In my world, there’s a breed of person known as a “process liberal.” This is someone—at a foundation, say—who believes in process uber alles. There are lots of different kinds of liberalism, just as there are different kinds of conservatism, and process liberalism has always struck me as rooted in two developments in liberalism that started happening in the early-20th-century: first, the professionalization of the social sciences and what you might call the “idea class”; and second, the establishment in the law of civil liberties, a notion that didn’t really exist per se until around that time (the ACLU was founded in 1920). To this kind of liberalism, when problems and complications arise, there’s a process to look into them, and there are responsible, competent, well-intended people overseeing it. This is a very different liberalism, for example, from people whose beliefs were shaped in the first instance by economics (e.g., me).
Barack Obama is a process liberal. A law and social-science liberal (much more, it has always seemed, than an economics liberal). If he’d never gone into politics, he’d be a law professor, as he was; and, I’m guessing, after a certain number of years, chairman of the board of a major Chicago foundation. And if the CEO of the foundation in question did something wrong and needed to be relieved of his post, Obama would let the process play out, even if it took two years, which, in foundation-world, is about how long these things take.
So now we have this situation involving the Justice Department and the Associated Press, news of which broke last night. DoJ, after presumably subpoenaing phone companies, obtained logs of outgoing calls (numbers called only—there was no wiretapping) made by some AP reporters and editors involved in producing a story that appeared in May 2012 about how a plot by a Yemeni terrorist to bomb an airliner was foiled.
AP actually held the story for a few days at the time at the administration’s request, and then published only when it got the green light. But even so, the administration wanted to know who AP’s source was. And so the subpoena—extremely far-reaching as these things go, and possibly sought in violation of the guidelines governing such action.
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