Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beach Party Bang-Go

Glenn Greenwald is a relentless crusader for civil rights and the Constitution and hence a national treasure. The flip side is that he is a moralist and a scold who never seems to have a happy thought - except possibly at the misery of one of his enemies.

Joe Klein would not exactly make my list of saintly Americans, but I wouldn't put him in the Heydrich, Cheney, Umbridge class either. Glenn Greenwald has a stricter standard. Here he is doing a tag-team hat dance on Joe Klein's head with Aimai of NoMoreMisterNiceBlog. You want to watch out for those beach parties.

Time's Joe Klein was at a beach party last weekend and was confronted about his recent, vague statement that "there are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection." The person doing the confronting was Aimai of NoMoreMisterNiceBlog -- who also happens to be the granddaughter of I.F. Stone (which ends up being relevant to the confrontation) -- and she masterfully recounts the revealing and hilarious Klein outburst that ensued, during which, among other things, he accused me of being "evil," a "crazy civil liberties absolutist" and "crazily anti-national security."

Much of this is just standard Klein. He's been "accusing" me for years of being what he calls a "civil liberties extremist" or "monomaniacal on the subject of civil liberties" -- as though that's some type of insult, when I view it as being exactly the opposite. For reasons I recently explained -- in response to to Michael Massing's Chuck-Todd-echoing accusation in The New York Review of Books that I fail to take into account "practical considerations" when advocating various views -- it's impossible to believe in constitutional principles and the rule of law without being "extremist" and even "absolute" because that is the nature of those guarantees.

A lot of Greenwald's and Aimai's anger seems to be aimed at Joe Klein's real and perceived offenses past, but there also seems to be a lot of "he called me names" first. A moralist, and Greenwald is first a moralist, goes off the track when he starts confusing personal enmity with his causes, and Greenwald is walking pretty close to that line here.

Greenwald has done great work, and continues to do great work, but his combination of devotion to ideological purity and insistence in nursing old grudges is starting to erode his cause. Unlike the Republican wackos, he is outraged (mainly) by real outrages against decency and the Constitution, but he really doesn't seem to understand at all that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Obama, like Lincoln, understands that same statement with every fiber of his being.