Good Germans

Orin Kerr and the responsibility of elites for the last eight years

by Glenn Greenwald

Sunday Nov. 9, 2008 08:40 EST

Prime responsibility for those actions may lie with the administration which implemented them and with the Congress that thereafter acquiesced to and even endorsed much of it, but it also lies with much of our opinion-making elite and expert class.  Even when they politely disagreed, they treated most of this — and still do — as though it were reasonable and customary, eschewing strong language and emphatic condemnation and moral outrage, while perversely and self-servingly construing their constraint as some sort of a virtue — a hallmark of dignified Seriousness.  That created the impression that these were just garden-variety political conflicts to be batted about in pretty conference rooms by mutually regarding elites on both sides of these “debates.”  Meanwhile, those who objected too strongly and in disrespectful tones, who described the extremism and lawlessness taking place, were dismissed by these same elites as overheated, fringe hysterics.

Some political issues, including ones that provoke intense passion, have many sides, but not all do.  Not all positions are worthy of respect.  Some actions and policies require outrage and condemnation, to the point where it becomes irresponsible to comment on them without expressing that.  Some ideas are so corrupted and dangerous and indefensible that they do reflect negatively on the character and credibility of their advocates, on the propriety of treating those advocates as though they’re respectable and honorable.  Most of all, elites who seek out an opinion platform have a responsibility to accept that their ideas and arguments have consequences and they should be held accountable for what their actions spawn (see Atrios’ related point yesterday about Tom Friedman’s responsibility arising from his advocacy for the Iraq War).

Over the last eight years (at least), we have not only crossed the line of what ought to be within the realm of reasonable, respectful debate, but we have crossed it repeatedly, severely, and with great harm to our political system and huge numbers of people.  And one of the prime reasons that happened is because those with the most vocal platforms and with the greatest claims to expertise failed in their responsibility to oppose it passionately and to describe its extremism, and, instead, eagerly served as apologists for it.   Those who seek now to depict their tepidness in the face of all of that as some elevated form of enlightened reason are merely illustrating one of the key mechanisms that enabled all of it to happen.


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  1. But, but, but…  We were good Germans.  Patriots.

    • Edger on November 9, 2008 at 22:49

    “Judgment at Nuremberg”

    There was a fever over the land, a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger.  We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all there was fear, fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves.

    • dkmich on November 9, 2008 at 22:56

    I like the rec. button with the front page essays.  It’s a way to say thank you.

    He’s right.  They share total responsibility for what has happened.  It’s like having a crime occur in the middle of a watching and demurely tutting crowd.    

  2. Orin Kerr said :

    “Meanwhile, those who objected too strongly and in disrespectful tones, who described the extremism and lawlessness taking place, were dismissed by these same elites as overheated, fringe hysterics.>

    Profanity is very useful indescribing WAR CRIMINALS like George Bush and ALL THOSE who voted for the war….and did so for polticially expedient reasons…those would be the “good” Germans and that would include Obama who has voted to fund the war while claiming to be opposed to it.

    Who are these crazy people who Kerr describes? They are Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr, Ron Paul and many others….

    Who did the American people vote for?

    about 98 percent voted for the good germans and 2 percent voted for the people named above.

    The problem is not the candidates….it’s the American people. And it’s the media that feeds them.

    But America is a distrubed nation. A nation that goes in and out of delusion.

    This war in Iraq makes no sense. That’s no longer pointed out in spite of the obvious contradiction…that it was based on lies.  

    Now there another war in Afghanistan…that doesn’t make any sense either because ….well …no one really has explained who is “responsible” or “involved” in 911.  

  3. …is a communicable disease.  It is spread one person to the next, one generation to the next.

    If I damage someone, I must realize that damage will be spread to someone else.  If we damage a generation of people, that damage will be spread to another generation and peoples.

    This apalled me as I watched events like Jenin and realized how much it was like the Warsaw ghetto.  The descendants of those who had experienced the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto were now afflicting similar horrors on Palestinians.  

    I pray that I will never be a Good German, a Good Israeli, a Good Palestinian, or a Good American, but rather that I will be able to see injustice and call it out wherever I see it.

    Good essay, ek.  Thank you.


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