It has been left to the ACLU and similar groups (such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and Electronic Frontier Foundation) to uncover what our Government is doing precisely because the institutions whose responsibility that is -- the "opposition party," the Congress, the Intelligence Committees, the press -- have failed miserably in those duties. And while Democrats in Congress passively ignore their oversight responsibility or do the opposite by helping to conceal Bush crimes, the Democratic Party establishment goes around repudiating and even demonizing the factions that have tried to step into the void that they've left . . .
When Jesse Helms died last month, there was a discussion about Helms in an online email group of prominent liberal Beltway journalists, and one participant asked whether the Left has any equivalent to Jesse Helms, and a well-known "liberal" journalist responded: "Yes -- the ACLU extremists." Time's Joe Klein said last year that objections to the Senate's warrantless eavesdropping bill were merely "fodder for lawyers and civil liberties extremists" -- a phrase which GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra then praised in National Review. The very same Beltway denizens who have so submissively enabled the radicalism of this administration simultaneously harbor and continuously spew contempt for those Shrill, Unserious "activists" -- such as the dreaded ACLU extremists -- who challenge and disrupt their little Beltway fiefdom.
While I think that Greenwald misses Jonathan Alter's larger point - bloggers don't do "journalism", which is the biggest straw argument there is - by demonstrating the abject failure of the press to move beyond the conventional wisdom and practices (which Alter describes, in a quite Greenwald cites earlier in his piece, as contacting mid-level officials who have the real skinny on doings), except in rare instances, which Greenwald also cites, this particular little snippet captures a surprising reality in Washington culture. An institution dedicated to ensuring the Constitution is not only adhered to, but that violations of the Constitution and abuses of power are brought to light is, 20 years after George H. W. Bush could make hay of Michael Dukakis' being a "car-carrying member of the ACLU", still held in contempt.
While torture and its variants are debated with all seriousness, and it take months for Joe Klein to finally jump off the John McCain bandwagon, the ACLU, perhaps the most idealistic organization, most American organization I can imagine, is depicted as being "extremist". Oh, to be a civil liberties radical! Oh, to believe the Constitution is not just a scrap of paper, but a body of laws to which all of us - including those in government - must adhere! Send these Commies to China or Cuba so they can see how far their special pleading for civil liberties gets them!
The depth of silliness and stupidity and superficiality of our Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom rivals the Mariannas Trench. It crushes common sense and thought.