Leave the goalposts alone

LEAVE THE GOALPOSTS ALONE…. Dahlia Lithwick had a terrific item the other day noting one of the key problems with the discourse surrounding national security policy: what was considered “tough” up until very recently is now considered “weak.” As of January 20 of last year, the right moved the goalposts and the political establishment didn’t notice.

[E]ach time Republicans go to their terrorism crazy-place, they go just a little bit farther than they did the last time, so that things that made us feel safe last year make us feel vulnerable today.

Policies and practices that were perfectly acceptable just after 9/11, or when deployed by the Bush administration, are now decried as dangerous and reckless. The same prominent Republicans who once celebrated open civilian trials for Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber,” now claim that open civilian trials endanger Americans (some Republicans have now even gone so far as to try to defund such trials). Republicans who once supported closing Guantanamo are now fighting to keep it open. And one GOP senator, who like all members of Congress must take an oath to uphold the Constitution, has voiced his concern that the Christmas bomber really needed to be “properly interrogated” instead of being allowed to ask for a lawyer.

In short, what was once tough on terror is now soft on terror.

That does complicate matters. For President Obama and his allies, there was probably a sense that if they stuck to some of the same policies Bush/Cheney embraced by the end of their second term, the right would have to find something different to complain about. But this is predicated on the notion of intellectual seriousness and consistency — qualities in short supply among the president’s conservative, hypocritical critics.

But it should offer journalists a chance to ask some fair and pertinent questions of those who are on the attack now. Indeed, major media outlets are already presenting the Republican arguments as legitimate; it’s not unreasonable to recommend an obvious follow-up.

* Bush/Cheney read Miranda rights to attempted terrorists. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

* Bush/Cheney put terrorists on trial in civilian courts on American soil. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

* Bush/Cheney locked up terrorists in American prisons on American soil. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

* Bush/Cheney endorsed closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Did you publicly disagree at the time?

This isn’t complicated. If a conservative critic of the president can honestly answer “yes” to any of these questions, he/she is at least on consistent ground. It’s substantively foolish, but those who argued publicly that Bush/Cheney’s national security policies represented “weakness” on counter-terrorism have a credible foundation from which to launch their arguments now.

But therein lies the point: identical practices are not generating identical reactions. Presidents with Rs after their names can applauded for embracing one set of policies, while presidents with Ds after their names are condemned for embracing the same policies.

It’s so transparent as to be obvious: those who answer “no” to the questions above, but who are now trashing the Obama administration, are shameless and dishonest hacks. Period.