The man in the black pajamas, Dude: Upon the latter’s death at the age of 102, Senator John McCain remembers General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Dien Bien Phu and Tet. “Countries, not just their armies, win wars. Giap understood that. We didn’t. Americans tired of the dying and the killing before the Vietnamese did. It’s hard to defend the morality of the strategy. But you can’t deny its success.”
Showing a flash of his 2000 self in today’s WaPo op-ed page, John McCain argues anew that torture is un-American — and that Bush water-carriers like Michael Mukasey are lying about its efficacy in the Bin Laden hunt. He then followed up with a Senate speech to the same effect:
““In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information…In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.”
Naturally, conservatives are getting their opposition ducks in a row (with some help from Jeffrey Rosen’s recent dubious hit piece in TNR.) “But some Senate GOP officials privately conceded that, barring a major stumble, the judge will probably be confirmed with relative ease. ‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to tread very carefully,’ said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for years. ‘The only way we’ll find ourselves in a political predicament is if we don’t treat her with the same respect that other nominees received.’” Yeah, good luck with that.
In any case, early word on Judge Sotomayor is that she is very far from the liberal activist of right-wing nightmare, but rather a “highly capable technocrat,” and exactly the sort of hypercompetent and moderate — perhaps to a fault — pick one would expect from this president. “‘She’s a lawyer’s lawyer,’ said Paul Smith, a partner at Jenner & Block who participated in the call…She’s a cautious lawyer…who was a corporate lawyer herself…She reads statutes narrowly.”
As many readers here well know, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade studying US history. (In fact, over the past few years, I’ve occasionally helped my advisor keep a textbook up to date that recently drew the ire of right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, those damn pesky facts were somehow mitigating O’Reilly’s ability to spew forth the usual idiotic blather.)
Anyway, over that period of time, I believe I have in fact learned me a few things. So, as a public service of sorts, and because, after this morning’s revelations, I’ve reached the limit of craven and/or patently stupid falsehoods that I can feasibly ingest over so short a time, some “U.S. History for Dummies.” I expect most everyone who comes by this site with any frequency knows all this, but ya never know. Apologies for the didacticism in advance — if this were this a Coors Light commercial, this would be where i vent. (And thanks to Lia for the timely visual tax lesson, above.)
At any rate, as most people remember from high school, the original 1773 Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes or high prices at all. (In fact, legally imported tea — i.e. that of the East India Company, which was both suffering serious setbacks over in India and losing market share to smuggled Dutch tea at the time — was actually cheaper in the colonies after the Tea Act, since it was now exempt from the usual obligations.)
In small part a reaction of the East India’s commercial rivals to this sweetheart deal, the Boston Tea Party was mainly held to uphold the principle of No taxation without representation. Which I don’t think I need to explain. So, with the minor exception of DC-area conservatives who attended the tea gathering in Washington (without crossing over from Virginia or Maryland), the, uh, “teabaggers” don’t really have a leg to stand on here. This is particularly true after you consider that both ruthless gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College (I’m looking at you, Wyoming) actually tend to lead to over-representation of conservative Republicans in our halls of governance, even despite heavy losses for the “Grand Old Party” in 2006 and 2008.
Well, in fact, no state in the Union has any legal right to secede. (Not even Texas.) The existence of such a right was posited and debated quite often in the early years of the republic: by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, by the members of the Hartford Convention, by South Carolina’s philosopher-politician John C. Calhoun, and countless others.
But the illegality of secession was eventually confirmed — in blood — when eleven states attempted to pull out of the Union in 1861, due mainly to differing opinions on the institution of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. As a result of this insurrection by the southern states, a violent conflict broke out, which we call the Civil War. It lasted four years, and it was kind of a big deal.
Prior to the war, the states of the Confederacy believed secession to be their natural right, while those remaining in the Union believed it to be tantamount to an act of treason. With the Union victory in that conflict, and the subsequent readmittance of southern states in such a manner that reaffirmed that no right of secession exists, the question was settled. So it remains to this day.
Another argument we’ve heard lately — today Sen. McCain made it with his usual comrades-in-arms, Sens. Lieberman and Graham, while trying to protect Dubya’s lawyers — is that the CIA officials who actually conducted these recent acts of torture should be exempt from prosecution, because they were following the legal dictates of those higher-up in the administration. (To follow the reasoning around the circle, the torturers should be exempt because they were listening to the lawyers, and the lawyers should be exempt because they didn’t do the actual torturing. Cute.)
Anyway, whatever you think of the merits of this argument, this is usually referred to as the Nuremberg defense, and it is in fact no defense at all. Argues Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, devised by the Allies after WWII to determine what constituted a war crime: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Insert “CIA interrogator” for person in that last sentence and you can pretty much see the problem.
America is not a Christian nation. This will be patently obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” Unlike, say, England, America does not have and has never had an official, established church. This is very much by design. For proof of this not-very-radical claim, see the very first clause of the very first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
If that doesn’t do it for you, see George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to the Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.“
Or consider that Thomas Jefferson skipped his presidency on his tombstone to make room for his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (We could also make mention of the Jefferson Bible, but let’s start slow.)
Is the reasoning here too circuitous for Rove, Gingrich, et al to follow? Ok, then, here’s the cheat sheet: the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, passed by a Congress of our Founders without declaim and signed into law by President John Adams. It begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Did y’all catch it this time? Good, let’s move on.
After the picture was taken, conservatives went predictably livid, with Matt Drudge headlining the offending photograph with the usual red text, Dick Cheney deeming Obama “a weak president” on FOX News, and Gingrich arguing that it made Obama look “weak like Carter.” “We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators,” said Newt, and he wasn’t the only potential 2012’er aghast at Obama’s behavior. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada called the president “irresponsible” and the consistently shameless Mitt Romney painted Obama a “timid advocate for freedom”.
Um, ok. Well, let’s see here…
I could go on. With regards to that last one — Reagan yukking it up with Mikhail Gorbachev, then of “the evil Empire” — it didn’t take long before (surprise) Newt was caught in a contradiction. Apparently, Gingrich had previously argued on his website that Ronald Reagan’s good humor with Gorby was a sign of strength, not weakness.
Speaking of which, as Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC the other day, saintly old Ronald Reagan didn’t just smile and shake hands with America’s enemies. His administration sold them weapons under the table. So, please, assorted puddin’-heads of the GOP talkocracy, spare me your warmed-over tripe about poor diplomacy and weak leadership. As with everything else above, I’ve swallowed enough of your swill over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.
“‘I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much — Sen. John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately 30 seconds to make a rebuttal.'” Now here’s a prez worth hugging…On the eve of his inauguration, Sen. Obama publicly makes nice with his former adversary, John McCain.
And, apparently it’s not just for show: According to the NYT, the president-elect has been trying to forge a bond with McCain (and his No. 2, Lindsey Graham) since soon after the election. “Mr. Obama arrived for their Chicago meeting on Nov. 16 with several well-researched proposals to collaborate on involving some of Mr. McCain’s favorite causes, including a commission to cut ‘corporate welfare,’ curbing waste in military procurement and an overhaul of immigration rules.“
Hey, rapprochement is good, bipartisanship is good. And working Senators McCain and Graham (and, I’d presume Maine’s moderates, Snowe and Collins) is simply smart politics. Still, when push inevitably comes to shove on Iraq, health care, and a host of other issues, hopefully the president-elect will remember to dance with who brung him.
So, can you guess who TIME’s Person of the Year for 2008 turned out to be?
Not a huge surprise of course. Regardless, in honor of the occasion, and since now seems as good a time as any to fire up the 2008-in-retrospect train, below are some of the longer GitM essays on President-elect Obama over the past year and change. (And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, and want to relive all the debate coverage or somesuch, there’s always the election 2008 archives.)
“[Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming.” Uh…what? Former White House consigliere Karl Rove, he of the missing e-mails and the congressional contempt citation, takes it upon himself to lecture the incoming Obama administration on issues of transparency vis a vis the Blagojevich situation, which is a bit like listening to Dirty Harry tsk-tsk someone for not following standard police procedure. I’m sorry, Karl, but you don’t have much credibility when it comes to the “forthcoming” department. Not. at. all.
The larger story here, of course, is the Republican attempt to ascribe nefarious deeds to the Obama team when it’s patently clear, from the transcripts and otherwise, that the incoming administration’s hands are clean in the Blagojevich matter. We’ve seen this movie several times before during the Clinton era, when conservatives, abetted by the lazy groupthink tendencies of certain scandal-hungry media outlets, conspired to create full-blown, prolonged investigations out of Whitewater and the like. Let’s hope we’re all a little bit wiser to the origins of such manufactured controversies nowadays.
“‘The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own,’ the panel concludes. ‘The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” A new bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee lays the blame for detainee abuse squarely on Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputies. “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”
Also of note, the statement today by Sen. John McCain, the ranking GOP member who signed off on the investigation: “The committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.” It’s good to be on the same page again, Senator.
Thus was the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s happy reaction to Obama’s election Tuesday night. (As you may remember, he publicly backed the senator in June.) For many others, including yours truly, the feeling of the evening might best be summed up by one of Dylan’s esteemed contemporaries, Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halleloooooojah!“
For the first time since 1994, we have a Democratic president and a safely Democratic Congress. For the first time since 1964, we have a Democratic president entering office with a commanding mandate from the people. For the first time since…well, ever, we’ve reaffirmed our founding principles by choosing an African-American to lead us into the future.
I don’t want to overplay the “first black president” thing, because that’s not at all why we chose Sen. Obama. Still it must be said: With this election, we have shown the world — and ourselves — anew that the American ideal isn’t just a convenient myth, but a vision of the good that many of us still aspire to create every day. In the words of Cornel West, “To understand your country, you must love it. To love it, you must, in a sense, accept it. To accept it as how it is, however is to betray it. To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that in it which shows what it might become. America – this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the no into the yes, needs citizens who love it enough to reimagine and remake it.” And so we have, in a way the founders of our American experiment 221 years ago could barely have imagined.
Meanwhile, even with crooks like Ted Stevens and Norm Coleman still floating for the moment, our old friends the Republicans are now not only in full rout, but appear to be set to tear each other’s throats out in assigning blame for their repudiation at the polls. (Expect several further symposia of conservative hand-wringing, and a lot more intraparty shivving, along the lines of “Palin thinks Africa is a country,” in the weeks to come.) This gang will regroup — they always do — but for now the GOP has enough problems of their own to keep them busy. And, whatever ever they manage to accomplish as the loyal(?) opposition, it seems a safe bet that the Conservative Era that began with the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 has now officially coughed up its last in 2008, with the defeat of fellow Arizonan John McCain.
By the way, also joining the Republicans on the road to oblivion Tuesday night, alas, was my old laptop, a victim of post-return celebratory spillage. (Jamesons: Good for Jimmy McNulty and jubliant Dems, Bad for computer hardware in and around the television area.) Normally, inadvertently frying my growing-ancient-but-generally-reliable PC would’ve completely ruined my day. As it was, I took the news about like Baxter eating the whole wheel of cheese: “How’d you do that? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.” (And, fortunately, the hard drive, and the dissertoral files therein, were salvageable regardless.)
One much more depressing skeleton at the feast Tuesday night, about which Ted at Gideonse Bible, Chris at DYFL, and others have written eloquently: the passage of the idiotic Proposition 8 in California, which seemingly won with quite a bit of help from first-time Obama voters. It’s irredeemably sad not only that a day that saw so much progress was marred by Prop 8 and its like around the country, but that so many of the voters who helped strike a fatal blow against enduring racial prejudice at the national level seemingly had no qualms about encoding anti-gay bigotry into the California constitution.
Perhaps I’m dense, but I fail to understand how the institution of marriage could somehow be threatened by the state recognizing the unions of same-sex couples, particularly in a day and age when so many straight folk (myself included) have already had marriages that failed. (As my old boss used to say of the thrice-married Bob Barr back when he supported the Defense of Marriage Act: “Which marriage is he defending?”) By the way, particularly galling on the Prop 8 front, I think, is the strong imposition of the Mormon church into the battle on the side of the anti-gay zealots. One would think, of all people, the Mormons might have some sense of the damage that can be wrought by the state involving itself in stringent definitions of marriage. But, no, apparently what was good for two ganders in the eyes of the Mormons isn’t good for the goose. For shame.
Still, the Prop 8 debacle notwithstanding (I have every faith that within a decade, that law will seem as knee-jerk, narrow-minded, and embarrassing as it in fact is), Tuesday was otherwise a great night for America. What it now befalls us to remember is that, while we should savor them while we can, the path of progress before us will likely offer few such moments of jubilation in the months and years ahead. When it comes to change, it really is “uphill all the way.”
Given the economic and diplomatic travails already before President-elect Obama, he’ll have his work cut out for him from jump street. And those out there old enough to remember President Clinton’s first days in office, and how quickly things seemed to go south then (the sanity-restoring ’93 budget bill notwithstanding) will know that a Dem president and Dem Congress is no guarantee of progressive legislation in the offing. We won’t see the change we want — and voted for — without maintaining steady and unyielding pressure on all the machinery of government in the months and years to come. Now is not the time to sit back and let our new president try to do all the heavy lifting, but to stay involved as citizens and keep the progressive ball moving forward. (And, hey, keeping one’s head in the game may help to mitigate those postpartum existential crises The Onion warned us about.)
In an election held eighty years ago (i.e. in the living memory of one Ann Nixon Cooper), Herbert Hoover, the longstanding Secretary of Commerce widely revered as “the Great Engineer” and “the Great Humanitarian,” decisively defeated Al Smith, the Catholic Governor of New York. “Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years,” Hoover had promised in his nomination speech, “we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” And, while he obviously had his detractors, many across the country viewed Hoover as a miracle-worker who could singlehandedly steer the country to these new great heights. “We were in a mood for magic,” journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote of the Hoover inauguration. “We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved.“
For his part, Hoover was less sanguine about his prospects. “They have a conviction that I am some sort of superman, he fretted. “If some unprecedented calamity should come upon the nation…I would be sacrificed to the unreasoning disappointment of a people who expected too much.“
Who among us think Hoover a superman now? History doesn’t stop with a war or an election or the collapse of a governing ideology, be it Communism or Conservatism. It grinds inexorably on, always uncertain, always equal parts danger and opportunity, and all too often deeply laced with irony — Time and time again in our American story, nothing succeeds like abject failure, and nothing fails like a great success. So let’s not rest on our laurels by any means: The election of 2008 was a campaign hard-fought and hard-won, but the battle continues, and in many ways the real work before us is only now just beginning.
Let us look to navigate the turbulent waters ahead with a deep and abiding faith in our new captain, but also with our own eyes to the sea.