The Old 'Partisan' Lines Don't Fit Nicely With Modern Civil Liberties And Tech Policy Issues

from the rethinking-partisanship dept

I’ve said a few times in the past that, as someone who doesn’t identify with any particular group on the political/partisan spectrum, I’ve appreciated the fact that the issues I tend to cover aren’t normally considered “partisan” and can often create “strange bedfellows.” Copyright, for example, isn’t an issue that fits into partisan lines at all (though, unfortunately, that’s because for a long time, both major parties supported ever greater maximalism — though that may finally be changing). In fact, when issues did become partisan, it often meant that all reasoned discussion and debate (and chance for actual forward motion) went out the window. Net neutrality was a good example of that. When it first came about, the discussions concerning net neutrality weren’t partisan at all, but then the Democrats embraced it, and the Republicans lined up against it, and any reasoned or nuanced discussion or debate about it seemed to vanish.

Still, some issues are historically associated with one side or the other. Things like “national security” often seem to be an issue that the traditional “right” lines up behind, while “civil liberties” is an issue that the traditional “left” lines up behind. I’m old enough to remember when being a “a card carrying member of the ACLU” was used as an insult by Republicans to smear Democrats. Obviously, there are libertarians who are often (in my view, incorrectly) associated as being on “the right,” who care deeply about civil liberties, but for the most part, the general stereotype is that Republicans on the “right” lined up behind strong national security fights and were less interested in civil liberties, while the Democrats on the “left” were “weak” on national security.

So it’s at least a little bizarre to see this piece in Foreign Policy Magazine talking about how the Heritage Foundation, often considered the keepers of the Republican platform, refused to publish a paper that defended the NSA’s surveillance efforts as perfectly legal and constitutional. The Heritage Foundation was a big supporter of the Patriot Act, and urged that the key provisions that enabled the dragnet data collection of phone records be renewed. Even more bizarre? When Heritage refused to publish the paper, Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution — often considered a “liberal” think tank in DC — jumped in to publish a version of the paper instead:

Cully Stimson, a senior Defense Department official in the Bush administration who now runs Heritage’s national security law program, called Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the national security blog Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Stimson “asked me whether Lawfare might be interested in [the papers], and I was delighted to publish them,” Wittes told The Cable. “We asked Steve to consolidate them into a single paper, and there were some subsequent revisions as well because of the document release that took place in the intervening period,” Wittes said, referring to the government’s decision in August to declassify a large number of documents about NSA programs.

Now, there could be a few different things at work here. For example, while Brookings is traditionally considered more on the liberal end of the spectrum, Wittes has long been a full on cheerleader for the surveillance state, so it was a natural fit. Similarly, Heritage is now under the leadership of Jim DeMint, who has long been identified as being more closely aligned with the more libertarian wings of the Republican Party. So this could be simply a case where the leanings of those two individuals resulted in what might be seen as a “strange bedfellows” situation with this paper.

Alternatively, there’s an argument that rather than a sort of post-partisan issue that some of us hope these kinds of issues will become, this really is an overtly partisan issue, to the point that Heritage is less eager to support NSA surveillance by the administration because it’s not “their guy” in the White House, The same may be true for those on the left who are willing to support the NSA’s actions (even when they protested angrily about similar, and potentially less egregious, civil liberties abuses under George W. Bush) because it’s okay with President Obama in charge. If this is true, it’s not just incredibly cynical and short-sighted, but it’s kind of depressing at the intellectual dishonesty of it all.

While either of those scenarios may be true, I’m still hopeful that more and more of these important issues having to do with technology and civil liberties policy will be viewed as post-partisan (which is very different than “bi-partisan”), in that they’re important issues that should be dealt with on their own merits, rather than if you happen to prefer the red team or the blue team. Part of the problem that many of us who focus on things like innovation and civil liberties policy have with the way the political efforts break down is that neither party comes close to representing what we’re interested in. If more of these important issues that are getting attention don’t fit neatly along party lines, perhaps the political landscape can be reconfigured in a more effective way to actually deal with the issues of tomorrow, rather than mere bickering about the issues of the past.

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Comments on “The Old 'Partisan' Lines Don't Fit Nicely With Modern Civil Liberties And Tech Policy Issues”

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out_of_the_blue says:

They never did. Always look like arbitrary lines to me.

As if pols sat in smoke-filled room and drew “positions” out of a hat; purpose was to divide up the populace by confusing them with those arbitrary lines, while making it easy to exclude independents as the “two” parties definitely always collude to do. The “two-party” system makes it particularly easy for dolts to “vote” as they don’t have to bother finding out and evaluating individual candidate positions. — Even here, Mike is just continuing the whole “partisan” notion, NOT “rethinking”; name-dropping some Establishment think-tanks, left-right, and so on.

The post-partisan future is solidly corporate fascist, people. “Post-partisan” means de-industrialized, privatized, surveilled TOTAL STATE. Focus on technology (meaning empower corporations making the gadgets which increasingly surveil you) guarantees losing sight of the fundamental rights of “natural” persons, and that’s exactly as the mega-corporations want.

We need to roll back the “innovation” that’s controlling us.

Google wants you to know you’re under our ever improving state-of-the-art personalized surveillance! We learn your interests, habits, and associations! All “free”, courtesy of other corporations!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They never did. Always look like arbitrary lines to me.


We should not abandon or “roll back” technology. We should embrace it and leverage it to fight the corruption and decay that seems to have taken over modern governments.

Just think: before the internet, if some government goon said something on the media echo chamber, you had no choice but to believe it. How would you disprove it without data? But today, you can show to a global audience, in real time, that he is full of shit. You can crowd-source that information. And, most importantly, you can ask someone else from across the world – who has a completely different perspective, often not conditioned by your cultural/political/etc biases – how full of shit the man is.

Technology bridges the gap between mighty and weak, brings people together and makes them stronger. This is made evident every time some new, potentially life changing technology comes forth and governments rush to legislate it and severely limit its usefulness – and with it, the potential that it can be used against them.

Internet. Drones. 3D printers. Every new technology that might empower “the people” is being castrated, often in the name of that elusive “national security” that our supposed enemies are always on the brink of shattering, or some moral and/or economic principle from yesteryear like copyright that has almost lost its meaning in the information age, but that some groups still hang on to because it gives them the ability (or at least an illusion of that ability) to control the masses.

The truth is that they fear that the masses will turn to these technologies and use them to topple their little empires.

They fear technology. Let’s use that to our advantage.

Anonymous Coward says:

If this is true, it’s not just incredibly cynical and short-sighted, but it’s kind of depressing at the intellectual dishonesty of it all.

Yup, I’m pretty sure that’s it.

Just look at the recent budget crisis. Nobody cares about the fact that our government partially shut down for a couple of weeks and nearly defaulted on its debts. Instead, all the mainstream news headlines are about how Team Red blinked first and lost the staring contest they had with Team Blue.
Public well-being? Representation of constituents? Keeping the nation from falling apart due to financial mismanagement? Nobody cares. What is important is that Home Team beats Visiting Team.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:

@ John Fenderson: While I agree with you for the most part, a brief look at the comments section here at TD, on other online publications, and on social media will show you that people are often led by the media, and willingly join either team according to their personal biases.

What I’m saying is, you can’t ALWAYS judge what people are thinking about things by what the media is saying, but you sure as hell can tell what they are thinking by what they are saying.

And much of the time, it’s knee-jerk reactionary “Pick a team” nonsense. The number of times I’ve been called a “Liberal Socialist” because I’m a moderate conservative is ridiculous, and the pressure to pick a team if you want to remain associated with certain people online is intense. I’ve had to block a few people I once counted as friends over it. I will NOT be shamed into picking a side when neither of them is on my side and it’s all a sham to distract us from the real issues anyway.

We need to stick together and work together if we’re going to get anything done. And you know what? We don’t have to agree with each other 100% of the time to do so.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I was referring to the statement that nobody cares about the shutdown. Even though the media talks about nothing but Team Red vs Team Blue on the subject, when I talk with other people about it, that’s not what they’re discussing at all. They’re talking about the failure of government and its ramifications.

That aside, I agree with your comment here. I, too, align with no tribe completely. In part because I think that tribalism is poison to our nation, and in part because it’s just being intellectually lazy. If you just align with a camp, you don’t have to really think the issues out for yourself to know what you think.

We need to stick together and work together if we’re going to get anything done. And you know what? We don’t have to agree with each other 100% of the time to do so.

A million times this. A would add that if everyone is thinking for themselves, nobody will agree with each other 100% of the time. And that’s a good thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The media in most western countries are exceptionally bad at covering politics. They fall into different categories:

1. Spin me a tale, bad man! The press use experts on spin/”politics” to tell people about why exactly politicians x and y act like they do. The meta-analysis is catching some popular interest, but completely drops any political topics. Furthermore, instead of the spin effecting the populations, the spin makes politicians change stances to be better equipped for spinning the issue correctly instead of actually caring. The lobbyists are experts in providing what the politicians supporting them needs and therefore this type of tv is playing them into the hands of lobbyists!

2. Meta meta! The press analyze the political opinion data to inform people. This is very common close to elections. From a politicians perspective it is terrible since it can make people vote tactical to skew the numbers instead of voting for a politic! There is nothing wrong with this specifically, but it will not inform people about what the political package they vote for entails nor the political parties with data on where their dream-candidate should stand. Makes politicians go for “safe” plays for their party line and district.

3. Facts are facts! The press look for a boolian answer to the question: Is what the politician says true? Fact-finding is absolutely an improvement on the spin analysis and meta data analysis, but it is still way too simplified to take a few remarks and find out what is behind them.

What media needs to do is digging up the background literature and daring to describe what it says. I know it actually takes quite some time for a journalist to get informed enough to do that, it doesnt have the postman bites dog and therefore cannot create the spectacular headlines the modern media needs and there will be many people who do not see the value to them instantly. However, it is a necessity for people to actually start to understand politics. In this respect Mike Masnick, while biased, is doing an admirable job of reading and commenting both the lobbyist memos that create the lines from the politicians and the reports that inform their actions.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: It's called "Horserace politics."

The failure of democracy is that it truly depends on people voting in their best interests, as opposed to the team with whom they have established identity or loyalty. And only in the late 20th century did we realize human beings don’t work that way. Now that everyone in power has great campaigning experts to keep their constituencies tightly in line, there are minimal electorate repercussions, ergo the Suicide Coalition could have been snacking on kittens while they locked down the nation in their coup d’?tat, and we still couldn’t (legally) do a thing.

The only way to get rid of our high incumbency (short of a very violent takeover) would be to incentivize them to voluntarily retire.

As of this posting I have not received a US National Security Letter or any classified gag order from an agent of the United States
Encrypted with Morbius-Cochrane Perfect Steganographic Codec 1.2.001
Thursday, October 17, 2013 5:55:59 PM
lift toothbrush graduate hymn torture velcro holly slipper

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve said a few times in the past that, as someone who doesn’t identify with any particular group on the political/partisan spectrum, I’ve appreciated the fact that the issues I tend to cover aren’t normally considered “partisan” and can often create “strange bedfellows.”

It’s hilarious that you don’t recognize your own far-left, liberal leanings.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s hilarious that you don’t recognize your own far-left, liberal leanings.

CNN has referred to me as a “far right wing blogger.” You refer to me as a “far left, liberal.” Others have referred to me as “bolshevik socialist” to “tea party conservative.”

Maybe you should try not using labels and pay attention to substance.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:


That comment is a case in point, Mike. They tend to pick on moderates in an effort to drag us deeper into the fold and make us go along with what they want.

I’m glad you’re too smart to let yourself be limited or influenced by labels. I wish thinking for oneself was more popular, as so few people actually do so.

Connor Clawson (profile) says:

Pride And Partisanship

“perhaps the political landscape can be reconfigured in a more effective way to actually deal with the issues of tomorrow, rather than mere bickering about the issues of the past.”

That’s rather optimistic Mike. we keep electing and replacing congressmen every 2 to 4 years yet the new boss ends up being the same as the old boss, to borrow a lyric from The Who. Partisan pride has made any issue a partisan issue just to be on the opposite spectrum of the opposing party. This problem applies to both republicans AND democrats. as long as pride and partisanship dictates the divide, then government will remain the same as the world around it changes.

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Liberal vs. Conservative?

It’s a truly a nonsensical dichotomy. it would make just as much sense trying to sort out middle east politics using only two players. I remember trying to come up with a scorecard during the days of Yassir Arafat to keep from confusing the various factions. Never did come close to getting a handle on things.

It’s all comes down to money, after all. Maybe by employing some sophisticated higher math on the flow of money in D.C., one could come up with something like a tide chart for a very complicated tidal basin. Then maybe you can figure out who’s doing what.

Regarding copyright, however, look no further than the right-wing loons who operate the Copyright Alliance. Don Nickles of the Nickles Group was tea party before there was one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Liberal vs. Conservative?

Really, what’s the point of paying attention to the factions at all? Terms like “Democrat” and “Republican” are increasingly meaningless these days. I mean, that’s the entire point of the article.

To truly track who’s doing what, you’d need to work on an individual basis. “Democrat” and “Republican” didn’t predict who would publish that paper. “Pro-surveillance” and “Libertarian” would have.

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liberal vs. Conservative?

If you want to select your political representation via some rational process, or decide where to put your time and money to get stuff done, then factions make a difference. That said, I think we can agree that ordering the world based on liberal/conservative or Democrat/Republican is a sure sign of brain damage. But that still leaves the question of how to go about protecting or advancing one’s interests. Maybe predicting who’ll be an ally or opponent would best be done by examining emotional dysfunctions and cognitive deficiencies. I’m partial to people with a good dose of paranoia, and insecurity issues that translate to a loathing of those wealthier than they are. A sense of impending and unavoidable doom is also a nice quality I like to see in my representatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Liberal vs. Conservative?

Actually one of the reasons is exactly a question of an intellectually dishonest meta-rationalisation of the democrat or republican into a good vs bad.

The other proposition is the leanings of the people behind the thinktanks not alligning 100 % with partyline.

The third reasoning of less democrat vs republican is more specific observations on bipartisan issues.

You could see it as the substantial issues are getting less partisan due to lack of real coverage.
Meanwhile the spin and handwaving from thinktanks are making the difference in factions into a presentation bias on their papers and opinions.
Politics is no longer about the law and specific issues. It is about who their friends are and how representable they appear! The fizzle is what sells, substance is so last year.

jameshogg says:

Re: Liberal vs. Conservative?

Copyright is quite a vast subject. It probably deserves a spectrum all of its own, independent of the traditional Left-Right wings.

But I probably still could not fit anywhere on that copyright spectrum. I am an abolitionist, but not of any “faction” that I can see gaining popular ground right now.

For instance, I try my best to make a point by avoiding the cliches that my side of the spectrum dish out: “it’s not theft it’s infringement!” “But the labels are too rich, anyway!”, “I can’t afford paying!”, “They won’t make their streaming channels convenient enough!”. These not only show that one isn’t thinking for one’s self, the arguments themselves undermine a lot of what the sensible pro-copyright advocates say, which is not fair. I come from a background that makes a big deal about knowing the arguments of opponents well enough that I could put them myself if I wanted to.

I have yet to meet an abolitionist like myself who claims to be against copyright because IT is responsible for enabling pirates to easily cheat on their dues, and who would like to reverse the process by making pirates accountable for their actions by making all monetisation be dependent on assurance contracts (crowdfunding primarily, but also tickets, subscriptions, pre-orders, etc). That is certainly a far more sensible way than the utopian madness of copyright that seems to benefit everyone – publishers and pirates – EXCEPT the actual creators. “Either you are with copyright or you are with pirates” is ridiculous. You can be against both.

I also like to point out that I do accept the idea of “intellectual property” if we talk about skills as property, such as a house builder’s “property” of his learned skills, or a plumber’s skills, etc. But then I go on to say that copyright must necessarily be ANTI intellectual property because it holds hostage the rights of derivative artists and their “skills”. The pro-copyright advocates who put forward John Locke’s philosophy as an argument for copyright get quite pissed off when I bring up that very same philosophy against THEM but more strictly. Locke would not have been in favour of holding hostage some kind of property in favour of defending that exact same kind of property, and probably would have sided with the assurance contract model to protect original AND derivative more morally.

This, I hope you can see, is not an argument that gets a lot of attention. And I think it is probably because there are few Marxist-dialectics who want copyright abolished and are willing to see how through the interpenetration of opposites.

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liberal vs. Conservative?

True, and that was the whole point of Mike’s piece. The only thing I would point out is that “left-wing loon” and “executive branch (Democratic) loon” are not interchangeable labels. Same goes for “right-wing loon” and “Republican.” Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), and former USTR Ron Kirk, friend of Pres. Obama, have direct connections to the Nickles Group and former Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK). Dodd heads the MPAA, which is a client of the Nickles Group; MPAA also directly supports the Copyright Alliance financially. Ron Kirk and Nickles served together as co-chairs for COMPETE, an electrical utilities consortium/trade association. Sandra Aistars, current exec director of the Copyright Alliance, worked with Kirk on ACTA before going to the Alliance.

I think I mentioned something about needing a scorecard.

jameshogg says:

The anti-group thinker by definition has no word to describe him.

And those who call themselves an “X”, whatever it is, are fundamentally saying they “think like those who like to think alike”. When it comes to expressing my ideas, my own name is enough for me.

The Right can adopt Left principles all the time, and vice-versa. It can happen to the point where the meanings of the words “Left” and “Right” change significantly. For example, being an isolationist and/or a dictator sympathiser in the name of realpolitik would have probably got you called far-Right-wing in the West back in the days of the Cold War. However, now this tendency to abandon third-world people to the fate of totalitarian-state thugs for selfish interests of one’s own is very prominent among the Left – in particular, the anti-war faction. And it can all be explained by them getting high on capitalism and turning into two-legged pigs of their own. When you have (nearly) everything you ever wanted from a not-perfect but still very lucky civilisation such as the United States or the United Kingdom, who cares about third-world problems? There is a reason why the vast majority of people who give to a charity are among those who have most likely been actually affected by the troubles the charity is trying to fight: the corollary is that people who indulge in video games, booze and expensive clothes while still claiming that Western capitalism is the root of all evil have no urgent reason to care about such humanitarian causes – they have had the privilege of being the luckiest mammals who ever walked the planet in all its billions of years.

It was not like this back in, say, the 60s where poverty was more predominant. Ironically, Socialist solidarity was greater during this period, because there were more people around to have empathy with dissidents fighting dictators, as they could better identify with them in relation to their class divide. Even some sensible Communists got this point. Totalitarianism was, and still is, something to be opposed in ALL forms, and no comprise is up for discussion.

But now, most of the working-class have become middle-class enough to not care any more. You only need to look at the lack of help among Syria’s refugees as well as the near-complete lack of solidarity with the people of Iraq during the last decade. For the “Left”, it wasn’t just enough to be against the war and it wasn’t enough to stop any arming of the fighters against fascism – dictatorial and/or religious. They had to throw away any redeeming factor completely, and give only the tiniest aid towards the Iraqis as possible. Because ONLY Right-wing Cheney can be prone to and guilty of selfishness, right?

Yes, Bush’s administration deserved a good deal of impeachment: not for “lies” told to and believed by gullible idiots who proceed to blame everyone else for their gullibility, but for incompetently not protecting Iraq enough from the religious fascists of Al Qaeda. Some gravely inexcusable mistakes were made such as giving Saddam’s supporters enough time to retreat and rearm. But this is an argument for MORE intervention, not less.

You are going to get much more of this in your lifetimes. Don’t think you wont. Syria is going to implode; Lebanon will suffer badly; Nigeria is in a state of chaos; Iran is on the brink of revolution; Russia’s bullying against the Syrian people, journalists, homosexuals, punk rock bands and many others is going to provoke something nasty; Zimbabwe is under severe oppression; both Libya and Egypt are on the brink of civil war; Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remain a grave danger; China have a seemingly unoverthrowable stranglehold, North Korea cannot possibly sink any lower. And this is to only name a few.

If you want a historical perspective on what ought our role in the world should be, unilateral or not, partisan or not, look to Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone. We will not be able to do everything, obviously. And military intervention is obviously not warranted in all circumstances of human rights abuses. But there is such a thing as a totalitarian state that has hit the bottom of the barrel, and we should recognise it when we see it.

Take the side of the victim in each conflict, every conflict, and you will feel much more like what the Left used to stand for. And don’t make excuses for Right-wing extremism. Wake up and smell the fascism. Then go and read ONLY the opening lines to Richard Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow” and realise how inconceivably fortunate you are.

…and then realise that you may only live once, but you are not the only one alive.

Pete Welter (profile) says:

three major power struggles

What we are seeing is three major orthogonal dichotomies pulling at power in the US today.

Most prominent is the left (Democrat)/right (Republican) ideological split, the one focused on most by the media.

As discussed in this posting, there is also a divide between the civil liberties vs. security, and the sides of that debate do not correspond to left/right.

Finally, there is the entrenched power vs. “the people” split, which can be seen in copyright/DRM conflicts, in the influence of money on politics (as discussed by Lawrence Lessig), in the Washington lobbyist revolving door, and even the Tea Party and Occupy movements.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wag the Dog

That’s quite an analysis Mr Masnick, nice work, but does it not show that these groups are far more interested in ‘supporting’ or ‘against’ NSA or whatever the subject based on their political motives, so they either support NSA or fight it based on their perception of political gains!

You’ve just detailed the classic “WAG THE DOG”,

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