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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rights and wrongs 

Billmon provides one of the best summaries I have read about why polls are wrong about civil rights.
He is talking about Phone-gate, and some recent polls showing that half of Americans are so terrified of terror that they think the government needs to monitor their phone calls without warrants to keep them safe.
They won't be so cheery about it when their kids start getting arrested for drug possession after chatting on the phone about their dope stash. Or when police come breaking down their door because their son was talking to his friends about Grand Theft Auto. But that's all going to be happening later on, and people will be heard to say things like, Hey, didn't Americans used to have some sort of right to privacy or something? Does anyone remember that? No? Oh, well, maybe my memory is slipping....
But anyway, Billmon's argument now is true when it comes to any kind of civil rights, like anti-discrimination court rulings, gay marriage, and so forth:
The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto . . . some things are wrong just because they're wrong -- not because a temporary majority (or even a permanent one) thinks they're wrong. Real conservatives used to understand this. But the authoritarian right, for all of its talk about moral absolutes, understands and respects just one thing: power. In our system power flows from votes -- and having the money to demagogue those votes. It doesn't get more relativistic than that.
We can't do anything about how a corrupt, oligarchic system works (or rather, doesn't work) but we can at least stop accepting the other side's terms for the debate. What the government is doing is illegal and unamerican, and that would still be true if the polls showed 99% support -- in fact, it would be even more true.

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