I'm someone who identifies as a centrist who leans fiscally conservative, but is socially progressive, enjoys learning more about history, has grown more skeptical about national security talk, and particularly rejects the narrative often advanced by 24-7 news media. I sometimes found it difficult to find information sources that presented material designed to make you think, rather than react.
My philosophy is that those who make you think aren't interested in writing just to keep an audience going. Instead, they are the ones that will follow their own mind and allow the audience to come to them. That's why I came to appreciate The Atlantic, a publication that has been around since 1857, and has published works from people ranging from Mark Twain to Martin Luther King Jr., and was first to publish The Battle Hymn of the Republic (written by an abolitionist named Julia Ward Howe — now there's your history lesson for the day).
As I spent more time reading The Atlantic for views on current affairs, I came across several writers who really made me rethink what I thought I knew about certain subjects. Among them was Conor Friedersdorf, who identifies himself as a conservative, but is a far cry from what one normally associates with what passes for conservatism these days.
Ask your typical Republican about national security, and you are more likely to hear about how important it is to this nation, than you are to hear about concerns about those who are tasked with such duties about overreaching. Yet this is a frequent criticism of Friedersdorf, who in recent years has raised criticisms ranging from the militarization of local police departments and officer abuses, to how the federal government uses drone strikes frequently in the War on Terrorism.
These are criticisms that are not unique to Friedersdorf -- and not unique to certain conservative thinkers. (The perfect example is one of the GOPers who has announced he will seek the Presidential nomination in 2016: Rand Paul.) Yet they are criticisms that don't get embraced by mainstream conservatism.
Case in point, Friedersdorf's question to "law-and-order conservatives" about what they propose to do about police officers who truly engage in abusive behavior, even suggesting that federal intervention may be necessary.
There is a “Ferguson effect,” but rather than describing a spike in violence after undue criticism of police, the term should denote an erosion of respect for police authority caused by years and years of abhorrent behavior by cops and enabling political officials who incentivize and then all but ignore blue-on-black crime. It is no accident that the cities to experience the most intense unrest after police killings of unarmed black men, Ferguson and Baltimore, were ones where even cursory scrutiny reveals severe law enforcement abuses. Circa 1992, one could have as easily called it an LAPD effect, when decades of egregious abuses supplied the gasoline and the Rodney King verdict the spark. The federal consent decree that significantly improved policing here may not have directly caused the subsequent decline in crime, but certainly did not appear to impede it. Perhaps aggressive federal intervention is needed to reduce abuses in Baltimore.
What I like about Friedersdorf is that he can argue that changes need to take place in how we think about security, while still keeping them in line with what one important thing to remember about the heart of conservatism: any concentration of power in the hands of a few can cause a lot of problems. Mainstream conservatism may think of the federal government first, and follow that with programs and ideas typically associated with liberals. Friedersdorf doesn't think in those terms; he sees any type of concentration of power as something to be concerned with. Most of all, Friedersdorf is a strong believer in civil liberties, and believes giving too much of them up simply to make people safer, is a price he's not willing to pay.
Why, you ask, would I talk about a political writer when it comes to my planned work of fiction? Because part of my book will ask this question: just how high of a price are you willing to pay to ensure your security? Are you willing to give up every liberty you consider important? Most of all, are you willing to give up your right to question whether or not people have gone too far in ensuring your safety? (Also, are you expecting me to drop the Benjamin Franklin quote any minute?)
This is how Friedersdorf has influenced my writing. He's made me question just how far is too far when it comes to promoting national security. People may believe there's no price that is too high, but that's usually because it doesn't affect them personally, or they don't notice it. Yet in our quest to try to make the world safe, we have to ask ourselves if we have really made the right decisions, and think critically, rather than emotionally, about the consequences of such decisions.
Friedersorf's writings are at The Atlantic website and can be found here.