Thursday, February 23, 2006
The New Right Wing
PSAYINGS.5Q.24. We've never been big fans of Alan Dershowitz, but we have to acknowledge that he seems to be up to something admirable. This is a good news-bad news situation. The good news is that Dershowitz is reasserting the importance of morality in the politics of the American left. The bad news is that he is reacting to a state of affairs which is far graver than most casual observers would suspect. And, yes, he has a book to sell, but even we are not so cynical as to believe that the most famous professor at Harvard Law School is fabricating a phony ruckus to pump up his royalties. We think he's sounding an important alarm. So what's he been up to?
He's been speaking out on three fronts. One is the war on terror, which is the subject of his book. The hawkish Tony Blankley previewed the work in a column this week:
Next week a vastly important book will be published: "Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways" by Alan Dershowitz. Yes, that Alan Dershowitz: the very liberal civil libertarian, anti-capital punishment Harvard Law School professor. And but for my lack of his legal scholarship, there is nary a sentence in the book that I -- a very conservative editor of the Washington Times, and former press secretary to Newt Gingrich -- couldn't have written.
The premise of his book is that in this age of terror, there is a potential need for such devices as profiling, preventive detention, anticipatory mass inoculation, prior restraint of dangerous speech, targeted extrajudicial executions of terrorists and preemptive military action including full-scale preventive war.Is Dershowitz abandoning his liberal roots? No. He's brilliantly defending them in the context of a post-9/11 world. Blankley characterizes it thus:
He shrewdly observes that historically, nations -- including democracies -- have resorted to such deviations from law and custom out of necessity. But that it has all been ad hoc, secret or deceptive. Prof. Dershowitz argues that now, rather, we need to begin to develop an honest jurisprudence of prevention to legally regulate such mechanisms. It is better, he argues, to democratically decide now, before the next disaster, this new jurisprudence -- the rules by which we will take these necessary actions.
Dershowitz is also boldly challenging the great liberal postulate that has caused the left to advocate extending American constitutional protections to avowed foreign enemies:
(H)e raises the great maxim of criminal law: better that ten guilty go free, than one innocent be wrongly convicted. That principle led our law to require proof beyond a reasonable doubt before conviction in criminal trials. Most of us agree with that standard.
But then Prof. Dershowitz updates the maxim thusly: "Is it better for ten possibly preventable terrorist attacks to occur than for one possibly innocent suspect to be preventively detained?" I would hunch that most people would not be willing to accept ten September 11th attacks (30,000 dead) in order to protect one innocent suspect from being locked up and questioned for a while.That's right. Dershowitz is reminding us that being liberal is not synonymous with being stupid, self-destructive, or suicidal. This idea alone would be enough to occupy most minds, but the professor is frying other fish at the same time. In today's Washington Post, he co-authors a piece with ultra-conservative Bill Bennett, in which the two erstwhile opponents combine to say:
We two come from different political and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities...
Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind -- images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.
The press has had no problem with breaking a story using classified information on detention centers for captured terrorists and suspects -- stories that could harm our allies. And it disclosed a surveillance program so highly classified that most members of Congress were unaware of it.
In its zeal to publish stories critical of our nation's efforts -- and clearly upsetting to enemies and allies alike -- the press has printed some articles that turned out to be inaccurate. The Guantanamo Bay flushing of the Koran comes to mind.
But for the past month, the Islamist street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in London -- never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles -- included signs that read, "Behead those who insult Islam." The mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is, after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies. And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons that purportedly caused all the outrage.Once again, it is tempting to ask: Has Dershowitz betrayed his liberal convictions and moved to the right with the likes of Bill Bennett? But again, the answer is no. As the essay reminds us:
There was a time when the press was the strongest guardian of free expression in this democracy. Stories and celebrations of intrepid and courageous reporters are many within the press corps. Cases such as New York Times v. Sullivan in the 1960s were litigated so that the press could report on and examine public officials with the unfettered reporting a free people deserved. In the 1970s the Pentagon Papers case reaffirmed the proposition that issues of public importance were fully protected by the First Amendment.
The mass media that backed the plaintiffs
in these cases understood that not only did a free press have a right
to report on critical issues and people of the day but that citizens
had a right to know about those issues and people. The mass media
understood another thing: They had more than a right; they had a duty
This is the kind of ringing liberal affirmation that should have the
editorial board of the New York Times rising to its feet in a standing
ovation. The old New York Times, that is. Not the current version,
Is your plate full enough yet, Professor Dershowitz? Confronting
both the left-wing foreign policy establishment and the liberal
establishment media at the same time is battle enough for one man,
isn't it? No. It isn't. Dershowitz is trying for a hat trick. He's also
confronting the leftist academic establishment. Yesterday, he published
yet another essay
blasting Harvard's decision to fire Lawrence Summers from the
A PLURALITY of one faculty has brought
about an academic coup d'etat against not only Harvard University
president Lawrence Summers but also against the majority of students,
faculty, and alumni. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which forced
Summers's resignation by voting a lack of confidence in him last March
and threatening to do so again on Feb. 28, is only one
component of Harvard University and is hardly representative of
widespread attitudes on the campus toward Summers. The graduate
faculties, the students, and the alumni generally supported Summers for
his many accomplishments. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes, in
general, some of the most radical, hard-left elements within Harvard's
diverse constituencies. And let there be no mistake about the origin of
Summers's problem with that particular faculty: It started as a hard
left-center conflict. Summers committed the cardinal sin against the
academic hard left: He expressed politically incorrect views regarding
gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and the military.
In elaborating on his views about the Harvard situation with talk
radio host Hugh Hewitt, Dershowitz said:
(I)t was incredible chutzpah for the arts
and sciences faculty, merely a plurality of them, to engineer this
coup. And let me tell you who engineered it. It was engineered by
particularly an anthropology professor, a guy named Randy Matory, who
teaches Afro-American and Afro-South American studies. And basically,
what he said in his resolution that he first proposed, was Summers has
to go because number one, he's too patriotic. He's trying to tell us to
be more patriotic. And that, by Matory, is regarded as the great sin,
that he's teaching patriotism...
Dershowitz also made the following startling statement during the
In America, I am left-center, but certainly closer to the left. And on the Harvard arts and sciences faculty, I would be on the extreme right."
Wow. Here at last is the punchline of Dershowitz's multi-pronged
offensive. He is drawing a line in the sand between the traditional
left so many Americans imagine the Democrat leadership is speaking for
and the hard left which has hijacked the party and turned it into a
viciously anti-American instrument of politically correct insanity.
In this context, all of Dershowitz's fronts are the same front. He
is standing up for the fading idea that it is possible to be a
bleeding-heart big-government liberal and
a hard-eyed patriot who is committed to crushing our country's enemies
without becoming like them -- rigid, fanatical, oppressive, tyrannical
-- in the process.
Everyone should heed the alarm Dershowitz is sounding. Conservatives need to understand how strong, irrational and extreme their real opposition is. Liberals need to understand exactly who is beating the drums they've been dutifully marching to. It's urgent that they seek out a different drummer.
Thank you, Professor Dershowitz. Keep beating your drum. We hope your solitary walk becomes a parade.