Friday, September 26, 2014

Cognitive dissonance

According to today's editorial in the Times,
By any measure, the nearly-six-year tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has been one of the most consequential in United States history.... It is hard to imagine that anyone who could make it through the current Senate would have an impact comparable to Mr. Holder’s.

As the first African-American to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Holder broke ground the moment he took office. In a position that rarely rewards boldness — and in the face of a frequently hostile Congress — Mr. Holder has continued to stake out strong and laudable legal positions on many of the most contested issues of our time.
But on the other hand
Mr. Holder’s legacy.... will also be defined by deeply harmful actions — and failures to act — involving issues of national importance.
Does anybody else get the whiplash effect from the violence of this type of treatment, of Holder and of course Obama as well?

It's not like "Bush was a terrible president and a sociopath but I'd like to have a beer with him" (I wouldn't, even if the beer included alcohol), or "Danton may have been personally corrupt but he was a brilliant and generous revolutionary" (I don't even see a contradiction, just some messy humanity). It 's more like a contradiction in my understanding of human psychology. The two Holders of the Times's formulation, which we're seeing all over the place, are two or maybe three different people, a vital civil rights hero and an extreme civil liberties villain and a corporate tool to boot.

The corporate tool part doesn't bother me so much, because it's based on unrealistic Green Lantern expectations. Really, Holder didn't bust any of the criminals of the 2007 financial horrors? When in human history have those guys ever been punished for anything? But the fines Holder has imposed on Citigroup and Bank of America and BP and so on are really extraordinary and unprecedented, so just shut up.

It's the civil liberties aspect, the near-jailings of Thomas Drake and James Rosen and James Risen and actual jailing of John Kiriakou and the ghastly Barron memo showing why it's legal to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi. And whatever it is the NSA has been doing since they stopped doing what we know they were doing in 2006. I don't really believe the Greenwaldian prosecution, and I don't really believe the defense either, even when I make it up myself.

I do think, though, that the journalists are doing a really bad job framing this, and doing it especially at the Times and the Wapo as some kind of spiteful overcompensation for their dreadful failings of 2001 to 2008.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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