« So Why am I Unemployed? | Main | The Economics of Monasticism »

May 04, 2009

Comments

ms

When you look at politics of the past 40 or so years, you see that this fickle back and forth is how they work. People will come around after fiscal irresponsibility proves (we hope not irreversibly) disastrous. I've come up with a new name for Obama--the opiate of the masses. Or you could call him the opiate of the elite. He has this soothing way of speaking that belies his radical agenda.

Nato

Stupid voters. What were they thinking? Everything was fine until Obama and the Democrats blew it up!

Probably it would be a better analogy if they were correct in their apprehension that their wife was cheating on them, then went out to the bar. Unless Nathan really thinks the GOP well and truly followed their principles while they were in control of all three branches of government.

Nato

And isn't the torture a little bit embarrassing? Or are war crimes now just a part of the party platform? The little-tent GOP is much, much worse than the big-tent GOP.

Nathan Smith

re: "Everything was fine until Obama and the Democrats blew it up!"

A tenable hypothesis. Certainly things seem to have been deteriorating before Obama became president, though it is notable that the drop in the stockmarket from roughly 11,000 to roughly 8,000 corresponded almost exactly with Obama's gaining of a decisive lead in the polls. So it can't all be blamed on Obama; at most, the crash of late 2008 and early 2009 might be, not the sluggish growth of 2007-08. There was a huge build-up of debt

The Democratic Congress, however, is definitely a suspect in this who-dun-it, having arrived on the scene just before the crime (I speak metaphorically) was committed. The Bush boom coincided almost exactly with GOP dominance of Congress, 2003-2006, as indeed is the case with the Clinton boom that preceded it. Still, I wouldn't put all the blame on the Democratic Congress, either. Deficits under Bush and the GOP Congress, and excessively low interest rates under Greenspan in 2003-2004, also played a role. And if I had to point to one legislative action that triggered the crisis, it would be the Secure Fence Act which dealt a blow to housing demand.

Whatever you think about torture, we can hardly pretend, however much we want to make excuses for them, that that issue gives the slightest fig-leaf of justification to the 2008 voters, since the Republican candidate, McCain, was the nation's leading opponent of torture, and indeed one whose personal history would make his election a powerful statement of recommitment to military honor. McCain also promised to reverse the deficit spending that got us into the crisis. In that respect, it was Obama who represented a continuation, or rather a massive acceleration, of the worst policies of Bush. The nation had problems before 2008. Electing Obama was a decision not to face them, but to take refuge in paranoia thinly masked by vapid motivational-speaker rhetoric.

Nathan Smith

Actually, I guess torture might have played a role in the 2008 election if we assume that the public didn't want to repudiate torture as decisively as a McCain victory would have done. Since Obama's positions are generally fairly empty and/or opportunist, a voter who thought it important that certain federal agencies retain, in the long term, the right to use coercive methods of interrogation might have reasonably thought Obama was the better option in that regard.

ms

I would not claim that republicans or Bush did everything right. I was very unhappy with the deficit spending in the Bush administration. I'm still not sure what I think about Iraq, though I think Saddam Hussein was a monster. So--President Bush had to make some tough choices and he made them and did a lot of things right along with making some mistakes. Now that republicans have a chance to regroup and rethink, I think it would be nice if they would go back to a platform that supports small government and local community--I've become a bit of a crunchy con I guess. Anyway, it is probably good that republicans have to reinvent themselves right now. They had drifted quite a ways in the big-government, big-spending direction. Obama is an example of where that kind of thinking takes you. Republicans need to think about what they really stand for and how to implement their beliefs into a platform--a painful exercize, but exciting too. In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch what happens when Obama HAS to take on that political land mine, entitlement reform. There go his high ratings.
As for waterboarding--it seems to me like the evidence shows that limited use of this--which BTW, Mc Cain supported as did Pilosi--did get information that saved American lives and did not take terrorist lives. Obama was way off base when he talked about Winston Churchill eschewing torture. Basically the British gave the German spies they captured a stark choice--become a double agent or be shot. It's a rough world out there and sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. I am not convinced that in the world we live in we can save American lives without engendering some fear in terrorists. BUT, it does seem pretty clear that this is only effective in a few very specific kinds of cases. We should not, however, be too self-righteous about castigating those who kept us safe for the past 8 years. I am very uncomfortable with this subject, believe me, but if you ask me if I would waterboard someone to save my child's life (or anyone's child) I have to answer yes, I would.

Nathan Smith

re: "if they would go back to a platform that supports small government and local community--I've become a bit of a crunchy con I guess"

Is that what crunchy con stands for? That sounds good, but my sense is that Rod Dreher is anti-illegal immigration, which makes nonsense of a claim to be for "local community" since an attempt to reverse illegal immigration would involve local communities (where illegal immigrants and natives are peacefully integrated, with immigrants often being present even in natives' homes, providing eldercare or landscaping or cleaning) being ripped apart by the power of Big Government. How do you be for local community *and* strong action against immigration?

ms

What can I say? We live in an imperfect world where it is hard to be consistent. I understand your feelings on immigration, but the concept of a nation wouldn't mean much if there were no borders. I wouldn't be hardline about immigration, but there are no easy answers to the problem. RD lives in Texas where it's hard to be TOO idealistic about immigration.

nato

"Obama was way off base when he talked about Winston Churchill eschewing torture. Basically the British gave the German spies they captured a stark choice--become a double agent or be shot."

Shooting spies isn't against the Geneva conventions nor is it torture. As was pointed out to me, not having my military ID on hand in other countries made me liable to be shot as a spy, considering my profession.

As for Pelosi, if she knew what was really happening and did nothing about it, then she should be subject to prosecution. I doubt she or McCain really understood what was going on and didn't want to know - a different sort of moral cowardice.

Finally, Nathan, McCain is indeed the GOP's leading opponent of torture, and boy did he seem like a lone ranger on that. McCain is hardly accepted in the new purist party that thinks anything's okay as long as it saves American lives. "Enhanced interrogation techniques. " Good grief, listen to that disgusting Orwellian garbage! At least McCain will call waterboarding torture. Of course, to do so at CPAC would get him booed.

I think that the public in general came to view the administration and the GOP as both sinister and incompetent, an impression that the rump is now reinforcing. It isn't Bob Dole's party any more, or John McCain's. It's more like Rush Limbaugh's.

nato

Also, from a practical perspective, it's a disaster that the GOP is going this way. I don't think that Obama is going to blow it all up, but without credible opposition he'll do a worse job than he would have otherwise. He is, to some extent, all that's keeping the Democrats in check, and one look at his budget will tell you that in one respect at least that's setting the fox to watch the coop.

Nathan Smith

re: "the public in general came to view the administration and the GOP as both sinister and incompetent..."

That may be true, and it shows how far gone the public is. Hopefully they'll be smart enough to recognize, over the next few agonizing years, just what a relatively good thing they had, and start trying to figure out a way out of the hole Obama is digging.

Nathan Smith

"without credible opposition"

But credible is in the eye of the beholder. If I am talking to a madman, telling him he's Napoleon may be the best way to make him believe me, but that doesn't mean I should say it, for my sake or his. There are times when it's worthwhile to try to be "credible" to voters. But when the public is giving majority support to a president who's driving us over a fiscal cliff, it is not worthy to be pandered to.

ms

Nevertheless, Nato, if waterboarding saved lives, and apparently it did, was it still wrong? Also, aren't terrorist spies of a sort? They come into our country meaning to do us harm--sounds like a type of spy.

ms

This all seems messed up. I would not condone shooting spies. I would lock them up and send them home after the war--though I might put out that I had shot them to deter other spies. I wouldn't condone waterboarding either except when a person is known to be part of scheme of some sort like the twim towers plot or the foiled one against the Brooklyn Bridge. When someone has been caught in that sort of scheming, however, they are in my mind like a spy and if they can give info that will save Americans, then I just can't regard waterboarding as wrong.

nato

@Nathan: I mean politically credible opposition. If Obama and the Dems have to consider Republican objections, they'll write better (or less-bad) laws. Basically, if the GOP sacrifices a few more seats in the process of placating the Red State crowd then they'll become something close to politically irrelevant.

"Nato, if waterboarding saved lives, and apparently it did, was it still wrong?"

Yes*.

"Also, aren't terrorist spies of a sort? They come into our country meaning to do us harm--sounds like a type of spy. "

I am not ideologically opposed to capital punishment. Go ahead and charge them with capital offenses. If we cannot, for security reasons, go through the normal legal process, then treat them as POWs.

As a not-quite-side note, I am not aware of any independent assessment showing torture to be any better than traditional interrogation for eliciting valid information. At best, the same information comes faster, which doesn't seem to apply to any of the cases in question where detainees had already been held for quite a while. However, torture is extremely effective at getting people to tell you what they think you want to hear. Essentially, they can be used to manufacture whatever sort of evidence one might find useful, somewhat analogously to psychologists eliciting "suppressed memories" from children that fit their own biases. A bad (but politically-useful?) intelligence factory. Even if the Bush Admin didn't use this for their own ends, then it's inevitable that some successor would.

*I can give more complicated answers, but under the circumstances that pertain it's a simple affirmative.

ms

I would venture to guess that for anyone who takes a hard line on these issues, when push came to shove, it would depend on whose life was being saved.

nato

"...when push came to shove, it would depend on whose life was being saved."

How could one know ahead of time? These were not ticking bomb scenarios. Anyway, I can imagine a certain concatenation of circumstances in which an individual should arguably commit torture, but I can't imagine a set of circumstances in which it should be legal, still less a sanctioned part of one's job.

Nathan Smith

On torture, there's a qualitative difference between executing a spy and using torture, because executing a spy is punishment for past wrongs, whereas torture is a means of *inducing* someone to do something which is, from their point of view, wrong, such as betraying a cause that they believe in, even if we believe, and even if we believe rightly, that it is actually hideously evil. To break a person's moral will seems to be a different type of wrong than to destroy a person's body, and I think a worse one. Is it worse to tell someone (a) that you've discovered he's a Christian and you're going to shoot him for it, or (b) that you've discovered he's a Christian and you're going to shoot him for it, *unless he tramples on the cross?* I think it's at least arguable that (b) is worse, because in addition to murder, or at least intended murder, it involves a temptation to sacrilege. This is why I think the Spanish Inquisition is in an important sense qualitatively more evil than the Nazi concentration camps, even though its crimes were not remotely on the same scale.

The Churchill case seems like a borderline case: a threat is made of using (what we'll assume for the sake of argument is) a legitimate punishment; but a deal is offered. Torture seems different because the breaking relies on pain and thus makes the cost of fidelity, in principle, *unlimited.* Death is a more limited threat: one shot, and it's over.

Sure, it would depend on whose life is being saved: it's easier, morally, to sacrifice one's own life than that of others. If my scruples about torturing a suspect will cause my own death, I need feel less guilt if my scruples are mistaken inasmuch as my life is my own to dispose of as I see fit (which it isn't entirely-- I believe suicide is wrong, for example-- but that's another topic). If my scruples will sacrifice someone else's lives, or those of many someone elses, the moral problem is harder.

The "disgusting Orwellian garbage" argument strikes me as weak. Bureaucracies always develop weird newspeaks which seem weird to the outside but are useful internally. Why not here? Also, from a merely semantic point of view, it doesn't seem crazy to define "torture" as, say, practices that cause permanent bodily harm, and to develop other, milder-sounding terms for practices that stop short of that, such as waterboarding. The argument above would suggest that both torture proper and "enhanced interrogation techniques" are wrong, since both are efforts to break someone's moral will, but the moral line doesn't have to be drawn in the same place that the semantic line is.

nato

Also, I suspect that in a few years that the GOP's current position on same sex marriage will become a source of embarrassment rather than votes. Immigration is less clear, because nativism springs eternal and the Democrats' (currently) more liberal stand may never reach the point of near-universal acceptance in the way that mixed-race marriage (for example) has.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if the true hardliners control the GOP, they're not going to be the sort of people who supported McCain. They're going to be the sort of people who supported Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo or at best maybe Mitt Romney. The things they'll advocate will, on average, be things that alienates independents and young people, marginalizing the party. If things continue on this course, the battle will shift away from being between Republicans and Democrats but between moderates and leftists within the Democrats. Presumably the party will reinvent itself before then, but unopposed Democrats might do lasting damage in the meantime.

Nathan Smith

re: "I suspect that in a few years that the GOP's current position on same sex marriage will become a source of embarrassment"

Not likely... and anyway, remember that even Democrats who run for national office seem pretty consistent to oppose same sex marriage. If the GOP sinks further, it will be because they oppose Big Government, while a majority of voters chooses to look for salvation in the idea of Big Government while blaming the bad consequences of real Big Government on Bush and other scapegoats. It makes no sense, but it doesn't need to, because people are abandoning reason in favor of "hope" and "chance."

nato

"the moral line doesn't have to be drawn in the same place that the semantic line is."

But I think the 'signified' of torture has always been intentional severe suffering, while things that cause specifically physical harm are referred to by such words as "mutilation." It's true that there can be internal jargon, but in this case it seems that it was entirely a way to avoid calling it torture, or abuse, or whathaveyou. I certainly have a difficult time understanding what other role it has. I mean, they could have called it "ameliorated torture" or something like that if they wanted to distinguish it from, say, crucifixion.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Only use a payday cash advance as a last resort.

Categories

Blog powered by Typepad