Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Importance of Torture

As US efforts to reform intelligence-gathering seem for now to satisfy lawmakers, whose recent solution to the endemic problems of terror-suspect interrogation have drawn the official debate to a close, the 'fog of war' reveals this humiliation. The necessary inference can and will be shaped into something like, 'if only the evil of torture had been resisted, we wouldn't now be drawn intractably into the mistake of Iraq regime change.' To say the invasion of Iraq is the result, or evidence, of sadism is risible. But it is now, pervasively, a property of the policy and at least a shadow of this first decision. If this account is accurate, it is our indulgence of hubris - even more so than abject cruelty, which is the definition of torture - that has hurt America most. A piece of legislation - one that proceeded from the Taquba report, the Army inquests, the periodic calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, the Abu Ghraib furor, deluges of press revelations on the CIA's classified purview over these policies - might have been expected to overhaul the policies it affects. I can find almost nothing in the Military Commissions Act to suggest that policymakers know a policy defect when they see it.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sulivan.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Defining Despicable Down

I've been on an Andrew Sullivan kick recently - just began reading his new book, of interest to fans of his blog but of greater benefit to everyone else. Today he links to an excerpt of Bill "Lou Dobbs Ain't Got Nothin' On Me" O'Reilly's recent interview of the president, where O'Reilly questions him on torture. Almost incredibly, a single, simple question from the principled advocate of torture sends the president into a frenzy of obfuscation and doublespeak - prompting viewers to marvel at the spectacle of Bill O'Reilly being lectured by anyone on the strategic sine qua non of waterboarding:

"But if the public doesn't know what torture is or is not, as defined by the Bush Administration, how can the public make a decision on whether your policy is right or wrong?"

We can't possibly, of course. Bush's inscrutable answer is also damnable - specious as the day is long. The president's rationale is buttressed by the demonstrably false claim (which Sullivan calls such) that we've only subjected active combatants "we've picked up on the battlefield." We already know of straightforward cases of the contrary, and if Jose Padilla's lawyers aren't lying, we have yet another. Bush again manages to summon impressive rhetorical prowess when prevarication is called for. And, of course, he again proves himself unable to speak of the political aspects of his presidency, even on the morally ponderous question of torture, without partisan inflection.

The moral question having been asked and decided, I think, rather conclusively, the question begged is how to weight the moral answer. It seems pretty obvious, setting aside the substantive definition of torture, that the greater moral hazard lies in this administration's conscious endeavor to make fact seem like fiction. Equivocation is the original sin in question.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More on the Libertarian Democrat

The phrase "libertarian Democrat" implies a segment of a political party adopting a philosophical viewpoint - not an ideology adapting to the different predominant ideology of a political party. On this score, the Kos essay to which I linked days ago is confusing, probably, because it is confused. He castigates the Republican spending binge, but only in virtue of single issues on which Democrats have always taken a comparatively libertarian stance. A liberal Democrat who, go figure, supports gay and reproductive rights isn't much of an evolved species, not to say libertarians aren't happy to agree with them. But Kos rather adamantly doesn't bother with offering a libertarian endorsement of points on which Democrats and libertarians universally disagree. Wealth redistribution is actually opposable on principle, and that would be libertarian principle - but the "and healthcare, and so on..." approach seems to suffice for Kos. The appeal to the right to healthcare and free education and a deeply regulated workforce and smaller, cuter puppies isn't modified at all toward anything resembling a plausible libertarian argument. Because in Political Philosophy I everyone learns that egalitarians are egalitarian with respect to social goods while libertarians are egalitarian - radically so - with respect to individual rights, it isn't even prevarication to call his general position a libertarian one. It's a falsehood to do so, a factual misunderstanding of political thought. (You can't deprive a person of his right to a college education in the same way you can deny him a right to free speech. Who in the former situation is doing the denying, and by what means?...)
This may become a trilogy...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Outing the Republicans

Andrew Sullivan makes the critical point about the political conundrum the Republicans face amid the Foley scandal. However, I'm not sure this is the fork in the road that it ought to be. It's no exaggeration to say that the modern Republican Party has transformed obfuscation from a tactic to a principle. I never would have thought it would be Chris Shays - never in my recollection prone to grandstanding hatchet jobs - to be the first Republican to burst out of the Chappaquiddick gate. But decency and honor are not even counted as political options for the current Republican cadre at the moment.

UPDATE: Via Sullivan, Cliff Kincaid, of the specious "media watchdog" outfit Accuracy in Media, does a bang-up job of explaining Foleygate. What happened, you see - and listen closely - is that the Republican Party withheld accounts of Foley's indiscretions, not in the interest of partisan bulwarking. Goodness, no - this is the result of the incontrovertible fact that the gay agenda has overtaken the Republican Party, replacing honest, hard workin', straight-as-an-arrow conservatives with gay impostors ("so-called Republicans") such as Foley, only to watch flabbergasted as the entire strategy collapses in a Benedict Arnold moment. Game over, can we say?

Monday, October 02, 2006

He Wants YOU!

Months after a casual post at his namesake Daily Kos, advocating for a libertarian species in the Democratic Party flock, Markos Moulitsas takes another opportunity, this time at Cato Unbound, to convey a definition. For several reasons, I don't anticipate many serious libertarians coming around. It hardly requires a resurrected Murray Rothbard or Robert Nozick to come to grips with the confusion of the argument. This will take two posts, one for each revelation. (I haven't read the Cato Unbound piece, so that will come next.)

The Moulitsas post both neglects libertarianism as a political philosophy, and makes light of this by foisting on it some barely-concealed false premises. Kos charges "traditional libertarianism" with insouciance toward the potential in corporations for mischief against the principles and actions of the free market. I have no idea why - the classical liberal economic literature is replete with critiques of the modern corporation's monopolistic and anti-competitive proclivities. So why should an unaffiliated libertarian "join up" with the Democrats? Leaving out the general principles which Kos doesn't think a libertarian needs help with...well, you see, the Libertarian Democrat is unique, and wholely non-traditional, because he believes that the government should act in some instances, but not others. A little more explanation of his criteria on this point wouldn't have killed him. The point at which Kos avers that "it begins to differ, and shouldn't" - well, it should. The style of the writing itself removes doubt that Kos hews to the now-redundant and unconvincing argument that the problem with libertarianism is that it fails to grasp one philosophical principle: since rights are good things, more of them is a better thing. Thus, the distinction between asserting a right to free speech and a right to free healthcare lacks a difference ("the same with healthcare. And so on.") What obtains is as far flung from libertarianism as conservatism or socialism or any other political theory that deserves to be taken seriously, but this is no matter for Kos. The foundation of the argument is the assumption that libertarianism shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone as a coherent political theory until it surrenders most of its philosophical territory. You can't do a hatchet job to a valid ideology and then endorse its molested result as if it has merely evolved into its truest self - especially if you're behind that conceptual growth spurt. He affords his reviled conservative opponents more respect than this. To stipulate that libertarianism should endorse the redistribution of wealth doesn't upgrade libertarianism. Nor does it advance argument; it circumvents it. Kos makes it blithely obvious that he isn't merely attempting to persuade libertarian-minded people to vote Democrat. He is, rather ambitiously, calling on such people to ditch their system of principles without expecting persuasion. This is a tall order for anyone - but especially for someone who considers Jon Tester "libertarian."