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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Their urge to betray — and ours

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th March 2011

Until recently, Peter Benjamin was the chairman of the Washington, D.C. area Metro transit system’s Board of Directors. A former mayor of Garrett Park, he brought an avuncular personality and long experience with Metro affairs to the table. While in correspondence with us about the bag search issue I’ve written about before, he dismissed some of our assertions about the program’s drawbacks — for example, he didn’t believe it would cause much decline in ridership. But he seemed to take seriously the civil liberties issues involved.

Still, sometimes I think if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read “I’m a supporter of the ACLU, but…” I could afford the richer, more refined lifestyle I truly deserve.

And sure enough, when push came to shove at a February 10 discussion of the bag search issue, Mr. Benjamin delivered what may be the new low standard in that genre. Beginning with the heart-sinking words “I am a long term member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Many of my friends consider me a civil liberties nut,” Benjamin was giving the lie to those words within roughly twenty seconds. Even though asserting that the rights we have as citizens are “why we are the great country that we are” and personally believing that “bag checks are a violation of those rights, and …the beginning of a process that moves towards us having fewer and fewer and fewer of those rights,” Mr. Benjamin continued:

And if this decision were only for me, and only about me, I would say I personally am willing to take the risk of potentially having somebody get into the system and blow something up and I would be one of the victims, and I would balance that against my rights and say my rights are much more important. […]

However, I’m also a member of this board, and I was sworn to protect the safety and the security of the people who ride our system. And I don’t know how I as an individual with good conscience could allow somebody to get into our system and cause an explosion and know that somehow or another I contributed to that by overruling the best judgments of our chief executive officer and the professionals who understand this process. […]

But I don’t know that I can be in a position of saying that I have got the ability, given the responsibility that is given to me as an individual and as a member of this board to protect our riders, to say that they should take the same risk that perhaps I would be willing to take. And as long as I have to carry out that responsibility, I think I need to defer to those who believe that they understand better this issue. It’s one that I do very reluctantly, but it’s one that I do after very, very careful thought. And I think that’s the balance that each of needs to make as we consider this issue.”

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David Frum and a Tale of Two Spotlights, Maybe Three

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th March 2010

Last Sunday, conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum had the temerity to criticize Republican strategy in the wake of the health care and insurance reforms passed on Sunday.

Last Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal lashed out at him, claiming he “now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role.”

Last Wednesday, David Frum was forced out of his position at the American Enterprise Institute.  Like others, I had a good time with the news, suggesting a paragraph on the AEI “About Us” page be rewritten as

“The Institute’s community of scholars is committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these unchanging ideals through independent thinking, open debate, reasoned argument, and by firing anyone who disagrees with us.”

Scott Horton, in What Frum’s Firing Tells Us About Politics Today, writes that event

…tells us a good deal about AEI and the current dynamics within the Republican camp. In today’s AEI, policy experts aren’t there to do analysis and give advice—they’re there to serve as made-to-order propagandists. Differing views are not wanted.

And that’s true.  But what’s also interesting is how little Frum’s views differed from a Republican Party’s of not so terribly long ago, and how embarrassing they could and should have been for Sunday’s victors, not its vanquished.  For the centerpiece of what Frum wrote was this (emphasis added):

“This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.  Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big.

And it’s true — even Nancy Pelosi and liberal columnist E. J. Dionne tout the Republican antecedents of the current legislation, identifying its ancestors in Heritage Foundation proposals of the early 1990s, the 1996 Dole campaign, and of course (however much he now hates to admit it) Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill of 2006.  And they celebrate that.

Imagine two spotlights illuminating a stage, one with blue light, one with red; there’s some overlap, and a small bluish dog squats there, producing small bluish dog output.  To its right, a tethered Doberman gnaws on a couple of bloody bones, with older ones gnawed clean and abandoned stage left.  When the Doberman’s occasional snarls frighten the little blue dog, it invariably wags its tale and briefly assumes a submissive posture.

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