Matt is at his best when he steps outside the confines of Moneybox…
Police tactics based on systematic racial discrimination are wrong, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly seems to have pursued such tactics, and as such I would not be pleased to see him appointed to federal office. So I agree with Conor Friedersdorf that it reflects poorly on Senator Chuck Schumer that he’s pushing for Kelly to be Secretary of Homeland Security. And since a big part of Friedersdorf’s schtick is overblown accusations of liberal hypocrisy the fact that Schumer has this bad idea becomes “Prominent Democrats Are Now Comfortable With Racial and Ethnic Profiling.”
Conor’s game here is fairly clear; if Democrats can compromise on Ray Kelly, then why do they complain so much when libertarians and anti-imperialists embrace Rand Paul on drones/imperialism/the national security state? Setting aside the fact that even Rand Paul doesn’t know what Rand Paul’s position on drone strikes is, Matt arrives at the correct answer:
Does that make Schumer a civil liberties hero? No. If you actually know much about Schumer you’d know he really distinguishes himself as one of the least civil libertarian major figures in the Democratic Party. He’s part of a cohort of white Democrats from big liberal cities who made their political bones during the high-crime 1980s and early 1990s by specifically distinguishing themselves as pro-cop, “tough on crime,” figures and he’s carried that political profile with him forward into the Senate and into a very different time in American urban life. It is no coincidence that Senator Dianne Feinstein shares a very similar career trajectory and ideological profile (it’s superficially paradoxical that two of the most aggressively authoritarian Democratic Senators are from San Francisco and Brooklyn, but there’s a reason for it). But Schumer did do this one thing, at least. To be maximally ungenerous to Schumer, he did it because he is embedded in a New York State political coalition that heavily depends on the votes of people of Puerto Rican origin so he needs to do something or other to promote the careers of prominent Puerto Rican Democrats and it just so happens that you can’t find any well-qualified Puerto Rican jurists who endorse systematic racial discrimination. Maybe if you could have found a judge like that, Schumer would have picked him instead. But of course it’s not a coincidence that well-qualified Puerto Rican jurists are unlikely to endorse systematic racial discrimination. What we see here is an example of how when you empower the political coalition that includes racial and ethnic minority groups, you end up promoting the interests of racial and ethnic minority groups even in cases when the leaders of the coalition don’t share their priorities because politics is complicated. And though Schumer certainly is a prominent Democrat, he is an outlier in the party on this particular topic and (fortunately) the Democrats currently running for mayor in New York come from a different political context and don’t want Kelly to keep his job as commissioner which is precisely why Schumer is casting about to give him another gig.
Meanwhile, though Schumer is personally bad on civil liberties in a municipal policing context he is personally taking the lead in securing amnesty for millions of otherwise law-abiding people who’ve violated America’s immigration laws while libertarian hero Rand Paul calls for increased militarization of the border and a more intrusive domestic surveillance system to help “track visitors still in the country because of visa overstays.”
Rand Paul, by contrast, is embedded within a coalition that strongly values neo-confederate crankery, something that Conor is all too aware of. The pleasant (if often contradictory) statements of Paul notwithstanding, this coalition has not demonstrated any significant, long-lasting commitment either to civil liberties (if we understand this to mean something more than “the gubmint stays out of the hair of rich, privileged white folks”) or an anti-imperialist foreign policy. To be most charitable to Conor, it seems that he just doesn’t get that white supremacy and white privilege are features, not bugs, for a significant portion of the voting constituency of right wing candidates who make pleasantly libertarian sounding noises. It’s not as if “reject government interference” and “white supremacy” are the “tastes great” and “less filling” of the Paul coalition, with each contesting for Rand’s precious soul; the rejection of federal government interference is a key objective of the white supremacists, and white supremacy an extraordinarily likely outcome of the rejection of government interference.
Hypocrisy trolling makes up a very considerable percentage of Conor’s political commentary. Matt again:
I mention this not-so-Moneybox subject because Friedersdorf and I have had some exchanges on twitter recently where I’ve expressed frustration with his writings on these kind of issues. And to me it comes back to this. I think he and I are close on the merits of the issues at hand. But he has a hyperactive hypocrisy detector combined with a dogmatic and highly tribal opposition to political tribalism that creates blindness about the actual modalities of political change. While liberals may hope that Paul comes to have more influence over GOP foreign policy and Schumer less influence over Democratic Party views on policing, people who understand how representative government works are going to remain fundamentally comfortable with our basic partisan commitments and there’s nothing even a little bit hypocritical about it.
I still remain utterly perplexed as to why the Crooked Timber folks thought that Friedersdorf’s trolling on drones before the election was to be taken seriously. The answer to the question “Why do Democrats vote Democrat even because of the drones?” is neither complicated nor particularly interesting; the answer is obviously that a) Democrats care about things other than drones, and b) that alternative voting choices were likely to produce worse outcomes even on drone policy.