Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Torturous Reasoning

I earlier ripped into Powerline for their absurd suggestion that Republicans attacking Bush is a "betrayal". Today, Andrew Sullivan calls out Glenn Reynolds for the same foul, this time related to torture.

To be sure, Reynolds' claims are less reprehensible than Powerline's. He seems to making a descriptive rather than a normative claim: Opposition to Bush will only harden the resolve of Bush's Republican allies and thus prevent real change. He writes:
I think the effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue is a serious mistake, and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture (with today's hype becoming tomorrow's reality) and a political defeat for the Democrats. And the highly politicized way in which the issue is raised is likely to ensure that there's no useful discussion of exactly how, in terms of incarceration, etc., we should treat potentially very dangerous people who do not fall readily within the laws of war.

To which Sullivan replies:
Run that by me again. The point is not "an anti-Bush political issue." It's about whether the United States condones torture of prisoners (many of whom have turned out to be innocent) in its care. Since president Bush shifted U.S. policy to one which allows what any sane person would call torture, any criticism of the policy, by its very nature, has to be "anti-Bush." And when the president responds to his egregious error - which has undermined the war - by rewarding those who helped him make it, like Gonzales and Bybee, are we all supposed to roll over? Is all legitimate criticism of the administration now reducible to this kind of inane partisanship? Glenn's deeper point is that if you ask for torture to be stopped, the majority of Americans will respond by saying: ramp it up. But that amounts to complete capitulation to something no civilized person should tolerate, and no grown-up military officer would approve. Glenn cannot pretend to be anti-torture, while eschewing any serious attempts to stop it through the political process. If you won't stand up to the Bush administration on torture, is there anything you won't acquiesce to? And it's not "hype." Read the reports.

Reynolds responds that even if Sullivan isn't a partisan, most of the critics are. I think that Reynolds is essentializing just a bit here; I've seen no evidence that there isn't at least a sizable chunk of the anti-torture agitators who oppose on principle, rather than as a political opportunity. Reynolds' also claims that Republicans want to have this debate, as it would just emphasize the Democrats as soft on terror. You know what? I'm willing to take a little political flak here and expose the gap between American rhetoric and reality. The American people ARE outraged by torture--as long as its on the front page. Mark Graber elaborates
Most Americans probably suspect that our nation now routinely tortures persons and that the President has sanctioned this policy. We sort of know this is wrong, but as long as we can maintain plausible deniability, who really cares. Thus, while we profess outrage when stories hit the front page, the outrage vanishes as soon as the stories disappear. Besides, some victims of torture might give up valuable information. Others are no doubt bad people, who might well torture us in appropriate circumstances. Most are people we do not know, and in America, people we do not know are people Americans need not care about. This is the real scandal, and it is about us. Beneath all the media talk of a politics of morality, George Bush and his cohort are deeply amoral people, and American under George Bush is a deeply amoral place. The real challenge for the left is making people care about torture, even when torture is not on the front page.

Put this on the front page and lets MAKE America, front and center, say "we're okay with torture." I don't think they have the chutzpah to do it.

I don't have too much confidence in the political process as a means to solve problems. But I do think that it should be the tool of first resort. Principle opposition to torture means getting out there, on the front page, and making it stop. And that's going to mean confronting those who would indulge in immoral US practices head on.

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