What do former attorney general Michael Mukasey and liberal columnist Margaret Carlson have in common? They both have the nerve to call out their own side when they’re wrong.
In the orgy of criticism and debate following the Boston bombing and the questioning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, too many conservatives have mindlessly chanted “enemy combatant!” Relying on buzzwords rather than analysis and enjoying the opportunity to tweak the Obama administration, they’ve wound up on the wrong side of the facts and the law, as Mukasey points out: “As an American citizen, by law [Tsarnaev] could not be tried before a military commission, and labeling him an unlawful enemy combatant would have had no legal significance when it came to interrogating him.” What was in error was Mirandizing Tsarnaev:
[I]f an interrogation is being conducted to gather information, not to build a criminal case, then no right to remain silent exists. Law enforcement already has a surfeit of evidence — including photographs and videos of him at the scene of the bombing. The HIG interrogators weren’t trying to help prosecutors construct their case.
Of course, Mr. Tsarnaev could have chosen not to talk to intelligence interrogators, or chosen to lie to them. But that is what he would have been exercising: a choice, not a right.
It would seem that if those on the right want to challenge the administration’s handling of the war against Islamic jihadists, then they have an obligation to get it right, to make distinctions (between enemy combatant and radicalized citizen) and figure out what modifications are necessary (stop Mirandizing unnecessarily). As I have said in other contexts, conservative hawks risk sending the public into the arms of anti-interventionists by overplaying their hand. Boston is the latest example.
Then there’s Carlson, a staunch pro-choice liberal who nevertheless can acknowledge:
When I look at the law and what’s happening, I see Roe v. Wade on a collision course with our own eyes. The trimester construct is set akilter anytime you go into a neonatal unit. Babies live at 20 weeks. Someone — the court, the states — has to deal with the viability question. Roe was meant to prohibit abortions after viability and to protect a woman’s primacy to decide before that. You might not agree with that, Ramesh [Ponnuru], but there was a balancing of rights — those of the mother and the fetus. That line has changed, and something should be done to address that.
The other huge problem is how wide the “health of mother” exception is. It can be anything — age, emotional health, financial condition. The loopholes are so large a nine-month pregnant woman could go through them. And there’s almost no difference between killing a baby accidentally born alive in a late-term abortion, as [Kermit] Gosnell stands accused of, and killing the same baby in the womb, as more skilled doctors can do.
I’d guess that 90 percent of Americans would agree with those sentiments. But we nevertheless see liberals circle the wagons (with as little media coverage as possible, and don’t hassle the president to talk on the topic) and too many Republicans cowed by the threat of earning the “war on women” label if they raise legislation to address these points (understanding that they will provoke a legal battle). So both sides ignore the horror and tolerate what 90 percent of the public finds revolting.
A friend and longtime Democrat bemoaned to me that we have “cable TV bundling” politics. If you sign up with one side, you have to take all the wacky stuff you really don’t want (what we do just to get ESPN!). On the left, that means unequivocal support for abortion, at any time and for any reason. On the right, that means never raising taxes, no matter the reason or how much you’ve cut spending.
I hold out faint hope that we can do better, but it will take more voices on both sides willing to call out their own side when partisans are being downright ridiculous. And it will take some pols to say to the ideology bullies: “Enough!”