Dissecting the arguments of liberal apologists for Obama's surveillance and secret war

Democratic party partisans like Sean Wilentz, George Packer and Michael Kinsley spent the Bush years condemning the tactics they now defend under Obama — apart from sheer intellectual dishonesty, how can this be explained?

The greater part of Wilentz's essay is an exhibition of horribles from the past lives and careers of Greenwald, Snowden and Assange. Unfortunate statements are excavated from their native circumstances for dissection and display. Reconstructed personal philosophies are eviscerated, stuffed and carefully posed in lifelike dioramas. Dubious assertions and intimations of guilt-by-association add color, if not quite verisimilitude, to the artfully constructed scenes.

The whole exercise in amateur taxidermy has the rhetorical purpose of stitching two very different claims together, creating the illusion that they are naturally conjoint. The first is that Wilentz's antagonists are enemies of the "modern liberal state." The second is that they are enemies of the "national security state." The first, obviously, is rather more likely to worry liberal readers than the second. However, Wilentz's evidence largely concerns the second. He eschews logical argument in favor of a superficially impressive accumulation of quasi-relevant details about his antagonists' personal histories, which appear intended to suggest connections where none exist.

The resulting artificial monstrosity, like P. T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, doesn't hold up on close examination. Bits fall off if you poke it at all hard. If Wilentz's underlying thesis—that it's profoundly illiberal to oppose government spying—were expressed in seven words rather than seven thousand, it would be so obviously ridiculous as to be unpublishable in a serious magazine. A more scrupulous presentation of his opponents' actual words might hurt his case nearly as badly.

Big Brother's Liberal Friends [ Henry Farrell /The National Interest]

(via Making Light)