As I was saying, conservatives of a certain authoritarian bent are all for increasing the power of the police whenever they get their hackles up over something or some dark-skinned, hairy, sexually active and therefore threatening, or impertinently young person frightens them or wounds their vanity.
I haven't seen it brought up in any of the discussions of what John Roberts' appointment to the Supreme Court will mean for the country, but I assume that a lot of conservatives still want to see just about every ruling of the Warren and Burger courts that limited the power of the police overturned.
No more coddling criminals. No more bad guys getting off on legal technicalities. The lawyers need to get out of the way and let the cops do their jobs. Hang 'em all and hang 'em high.
These type of conservatives aren't worried about the consequences of letting armies of Dirty Harrys and Buford Pussers loose upon the land because, like I said, they think they own the cops.
Dirty Harry works for them and a good employee knows better than to hassle the boss.
Now I expect that outside of a few small towns there aren't many cops who feel owned. And I've known some cops whose days were made when some rich snot or some rich snot's kid crossed their paths in a car going 80 in a 40 mph zone.
And there are still plenty of conservatives with a Libertarian streak who understand that the more power you give to the police the more likely it is that you will find yourself a target of that power, and the more laws you pass the more likely you are to find yourself on the wrong side of the law someday.
But let's focus on that sizeable contingent of Law and Order conservatives who would be satisfied to see half their fellow citizens hauled off in chains and who are also of the familiar "One phone call and I'll have your badge" type.
These folks don't worry about an out of control police force. But it's not just because they think the cops would never dare turn on them. They also believe that the only way to attract the wrong kind of attention from the police is to commit a crime and they know that they themselves never commit crimes.
And they don't. Most of them. Most of them, like most Americans, are fairly law-abiding.
But when they do break the law or when---as is more likely, because it's true, most of them are honest and diligent citizens---one of their kind breaks the law, they tend not to see what's been done as a breaking of the law. They don't believe they or people like them can be criminals.
"Criminals are others. Criminals are part of the great NOT US. And since we are not criminals, by definition, we cannot commit crimes."
Actions that look to the rest of us very much like crimes, because they are, they see as mistakes, misunderstandings, follies, personal failures of nerve, strength, or thought that ought to be condemned but forgiven and never prosecuted.
They have the same attitude toward sin.
I don't think this is particularly conservative of them. I think it's human. I think we're all pretty quick to excuse in ourselves and in our loved ones and friends, and anyone who reminds us of ourselves, our loved ones, or friends, follies and sins we are just as quick to condemn in others.
The difference between those conservatives and the rest of us, not just those of us who are liberals but other conservatives too, is that we understand that other people might not see things in the same light as we do and that they are not obligated to try.
When the teacher calls us in to talk about our kid's screw-up, we know all the mitigating circumstances. We know our kid is a good kid. We know how hard he's been trying. We know he's sorry. And in our hearts we think that should be enough for the teacher too.
But we understand why the teacher insists that the kid still deserves detention or earned that D minus.
And when the cop pulls us over, we know that we are good drivers, we never go more than five miles over the speed limit, we didn't do it now, the radar gun's miscalibrated, but even if it's not we'll never do it again, and the only reason we did this time is that our mind wandered for just a minute because we were busy worrying about our kid's latest screw-up in school, and all that should be enough for the cop.
But we understand that the cop was right to stop a car that was a positive menace to traffic, regardless of the saint behind the wheel.
We don't say, "I pay your salary!" and "I'll have your badge for this!" We don't demand to see the principal and then the superintendent when the principal sides with the teacher.
We internalize the opinion of the cop, of the teacher, the judge, the neighbors, and even if we don't feel guilty, we feel ashamed.
But they don't. Other people's opinions don't matter to them.
"What we do is not for the likes of you riff-raff to pass judgment upon."
Please, listen here. I'm not saying all conservatives are like this. And I'm certainly not claiming no liberals are. I know plenty of similarly self-entitled liberals whose consciences are conveniently armored like this, whose vanity always trumps other people's opprobrium.
But it happens that there are strains in conservative thought that produces more people who think like this---the social Darwinism that allows the lucky and the ruthless to flaunt their material success as evidence of their moral superiority, the snobbery that admires power, wealth, and social status above all other qualities, the weird self-congratulatory religion that does such a good job of forgiving that it actually excuses the sin in the act of its being committed---and that this type of people are the kind of conservatives running the Republican Party right now.
It's true. The evidence of their moral vanity and moral blindness is everywhere, most comically in their insistence that William Bennett didn't disgrace himself with his gambling, Rush Limbaugh isn't a junkie, Tom DeLay isn't a thief and a thug (an opinion I don't believe DeLay shares. He seems to me to be another kind of moral cripple, the kind who knows himself to be crooked but thinks everybody else is crooked too, so what is he doing that's so bad in comparison?), and Karl Rove isn't a creep, a liar, and a villain.
"Gamblers are poor people spending the grocery money on lottery tickets. Junkies are black and Hispanic and shoot up in alleys and crack houses. Crooked politicians are Democrats."
It's evidenced most strangely in the outrage that followed Kerry's mentioning Mary Cheney's lesbianism in the debates.
"Mary is not a lesbian. Lesbians are weird and sick. They hate men. They're ugly. Lesbians are something else, something other, something you are."
And it shows itself most horrifically and sickeningly in the excuse-making for what's happened at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.
The moral calculus decent people measure their behavior by is this:
Some acts are sins. People who commit those acts are sinners. I have commited one of those acts. I am a sinner.
These conservatives probably think they use the same measure. But they don't, because they start with the belief that it is impossible for them to commit those bad acts because bad acts are what others do. Crime is the act of others. Sin is the moral failure of others.
So their personal moral calculus winds up looking like this:
Good people do good things. Bad people do bad things and bad people are the others. I am one of the good people. Therefore the things I do must be good.
This is why if Jesus were around today and a woman taken in adultery ran to him for protection and he said to the crowd, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone, forty-six Republican adulterers would bean her with rocks.
Cheating on your spouse is something Democrats do.
And it's also why now that the cops have finally pulled Karl Rove over, the Republicans are gearing up to smear, slander, and discredit Patrick Fitzgerald and ride him out of town on a rail if they can.
They pay his salary, after all. They'll have his badge for this. They own him!
Follow that thought to the Mourner's Bench update: Shakespeare's Sister has put her finger on something that bothered me about what I said about their religion in this post---the missing concept of being Born Again.
Please help keep this blog up and running by donating to my Tip Jar in the upper right hand corner, using either PayPal or Amazon or you can just click here to go straight to Amazon. Thanks for your support. Also be sure to visit our advertisers and consider buying an ad yourself through The Liberal Prose at BlogAds.