I suspect that the malaise that has afflicted the conservative movement is not simply due to the defeat of John McCain and Sarah Palin. I think that their despondency goes much deeper than an electoral defeat. My hunch is that their depression is much more owing to a sense of serious discomfort arising from the knowledge that Democrat Barack Obama is about to acquire all the omnipotent powers that conservatives relinquished to President Bush as part of his “war on terrorism.”
The power to arrest people, including Americans, as “enemy combatants.” Indefinite detention. Torture. Isolation and sensory deprivation. Rendition. Military tribunals. Denial of due process and trial by jury. Suspension of habeas corpus. Secret judicial proceedings. Use of hearsay and tortured testimony. Warrantless searches. Signing statements. Spying on Americans. The power to ignore constitutional and statutory constraints on presidential power. The power to invade and occupy foreign countries with no congressional declaration of war.
Conservatives were willing to let President Bush acquire and exercise all those dictatorial powers because, they said, national security depended on it. The terrorists were everywhere, they said, and they hate America for its freedom and values, not because of the U.S. government’s foreign policy. The war would last for decades, perhaps even forever. We have no choice, conservatives said, but to vest the president with full power to wage this war until we kill them all.
Whenever libertarians and some liberals defended civil liberties and the Bill of Rights during the past 8 years, conservatives went on the attack. We were just soft on terrorism, cowards, pacifists, unpatriotic, even treasonous, they said.
The conservatives know that they have boxed themselves in. Can they now argue that the war on terrorism is over when they previously said it would last for decades? Can they now argue that the president should not be trusted with such omnipotent powers? Can they now argue that such powers are unconstitutional? Can they now argue that national security no longer turns on the president’s wielding of such powers?
No, in their hearts conservatives know that they must now argue that President Obama, the man they are convinced is coming to take away their guns, increase their taxes, spend more money than even President Bush, has ties to terrorists, has a Muslim name, and is friends with a radical Christian preacher, should wield all the same dictatorial powers that they relinquished to President Bush.
No wonder conservatives are suffering from malaise, despondency, and depression.