A funny thing happening on the left side of the House. While political eyes focus on internecine tensions among the right, a similar thing seems to be occurring on the left, although it’s a far less fashionable topic upon which to comment. Polemicist and political philosopher Matt Damon’s public “breakup” with President Barack Obama offers a particularly silly example.
It was amusing to watch President Obama and his spokesman, the hapless Jay Carney, try to mimic the most star-spangled cold war hawks in their denunciations of Russia’s embrace of Edward Snowden, like their defense of that most reactionary of government agencies, the NSA. It was clearly new and uncomfortable territory for them. It was certainly a far cry from the unguarded promise the president made to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev concerning the expiration of democratically imposed limitations on his ability to hand the Russians whatever they ask for.
But it was also the right thing to do. Snowden, by any measure, is a traitor to his nation not only because he willingly betrayed a solemn trust afforded by the position he held, but in the fact his first thought was to run into the arms of America’s most powerful strategic adversary.
Nevertheless, liberals within the Democratic Party are increasingly uncomfortable with the president’s grudging willingness to concede the necessity of using government resources to protect the United States.
Here they find unlikely allies on the right. Most conservatives — and all libertarians — are also uneasy, to say the least, of revelations concerning NSA wiretaps and the like. For conservatives, the worry is a government that feels entitled to tell the citizenry what kind of light bulb to use, how much soda to drink and where their children must go to school might have trouble observing limits on its power to find and deal with legitimate threats to society.
Most of the liberal opposition, on the other hand, seems to originate more in a French Revolutionary-type of radical individualism that rebels at the idea of government directing its resources towards what it is meant to do — protect the society that elected it to do so — instead of towards reducing that society to the lowest common denominator in the name of equality.
So why is a liberal administration like Obama’s suddenly clinging to these national security tools that so offend their ingrained civil libertarian enzymes? Well, it could be that despite their philosophic and economic faults, most of them aren’t sociopaths. Sometimes the stark reality that a Special National Intelligence Estimate provides can crack the veneer of ideology, at least to a point.
Dissension among the left isn’t widely heralded, but it’s not exactly new, either. The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, despite some notable lapses which usually happened to coincide with election campaigns in notoriously liberal New York, generally displayed one of the liveliest minds in American public discourse and was often presciently thoughtful and passionately defensive of his country — all qualities which frequently put him at odds with those to the left within his party.
That sort of honest apostasy among the left is exceedingly rare nowadays, but one can observe other schisms form. Colorado’s own Gov. John Hickenlooper, despite a leftward lurch in the last couple of years that could (one can hope) prove disastrous for him 15 months from now, is nonetheless reviled by many in the modernist-Luddite movement for his acknowledgement hydraulic fracturing isn’t the worst thing to hit the earth since whatever it was that killed all the dinosaurs. As a geologist, Hickenlooper is bound to acknowledge … well, the laws of physics and geology, regardless of whatever resistance his ideological persuasions offer.
Eventually, as it has in isolated and poorly handled cases concerning national security, the reality will begin to set in among liberals that American energy independence isn’t merely a nice dream, but a necessity that can’t be achieved solely with wind and solar power. And no amount of wishful thinking, directed transcendental meditation or government redistribution can change that. A few will complete the thought to realize development of our natural resources not only can, but will, be done responsibly, not because a set of government rules demand it, but because A) it makes economic sense (oil and gas companies want oil and gas going into sales pipelines, not water aquifers) and B) it’s the right thing to do. And in the real world, the energy industry isn’t the demonic entity caricatured in a Hollywood production starring Matt Damon, who will surely object to any acceptance of fracking.