Matthew Yglesias:

Charli Carpenter comments:

[W]hat ought to be done to change this trend [towards restricted civil liberties] – in other words, is it too late for dissent to make a difference? I welcome readers’ ideas. I think many voters thought they’d already taken the appropriate step by electing a progressive, pro-civil liberties leader.With the writing on the wall, what now?

I don’t think the answer to her question is particularly difficult—people who want to halt the erosion of civil liberties need to do a better job of persuading people that the erosion of civil liberties would be a bad thing.

The answer is not particularly difficult, true, but that isn’t much of an answer.  The problem is not that people necessarily think that the loss of civil liberties is an absolute good – it is that they believe that preserving civil liberties is less important than protecting themselves from scary terror.  (It doesn’t hurt that the civil liberties being traded away are generally those of other people – witness the outrage among “civil libertarians” when an American’s life is (openly) judged to be less than infinitely more precious than a foreigner’s.)  It is generally assumed to be a coincidence that the period of curtailed civil liberties and the period of bombing and/or invading the shit out of x many countries overlap so perfectly, but it is not.   As long as people are told that a threat is great enough to justify going to war, they are going to make the sorts of judgments people always make during war, and those generally involve doing things which do not demonstrate a healthy respect for other people’s inalienable human rights, for example: killing them.  You can argue that people should refuse to do these things, and perhaps you are right, and in order to test the real-world value of such arguments I propose an experiment.  We go to the race track, and we make a private bet: I put $100 the horse that wins every race, and you bet on the horse that loses every race but really should win goddammit!!!!, and at the end of the night we’ll see who comes out ahead.  I’m willing to continue this experiment for as long as it takes.

If you want to stop people – including Presidents – from making the decisions that people and Presidents have always made during wartime, you have to make it not wartime.  And the way you do that is by ending the war.  But, you whine, isn’t this just shifting from one impossible goal to another? Of course it isn’t, it is exactly the opposite, as you would realize if you let the occasional thought interrupt your incessant whining.  While history tells every war reduces civil liberties, it also tells us that every single war ever fought eventually ends – look back as far as you like, it only gets truer.  What this requires is acknowledging that there is little actual threat posed to the United States of America by people in Afghanistan or Pakistan who lack the skill required to cause combustion in gasoline.  This would seem to be a fairly simple step, but both Left and Right have invested a great deal of effort in arguing that “deadly terrorism proves that I was right all along,” there may be some egos shattered as a result.  Consider it collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice in the War on the War on Terror.  Because if we don’t end the war on terror, the loser terrorists have already won.