Paul Mirengoff has published a nonsensical Daily Standard article in which he seems to be suggesting that the problem with “the left-liberal ethos” is a failure to view America as a sort of Platonic ideal of itself. He claims that those who object to torture of prisoners or warrant-free wiretaps of US citizens do so because they view America as “morally ambiguous”:
Thus, while most Americans find it unobjectionable that we use water boarding, or electronic surveillance of calls to the United States, to obtain information about al Qaeda plans, those who consider America morally ambiguous cannot accept such tactics. To do so, the familiar protest goes, makes us too much like the enemy. This incarnation of moral-equivalency-think is as potentially debilitating in the war on terror as Edmund Wilson’s version was during the Cold War.
Elsewhere in the article, Mirengoff dismissively refers to “isolated incidents of prisoner abuse.” He and his colleagues at Power Tools have always been unapologetic supporters of torture, so this is unsurprising.
Equally predictable is his disingenuous view of “warrant-less electronic surveillance of calls from foreign al Qaeda operatives to the United States.” This, of course, manages to beg the question (just as every prisoner at Guantanamo Bay is, ipso facto, a terrorist, so is everyone whose phone call is intercepted, ipso facto, a “foreign al-Qaeda operative”) and miss the point: what people are objecting to is the illegal surveillance of US citizens.
This combination of question-begging and point-missing is just what we have grown to expect from Mirengoff and his Power Tools pals. But what’s particularly interesting about this piece is his suggestion that only if one already considers America to be “morally ambiguous” could one possibly object to torture and illegal wiretaps. That’s creepy if you think about it: that tells me he thinks one’s mental image of America should be an ethereal, unsullied picture of freedom and justice, unbesmirched by anything that America actually does. He calls it “moral-equivalency-think” to object to torture and illegal wiretaps.
To Mirengoff, “America” is an ideal, not a nation-state composed of real human beings. Nothing that’s done in our name can be objectionable to us, as long as we understand that the ideal “America” can’t be affected by anything the real-life America does. If we object, it’s because we’ve already made the mistake of viewing America as “morally ambiguous.” If we understand that America, by virtue of its own existence, could never be morally ambiguous, then we will have no objections to whatever the Bush administration thinks needs to be done to “keep us safe from the terrorists.”
He ends his article with some pure gibberish, something to do with “It’s A Wonderful Life”:
Many modern liberals seem unable to say what kind of country they live in. Most of the time, they speak as if they inhabit Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls–a dull, nosy, and somewhat puritanical, but basically decent place where George Bailey and the forces of good fight to a stalemate with Mr. Potter and the forces of evil.
Deep down, though, they fear they live in Pottersville, minus the fun. The defense of Bedford Falls, for all of its flaws, would be a top priority; the primacy of defending Pottersville is less apparent.
So “modern liberals” aren’t really sure whether they want to “defend Pottersville,” and that’s why they object to such morally unambiguous activities as torturing prisoners and illegally listening in on US citizens. Does that make sense to you, readers?
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