Saturday, September 30, 2006

Repubs for Torture - and other deviations from principle

I've been asked why the GOP ramrodded the torture bill through Congress this week, and instead of writing a personal response, I'm going to discuss it here. I've been thinking about this issue all week, but not just in terms of pro/con torture (as if that debate would take long), but also in terms of politics in general. First the specifics.

The primary motivating factor in passing the torture bill is the mid-term election. That has several implications.

1. The GOP is getting hammered on Iraq. Overall Congressional approval is at 25% and there's a very real chance that the GOP is going to lose a significant number of seats, possibly enough to have a Democratic Congress. Passing the torture bill is a symbolic act (since it eviscerates several constitutional rights and will quickly be overturned) that makes the GOP look strong on terror just before an election.

2. It's strategy. This has been Rove's strategy from the get go. The reason why Kerry "voted against the war in Iraq before voting for it" is because the GOP put something in the initial war authorization bill (can't remember exactly what - but a "poison pill" for sure) that the Dems would never support, SOLELY to get the Dems to vote against it. Say what you want about Rove, but he's a brilliant, if Machiavellian, political operative. This has been "pro-forma" for the GOP since 2000 and it's worked perfectly.

This time around, they pushed through a Pro-torture bill solely to make the Dems look weak on terror. They even got the 3 alleged GOP philosophers - Warner, McCain, and Specter - to vote for the damn thing. Hell, McCain actually said he thought it would pass a constitutional test. You know there's something afoot when a GOP Senator who was tortured in a POW camp in Vietnam and slandered by the Bush campaign in 2000 (just before the South Carolina primary, Rove alleged that McCain had fathered a black baby - and shockingly, race baiting worked, McCain lost to Bush and dropped out) votes for a pro-torture law after forcefully stating in the past that torture was wrong and only made US troops more vulnerable to harm. This whole thing smacks of a desperate last minute GOP ploy to put some W's in the win column in November.

And so far, it's working, because the Dems aren't standing up and forcefully arguing that torture is wrong - "give me liberty or give me death" type of stuff. I mean really, our nation is allegedly the greatest nation on earth and we just joined the company of Syria, North Korea, China, and all of the worst genocidal dictators of the 20th and 21st centuries in saying that limited torture is ok. Did we really just do that? I'm beyond shocked by this. Even Jack Bauer (24) breaks the law when he tortures a suspect. But apparently, 200+ years of principled history don't really matter. Our nation, a nation founded on principles, with a constitution that well articulates those principles, is just willing to throw away our core beliefs because of a bit of terrorism?

At any rate, the question is will it swing the election? I doubt it. There are too many other factors in play, but it certainly shows, once again, that the Dems are weak - not on terror or international affairs - but on message, unity, and force of advocacy. They should be up in arms about this - outraged - but once again they seem to have misjudged the public and the American people's sense of decency. This torture bill should work for them. Instead, I think it's going to be net neutral.

Of course, the other reason they ran it through the Congress is because Bush seems to actually believe the words that come out of his mouth. As incredibily unlikely that seems to be. So, in some way, it seems like Bush really wants to "reinterpret" the Geneva Convention to allow torture and degrading treatment. As if he could do that. The Bush administration seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that there is 50 or 60 years of case law interpreting and clarifying the Geneva Conventions. His desire to "reinterpret" the Geneva Conventions as allowing "limited torture" (sort of like "kinda pregnant") is akin to reinterpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mean that blacks don't have the right to vote. When he says "reinterpret" he really means "abolish".

At any rate, I've been reflecting on the last 6 years of politics in the US and I think that what we're seeing is the nadir of Republican dishonesty. I believe it started in 1994 with Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. Whether he was honestly presenting a principled plan or not, the aftereffect of the GOP sweep in the House and Senate was essentially a lesson in Machiavellian politics. Tell the public something, anything, keep saying it over and over again, whether it's true or not (see Whitewater), and you can win some elections.

Bush used this exact same strategy in 2000 when debating Al Gore he repeatedly used the phrase, "we have a difference of philosophy," instead of actually debating Gore on the merits. And honestly, he looked pretty credible doing it. In fact, Clinton used a similar tactic in his Democratic National Convention speech in July 2004 when he repeatedly said, "We believe [X], they believe different, our way is better." That type of political debate, to me, is the right kind of long as it's honest. We should be debating philosophy and practice on the national stage. We should be arguing about principles and strategy. But we're not.

Instead, the Bush administration has taken this tactic to a new level. Instead of telling the truth about Iraq and the war on terror, they're adamently repeating the same lines:

- Iraq is doing well
- We're winning the war on terror
- Opposition to our position makes us more unsafe

That's about all they ever say anymore. And, I for one, feel that this political approach makes us all more unsafe. We need to have an indepth and honest debate about the future of Iraq. We need to bring both sides of the aisle together on this because, let's face, neither side can sort out this mess alone. And the current Bush administration approach doesn't permit that. It knows that if it continues to obsfuscate and confuse, the Dems will waste all their time trying to prove that Bush is wrong about his predictions in Iraq instead of articulating a plan to fix it. It's Machiavellian politics, but better than Machiavelli could have imagined.

All of this is why I believe that Bush will go down as the worst president in US history. He knows the risks to the nation, he sees the intelligence reports every day, and he doesn't act on the merits. Instead, he continues with a solely political strategy aimed at preserving his and his party's power, at grave jeopardy to the nation.

And when it comes down to it, this is why I'm so anti-Republican at this time. It's not their philosophy, it's not their long forgotten ideals that I have a problem with. We can debate those on their merits - impassioned positions exist on both sides. No, instead, it's the clear fact that the GOP just isn't up to having that type of debate on politically charged issues. In academic terms, they're running scared, sacrificing their principles, and barely treading water. Of course, it's working because the Dems are either too divided or too jealous to see that taking the high road would work.

So what does all this mean. Well, I think that we, as a nation, have to do better because our politicians clearly aren't going to. We need to make better choices. We need to be better informed. We need to realize that sometimes a good 'ole boy isn't the kind of guy you want to lead the nation. And, in the end, we need to be more involved so that we can force accountability. These issues are too important for the nation, for the world, to be ignored. Sadly, the mainstream media appears to be completely ignorant of the big picture.

(And I'm not even going to wade in on the complete idiocy of the 700 mile wall that they're planning to build between Mexico and the US.)


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