he doesn’t believe the FBI isn’t already listening in on what these activists are up to - even if the connection leads to a church. The Bureau no doubt has a handle on most, if not all of the fanatics and probably have a good idea which ones are a threat and which are mostly talk.

Friedersdorf is also probably off base with his contention that a wave of terrorist attacks on clinics would cause an outcry by Americans for a “strong executive response.” No doubt pro-choice activists would quite understandably be yelping for the civil liberties of activists but would the average American, who would be in little danger from such attacks, make the kind of stink about internal security that our politicians made in the aftermath of 9/11?

Mr. Friedersdorf’s arguments are based on the notion that there is equivalence between a terrorist attack carried out by trained cadres hell bent on killing as many of us as possible and, historically speaking, lone wackos or small groups of untrained fanatics attacking small targets that — again, historically - have resulted in a small loss of life. I don’t see the equivalence or much need to worry that Obama or any president - even if Mr. Friedersorf’s terror wave scenario came true - would carry out the draconian measures that President Bush felt necessary to impose in the aftermath of 9/11.

I would be in agreement with Conor if he had stuck to the notion that another terrorist attack that was equally or more devastating than 9/11 would almost certainly lead to additional curtailments of our liberties. I hate to contemplate the notion of what the aftermath of a WMD attack would entail and what impact it would have on our freedoms. But Friedersdorf is trying to make a point about the danger of right wing religious nuts being equal to that of the jihadists - not only as a threat but that tactics used to fight the jihadists would be used to violate the civil liberties of anti-abortion fanatics That dog don’t hunt.

One point Conor makes I agree with; supporting torture techniques like waterboarding is wrong. As for the rest, I have been troubled by some of the Bush-era policies like FISA violations and and some of the more eyebrow raising strictures in the Patriot Act like removing safeguards on FBI warrants. But I am also not a civil liberties absolutist and recognize that the exigencies of war sometimes calls for a curtailment of some liberty. That has historically been the case and to have denied the president the same powers granted every president since Washington would have been wrong.

If I were Conor Friedersdorf, I would pick another analogy to make his point about “terror hawks” than the fringe fanatics of the anti-abortion movement.

By: Rick Moran at 10:24 am
10 Responses to “CONOR FRIEDERSDORF AND HIS ABOMINABLE STRAWMEN”
  1. 1
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    11:13 am 

    Yes, yes, I know that Rush, Levin, and the rest do more than simply make liberals look like idiots, and even dangerous idiots at times.

    It’s not just liberals. It’s also conservatives who have a different take on an issue. It’s easy to make people look like idiots when you’re the one who controls the mute button on the call-in line.

    It’s frustrating as a listener to hear someone get muted when they’re trying to make a point or counter point.

    However, if I had my own radio who, I’d prolly do the same thing.

  2. 2
    smitty Said:
    11:37 am 

    Piling on, Friedersdorf deserves ridicule for ignorance of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_war, and the legal circumstances under which enemy combatants were interred in GITMO.
    If Friedersdorf is a result of No Child Left Behind, then perhaps we should request an exception.

  3. 3
    Conor Friedersdorf Said:
    12:04 pm 

    Perhaps you are right that the hypothetical terrorist campaign I describe is so improbable that it isn’t worth discussing. I worry about various kinds of domestic terrorism, whether committed by religious extremists or Tim McVeigh style anti-government folks or radical leftist environmental or anti-war activists — like the 9/11 attacks, it only seems improbable until it happens, at which point the warning signs seem clear in hindsight — but it’s a reasonable criticism nonetheless, since I may well be wrong to worry.

    But when you state that my arguments are “based on the notion that there is equivalence between a terrorist attack carried out by trained cadres hell bent on killing as many of us as possible and, historically speaking, lone wackos or small groups of untrained fanatics attacking small targets,” you are incorrect — I DO NOT mean to assert any such equivalence. Indeed, I share your conviction that Al Qaeda is almost infinitely more dangerous, and that opposing them ought to occupy almost infinitely more resources.

    The fact that I do not find them equivalent, however, does not mean that some future president won’t draw a false equivalence, using the fact that both groups can be termed terrorists — and powers he’s been given to fight terrorists — to commit abuses we’d both regard as abhorrent.

    Like you, I’m not particularly worried that President Obama is going to commit such abuses. Then again, I never imagined circa 2000 that President Bush would end up overseeing a program of torture.

    You write, “Friedersdorf is trying to make a point about the danger of right wing religious nuts being equal to that of the jihadists…” But that’s not so. Jihadists are demonstrably MUCH MORE DANGEROUS. You go on, “…not only as a threat but that tactics used to fight the jihadists would be used to violate the civil liberties of anti-abortion fanatics. That dog don’t hunt.”

    But why not? Once you give a President unchecked power to use against one kind of very dangerous terrorist, why do you assume he can’t or won’t use it against another kind of less dangerous terrorist?

  4. 4
    c3 Said:
    12:19 pm 

    This is another fine example of an internet/blogsphere “discussion” (and I use that term with severe reservations)degenerating into an “insult fest”. Maybe I should go back to watching wrestling.

    PS the initial Levin comment was despicable, period

  5. 5
    mike farmer Said:
    12:23 pm 

    I don’t think he was making a moral equivalence argument between the two, or even suggesting that Obama would do something like this, but, rather, asking IF this happened, would the “terrorist hawks” be as supportive of it as they are civil liberty violations in the name of fighting Islam extremist terrorism. I think Friedersdorf’s point is that the “terrorist hawks” are blinded by the particular instance of Islamic terrorism, and that they would think differently if police state tactics were used against free people who are more like them just because some of these people like them have committed terrorist acts.

  6. 6
    mike farmer Said:
    12:24 pm 

    Whoops, I wrote too soon.

  7. 7
    Conor Friedersdorf Said:
    12:31 pm 

    “I think Friedersdorf’s point is that the ‘terrorist hawks’ are blinded by the particular instance of Islamic terrorism, and that they would think differently if police state tactics were used against free people who are more like them just because some of these people like them have committed terrorist acts.”

    Yes Mike, I don’t think Obama will do this — though we have safeguards for extreme situations, and you never know — and I do think that “terrorist hawks” are blinded in just the way you suggest (or you suggest I suggest, actually).

  8. 8
    Gayle Miller Said:
    6:18 am 

    Murder is utterly indefensible - whether the person killed be a moral cripple like Dr. Tiller or an innocent infant in utero (49 million since Roe v. Wade just to keep our numbers straight here) or whether you are an Army Recruiter, minding your own business, like Pvt. Long. ALL diminish us by the brutality and senselessness of the act and the victims ALL deserve our prayers. Dr. Tiller played the political game to perfection for many years - major contributions to many, many Democratic politicians and causes. HHS Kathleen Sebelius received a great many contributions, which may explain why the many investigations into the illegalities of his abortion mill were often begun and then stalled. Pvt. Long was simply going about his lawful business and the media isn’t even honest enough to give the name of his attacker - they consistently refer to him by his original name instead of his newly adopted Muslim name! Now there’s some dishonesty for you!

    I firmly believe that Hugo Chavez Obama can and will do almost anything, whether legal or not, in his quest to reshape America to his owners’ own weird desires. Our only hope is next year’s midterm election! Let’s get rid of the leftists insorfar as we are able and elect some sensible representatives with spines!

  9. 9
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    9:11 am 

    Gayle Miller said:

    I firmly believe that Hugo Chavez Obama…

    Hey Gayle, when you use clever-to-you names like “Hugo Chavez Obama” or other such derogatory conservative monikers, it delegitimizes everything you say. It detracts from the potency, message, and salience of your posts, and only serves to distract from the points raised when you write.

    If you’re trying to influence others who either haven’t formed an opinion, or are receptive to different approaches on a topic, then this is the worst possible way to go about doing it.

    And yes, the same goes for liberals who do it as well.

  10. 10
    Elizho Said:
    7:26 pm 

    “I have given up trying to understand why conservatives place such importance on what comes out of the mouths of pop righties like Levin whose shtick, while entertaining, is taken far too seriously by way too many.”

    You admitted yourself: there are just way too many impressionable minds being horns-woggled into wave after wave of talk radio hokum while having no intellectual accretion to show for at the end of the day other than an exhaustively rehearsed set of malapropisms to hector their feigned counterparts. I might agree or disagree with his approach to construct an effective defense against these pop culture pundits to shock the lost generation of Right back to life but at least his effort will not be futile.

    “But really now, must we elevate to hero status people whose claim to fame is that they can savage the opposition in more colorful and amusing ways than some other shock jock?”

    You can take a parallel analogy from the ever popular “rap battles” performed as a ritual to earn “respect” by disrespecting your little-known opponent. I could not agree more with you on this matter.

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