Endless Divisions


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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79 Responses

  1. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    “…many liberals supported some of Clinton’s more hawkish moments, or his taste for expensive cigars and cheap interns,”
    “Cheap interns????”
    How about dirtball presidents?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Well yeah. Dirtball for sure. You didn’t like my “expensive cigars/cheap interns” line? Man, tough crowd.Report

      • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

        Clinton may have been a dirtball (and still is), but at least he didn’t leave the country in shambles. Would you rather have another four years of Jimmy Carter? 🙂Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          Oh give me a dirtball who can balance the books any day. But really, I would prefer an honest accountant to a slick willy or a GWB any day.Report

          • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

            So would I. But such persons tend to have great difficulty becoming elected to any high office, let alone the Presidency, and tend to do poorly once there.

            And its worth noting that many leftist criticisms of Obama boil down to demands that he play the same sort of hardball that Bush did. (Such as demands that he “end” DADT via executive order, rather than waiting for Congress to Do Something…)Report

        • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

          Score one!Report

  2. Avatar EngineerScotty says:

    Well, we have a political party, and an ideology (or collection thereof) which are associated with said party–and that party’s rule was utterly ruinous, to the point of the party seeing its worst electoral defeat in a generation.

    What is the sensible course of action in this circumstance?

    The course of action that many conservatives seem to be taking, when they are introspective at all, is to blame it all on Bush–the “he’s not a real conservative” shtick. Of course, when you get right down to it, none of the neo-cons are “real conservatives” in the traditional sense of the term–but “real conservatives” voted for them, and empowered them, just the same. And “real conservatives”, other than suddenly rediscovering an interest in fiscal sanity now that they are no longer in power, haven’t proposed anything that is materially different than the ruinous policies that got them into trouble into first place. Oh, and trying to blame the whole mess on the other side.
    I’m still waiting for a prominent conservative (not just a blogger or pundit, but someone who actually has to face the voters), to come out and condemn the Bush Administration and their enablers. We’ve seen a bit of such from exiled moderates like Colin Powell, and from GOP outliers like Ron Paul. But Obama, nine months in, is taking FAR more flak from liberals than W has from his own “side”.

    Conservatives, or a least a whole lot of them, still are acting as though their only regret is having lost the election.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      You will be fought mercilessly where the conservativism is “true”on the proposition that the “ideology” (conservatism) is rightly associated with the “party” (by which I take you to mean the U.S. Republican Party).Report

      • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

        And I will gladly concede the point to any conservative who disassociates himself (or herself) from the GOP.

        The trouble is, most folks calling them conservatives DO associate with the GOP, and once there, spend more time aligning themselves with the party machinery than they do criticizing the party’s deficiencies. And the GOP, unfortunately, seems to have little room for critics within the tent–so all the piss comes inwards.

        Both major parties are dominated by powerful interests who loudly trumpet the interests of The People (or some subset thereof) in order to cobble together an electoral majority, but then engage in rampant self-dealing once in power. The Bush Administration was famously un-conservative in many respects, but hardly anybody on the right noticed until the writing was on the wall–at which point a half-hearted and laughable attempt to position themselves as the “reform” party was undertaken in the last election. (But you do have to give the GOP credit for chutzpah! If only the Democrats had half the balls…) And now, nobody in the party has come with any ideas that I’m aware of, on how to avoid repeating the debacle of the past eight years, should they get re-elected. It seems that the GOPs only chance in the short term is hoping Obama screws up (or that, ironically, the economy will get better and that downtrodden whites in purple states will once again be able to afford to vote against the n—r, or at least vote for the most strident family-values candidate).
        While I’m a progressive leaning voter, and one who has mostly voted Democrat in recent years, there are good reasons I refuse to register as a Democrat or support the party apparatus. But there are better reasons for me not being a Republican.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          Well – political parties are almost secondary aren’t they? Republicans used to be under the Lincoln banner; Dems used to be segregationists. It’s the ideological movement that carries more weight, and finds vessels in the major political parties.Report

          • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

            I’d say its the nexus of powerful interests which carries the most weight–the party is merely the vehicle to power, and the ideology the pretext. 🙂

            Of course, most thinkers don’t wish to be part of that game, and prefer not to play it–but the ideas which seem to be most acceptable to “conservatives” involve those things that either a) benefit the power-brokers, or b) satisfy the mass of voters (“the base”) and their prejudices and passions. With a) taking priority over b)–which is why the GOP, when in actual power, tends to spend most of its energy on things like deregulating and tax cuts, and less on things like social issues (other than making noise)–and sensible conservative ideas, like deficit reduction, get left by the wayside (they offer more pain than benefit to a, and even to b…)

            A similar deconstruction is possible with the Democrats as well, albeit with a wider dispersion of powerful interests and activist voters, and frequently greater areas of conflict among them. In a parliamentary democracy, the Democrats wouldn’t exist as a party–they’d be a coalition of several smaller parties, each united by little more than opposition to the 800-pound gorilla in the room.Report

  3. Avatar Bob says:

    “Until we can get to that point, any policy people on the right are somewhat limited to saying ‘Markets will do better!’ and ‘Cut taxes!’ (unless, of course, we’re talking foreign policy.)”

    Channeling Mike Farmer?Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I think a big part of the problem/phenomenon is that being “conservative” or “a conservative” has little agreed-upon substantive meaning, and in itself is little more than a label that some people find appealing and therefore apply to themselves aspirationally, sometimes with little specific intention about what it is meant to indicate, and sometimes with more of such an idea, but often one that is not in concert with many others who self-apply the label. All political labels that are worn willingly operate this way to some extent, but as far as I can tell, “conservatism” is far-and-away the least-tetherd to specific political principles as accepted by its adherents, while exerting an uncommonly strong attraction to an simply by virtue of what the word connotes to those who find it attractive, which in turn is a very considerable number of people in this country, perhaps (though I’d have to check) a plurality of those who willingly apply ideological labels to themselves in public opinion surveys.

    I have largely given up on understanding what conservatism “really” means, much as I have given up trying to stay abreast of how it is that I am so ridiculously derelict in my efforts at due diligence in first trying to understand the latest version of the nature of the God that is proposed to exist before rejecting the thesis of His existence, so that I avoid the arrogance of rejecting what I don’t even understand.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I should say: sometimes the intentional idea of what the particular conservatism being self-applied means is not just “more specific,” but is in fact an exquisitely detailed, coherent world-view/political philosophy. (Credit where due.) But those ideas, while labelled as types of conservatism, are not in concert with their counterparts and are (for those not previously disposed to see/assume/assert the relation) hard to relate to a larger sense of ‘conservatism’ despite their claims to be such — largely because that larger idea is very difficult to locate, and certainly to verify with some representative congress of adherents.Report

    • Avatar Jay Daniel says:

      This is a point that should not be compromised just because our political discourse has become so impoverished. Holding oneself out as a “conservative” does not make one a member of a “group” or a “team.” Now I understand that it is annoying when someone says “I’m a conservative” and then promptly disavows every hair-brained idea and policy that other self-professed conservatives have initiated as elected officials. But those who are arguing that “conservatives” are thoroughly discredited or are failing to take responsibility are engaged in exactly the same game of picking and choosing which ideas and policies characterize this made up conservative team. Trying to label your interlocutors simply for the purpose of dismissing them is lazy and dishonest.Report

      • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

        Trying to label your interlocutors simply for the purpose of dismissing them is lazy and dishonest.

        And while that is true for willingly-worn labels such as “conservative”, I would submit that it is even more true for terms used largely in abusive contexts, such as “liberal”.

        These liberals that Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity and Goldberg go on and on about, the sure do sound like nasty, unpleasant folk. But I have to note, I’ve only met a handful of them in my entire life–and the most prominent example I can think of in my personal relations promptly switch sides and became a hard-core GOP supporter, when she realized that a black man was going to be come President.

        So yeah, labels don’t necessarily mean much.

        But like a slug trying to escape a good salting–many writers and pundits who promoted the prior administration are now trying to have it both ways–disowning the same administration as uniquely incompetent, wayward, and corrupt, while still advocating the same policies that said administration championed–just better execution, please. That is, of course, when they’re not busy blaming Bush’s failings on the feeble and feckless opposition that the Democrats mounted during most of W’s two terms.Report

  5. Avatar Sam M says:

    So if we are to judge a “political movement” on the accomplishments, or lack thereof, what does that say about Democrats and a nissue like gay rights? When liberals were n charge, we got DADT. What do Republicans do? At the state level via Andrew Sullivan:

    “The Californian Republican gives out-of-state marriages the full force of civil unions and signs the Harvey Milk Day legislation. He has more of a record on gay rights than Obama.”

    So, clearly, the GOP is better on gay issues. Or.. is that unfair? Is it, in fact, useful to look past the main standard bearers, on any subject, and take a look elsewhere in the party? Was the war in Iraq “conservative? I don’t know. Ask Pat Buchanan. Or Ron Paul. Or the Cato Institute.

    Is DADT “liberal”? By Freddie’s definition, it would appear to be.Report

    • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

      Arnold Schwarzenegger is a bit of an outlier among GOP polls; he’s always been a fairly strong supporter of gay rights–and he lives in a state where, Prop 8 nonwithstanding, this position is probably not poisonous to his political ambitions.

      OTOH, many Democrats in DC come from districts where, if they were to vote for a repeal of DOMA, they would be all but ensuring their removal from power in the next election.

      You are correct if you note that party ID is not an absolute predictor of position on various issues–Ahnold is well to the left of many Democrats on social issues.

      Sully today asked the question if a McCain administration would be “no worse” than Obama on gay issues, and had a hard time arguing against this proposition based on Obama’s record so far. If McCain has a Democratic congress to deal with (and stays alive!), I might agree–he’s not a water-carrier for social conservatives, and would likely do no harm. And even with a GOP congress, said congress might find it with better things to do than enrage and inspire liberals (and mollify so-cons) by passing anti-gay legislation, just as the current administration and congress seems unwilling to do the opposite.
      On the other hand, the chance of retrograde policymaking coming out of the GOP on this topic strikes me as higher than the chance of same coming out of the Democrats.Report

  6. Sam M touches on this point but I will take it a bit further: Let’s say the GOP wakes up tomorrow with a complete change of heart and starts advocating all sorts of center-left policies. They say they support gay marriage, they are now pro-choice, they want to clean up the environment, they are friends to unions, etc. Would anyone take that seriously? Wouldn’t it (justifiably) be viewed with a great amount of suspicion? Let’s look at the GOP’s relationship with blacks, for example. Despite the fact that liberals have destroyed cities like Detroit and left blacks worse or no better off than when they first took power and arguably contributed to the welfare culture with an over-relaince on social programs, Republicans are still viewed as the anti-minority party. Why? I would argue mostly because we haven’t held a press conference on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where we apologized for every instance where we failed to support civil rights during the 1960’s. This is in much the same way as liberals will never really be trusted on foreign policy because of their mis-handling of Vietnam and the way that returning vets were treated.

    So at the end of the day, so often I wonder if policy really even matters? It seems the chess pieces were already put in place and there is no moving them.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Policy does matter – and I’m not at all advocating turning to some center-left agenda. I want the GOP to start advocating better conservative policies (well, any policies beyond mere opposition) so that we’re not left with lots and lots of bad, big government policies instead. Wyden-Bennett would have been a far better bill than what we’ll likely end up with, and a pretty fiscally sound one at that. Similarly, if the GOP had tackled climate change or health care or any number of other issues, maybe we could have seen better limited government legislation in the last 8 years instead of a whole heap of nothing.Report

  7. I often think though that conservatism is not always about advancing ideas. I think of us as the brakes on the engine of government. Liberals mash the pedal to the metal…we tap the brakes so we don’t drive off of a cliff. In that sense conservatives are often seen as reactionary and obstructionist because liberals say, “Aw, c’mon dad, I want to go faster.”Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      That’s a nice way to think about it, but it’s hardly how it plays out in real life. And it’s fine to a degree, but I think this mentality leads to many of the problems conservatives face once they take over government. Whatever else people say about Reagan, the man had ideas and governed, and made some major shifts in policy. And GW the First was a man of ideas as well.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Conservatives preached that government was bad for 30 years. And during that time, they governed badly as a result.

        Serious conservative thought about the good government can do (like separating health insurance from employment to boost entrepreneurialism, functional financial regulation or conserving natural resources) would be welcome.

        But suggesting how government can improve our lives and productivity means suggesting that government has an important role; flying in the face of starve-the-beast ideology and nationalism. I hold out little hope of an actual discussion of governing policy instead of more culture wars.Report

  8. Avatar Sam M says:

    Not sure how old Freddie is, but I wil be interested to hear his take on these issues in, say, 2017. Here’s why:

    Way back in 1999-2000, I occasionally sat in on the famous (infamous?) Wednesday Meetings at Grover Norquist’s office. It was basically where the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy met. And what a group. Phyllis Schalfley was there from time to time. Newt Gingrich. The people form Cato and Heritage and all the rest. And there was a CONSTANT tug of war between the missile defense people, the tax cutters, the Second Amendment people, the pro-life people. Etc. It was civil, mostly, but basically it was people jockeying for position. For influence. For moent. And there is only so much of each to go around. And let me assure you: there was plenty of intramural sniping and FUNDAMENTAL disagreements. But it’s a two-party system, so people played ball.

    I assume Democrats are doing the same kind of sniping right now. And some people will win, others will lose. In fact, I am confident in saying that the eventual list of priorities might not exactly mirror Freddie’s preferences. And that some of the things he would like to see happen will not happen. Because, you know, for better or worse, it’s really hard to close Guantanimo and get universal health care at the same time.

    So again, I wonder, if one of these does not get done to his satisfaction, if he will be willing to accept that the fact that it DIDN’T get done makes that, de facto, the “liberal position.”

    One might argue that the GOP had stupid people in the room, and that it was stupid to prioritize tax cuts and education as the top priorities. Well, a lot of people in Norquist’s office thought so, too. But allow me to assure you that “having really crappy hurricane response” was not on anyone’s list of objectives.

    Again, you might argue that cutting taxes so severely would somehow guarantee poor public services. Fair enough. But I caution against making these kinds of extrapolations. Because pretty soon, it is going to be 2017. And a lot of really crappy stuff is going to happen between now and then. It would take a real piece of work to insist that each and every one of these things was an outcome that “liberals” must have desired.Report

    • Avatar EngineerScotty says:

      I don’t think anybody would argue the GOP wanted to see New Orleans washed out to sea. (Though there are some in the GOP, I suspect, who aren’t likely to miss the Ninth Ward one bit).

      However, I think there probably was more than a bit of self-dealing (and there is such going on now in the Obama Administration)–why spend money on mundane things like levee reinforcement and civil defense, when instead you can cut taxes, especially at the top, and wage a war or two? Preventing, planning for and dealing with disasters and such is part of the job of government–a duty which cannot be meaningfully privatized–and the Bush Administration was woefully derelict. When a driver doing 70 and blowing .18 runs over a little girl in the crosswalk, of course he didn’t mean to kill her… but she’s dead just the same, and he’s still at fault.

      The perilous situation of New Orleans, and how it would withstand a direct hit from a hurricane, was a situation that had been known and discussed for a LONG time–it isn’t like a meteor falling from the sky and flattening Topeka.

      Heck of a job, Brownie…Report

  9. Avatar zic says:

    It’s not so much that people aren’t taking responsibility for the past, but that even those in supposed opposition to the conservative movement aren’t taking responsibility for visions of the future.

    Kudos for this.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I would put the debate, ironically enough, as one between “Intelligent Design” and “Darwinian Evolution”.

    I have absolutely no faith in Intelligent Design. None. I don’t think that the government can centrally plan worth a dang. I look at much of the history of Europe and see that, no, central planning has really screwed over a hell of a lot more people than it has helped. Even the exceptions require a lot of things on our part that make assumptions that are not accurate for the US. “We ought to have a system like the one they have in Denmark” is a statement that I absolutely agree with, but it seems to me that we would need to be like Denmark is a lot more ways before it would be possible for us to be like Denmark in that one… and, as such, if we sat down and centrally planned stuff, it wouldn’t work.

    The Darwinian Evolution model that I think would end up better, would take as a fundamental assumption that there is no such thing as a dinosaur too big to fail. Hey, dino. If you can’t make it in the new climate, let the mammals see what they can do, if anything. Fall down. Let them pick the bones for pennies on the dollar. See what happens. Some will die out themselves, of course. Some won’t, though… and that’s the point. The fittest will survive. Indeed, the ones that survive will be better off for it.

    As it stands, I tend to think that anything that is unsustainable will stop… and the more time/money spent to prop it up will result in more harm done. Dinosaurs colluding with the government to ensure that the dinos remain in charge of everything will harm the climate and we will have a much, much colder winter because of that collusion than if dinosaurs were allowed to die.

    If you know what I mean.Report

  11. the Iraq War or torture or the Patriot Act or any number of other Bush policies any more than many liberals supported some of Clinton’s more hawkish moments, or his taste for expensive cigars and cheap interns

    On the one hand –war, torture, and tyranny. On the other hand — blowjobs. Yeah, Clinton was Just As Bad As Bush.Report

  12. It seems fair for these conservatives to say, “I opposed X, Y, and Z” when they are on the record having opposed X, Y, and Z.

    Y’know, I’ll even welcome conservatives who’ll say right now that torture is wrong. Find me some.Report

    • Don’t dellude yourself. Everyone is okay with torture under certain scenarios.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        I can pretty much assure you that’s not true.Report

        • Really? So the CIA captures two terrorist cells en route to the US. Intelligence indicates that there is a third. The captured terorists’ laptops list a date 3 days away when they plan to blow up several elementary schools in US cities. You’re telling me you would oppose roughing these guys up until we got some more info?

          Let me give you another scenario: Let’s say that a pedophile is arrested who has been raping 5 year-olds. He pretty much tells the prison shrink he is going to do it again but the maximum time he can be incarcerated is 10 years. Would you be opposed to having him castrated? Because if you are you are in a small minority. Polling puts approval of that scenario at somewhere around 70%. Add to the question that one of the kids that were raped was your own daughter and you get numbers in the 90% range or higher.Report

      • I’ll check you off my list.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Let’s assume that’s true.

        We should totally allow for the option of jury nullification.

        If it turns out that a guy tortured a child rapist and, as a result, freed several children from a Saw VII situation, let him go to trial and introduce all of that stuff as evidence. “Because of his actions, little Meaghan and Ashleigh are able to stand before the court in pigtails today.”

        Let the jury say “okay, he broke the law, but we’re going to find him not guilty.”


        Otherwise you’ll end up with petty tyrants applying Saw situations to teenagers under the pretended premise of “National Security” when, at the end of the day, you’ve got a creepy guy getting his rocks off.

        Who will be paid by your tax dollars.

        To put teenagers in stress positions.Report

        • I don’t think that torture should be official policy. But what I DO think is that the unofficial policy should be that sometimes, in some situations, we have to ‘torture’ people to get time sensative information. The unspoken problem these days is that the intelligence services are severely hamstrung by the meddling of politicians who actually signed off on these techniques back when 9/11 was still fresh. So we need to give them some lattitude and admit that sometimes we have to do terrible things to protect our citizens.

          “”We sleep soundly in our beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.” – Winston ChurchillReport

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Sure, why not. Then put them on trial.

            Let them say “I thought that he might have information that would lead to us saving the lives of American Soldiers who had babies they’ve never seen more than a picture of to go home to, why, I have a magnet sticker on the back of my car, God Bless America.”

            Let the jury say “yeah, he was acting in fear, he was saving lives, these things can happen”.

            Don’t make it government policy to allow government appointees to reach this particular conclusion.

            If you aren’t certain that 12 average folks wouldn’t nod and say “he had to do what he had to do” and allow you to walk out of that building a free man, THEN DON’T FUCKING TORTURE.Report

            • You can’t put these people into the normal court system. There are intelligence risks involved. So put them in front of the Intel Committe in a closed-door session and let them explain why they did what they did and what came of it. If it turns out the person knew nothing then compensate them, just like we do US citizens who were wrongly convicted of crimes. But don’t prosecute intelligence operatives for doing what they thought was necessary.

              There’s a reason why torture prosecutions have never picked up steam. People in Washington know what info was gained form these sessions and they don’t want to be made to look like pansies in the press for trying to stop men and women from trying to protect he country with whatever means necessary.Report

              • Do we really trust a Committee of Congresslizards more than a jury of 12 citizens capable of obtaining security clearance? And why should we trust those Congresslizards (who have a political stake in keeping the information secret) to make that determination better than a federal prosecutor and judge with the highest possible level of security clearance?

                In general trusting the government to determine what should and should not be disclosed to the public is anathema to fundamental principles of democracy. I recognize that ultimately there’s still some sort of a need for secrecy but there also needs to be tight, independent oversight of the keeping of those secrets.Report

              • The big problem is leaks which kill future operations. When senators go into these intel breifings they bring dozens of staffers with security clearance. Leaks start before the hearings are even over. I’m fine with a civillian panel (because they would actually be more sympathetic to the intel community) but I would design it as 12 people, the witness, and a chairperson to oversee the process.

                I understand the fear libertarian-inclined folks have of anything secret in the halls of power, but I also don’t think the intelligence community uses harsh interrogation methods to get their jollies. They really believe that their methods work and these are some extremely patriotic and dedicated individuals. They deserve our trust.Report

              • I understand that – but my point stands: why do we trust a full committee of Congresslizards plus their staffs, with all the incentives they have to cover any bad things up, more than a dozen jurors and a judge with a security clearance and an identical oath of secrecy? I would submit that Congresslizards are as or more likely to be the source of leaks than an average citizen with a security clearance serving on a jury.

                As for whether the intelligence community uses illegal methods for noble and benign purposes, whatever trust we have in them cannot and should not place them above the law. If they do something our law specifically tells them they cannot do, then a jury of their peers – and only a jury of their peers – must decide whether that breach of the law was justified. We have passed laws specifically governing how the intelligence community must behave; the intelligence community does not then have the right to decide unilaterally and without real oversight when it will and will not obey those laws.Report

              • I see those laws governing the intelligence committee as pretty silly given that I don’t think any of us believe the President or the Sec. of Defense cannot and do not subvert them regularly when they believe they have good cause to do so. We ignore international law on a daily basis with flyovers and attacks in Pakistan. I could go on.

                The point is that we pass these laws to protect terrorists but we aren’t just doing that, we’re also helping them because they know they only have to resist to a very mild point and then they will be saved by a Geneva Convention they don’t even honor. Now your response will probably be that we are a nation of laws and we have to be beter than them…but how do you win a war that way?

                How many US soldiers havebeen killed because we could not enter mosques? How many bullets that went on to kill American men and women have been hidden in the basements of buildings that are PC regulations will not allow us to enter? if we don’t want to actually win these wars, then let’s bring the troops home. Otherwise let them be soldiers.Report

              • The answer to this is very simple: if you don’t like the laws – which in this case are US statutory law that at least theoretically represents the will of the American people rather than UN international law – as they exist, then pass new ones. Simply saying that they’re not good laws doesn’t provide a justification for ignoring them – and definitely not for ignoring them with impunity – when it’s inconvenient.Report

              • Isn’t ‘change the laws if you don’t like them’ the ultimate answer to 90% of the conversations we have around here? Of course I’d like to see the law change.

                In the meantime though I also know the law will never provide legal coverage for all the things that certain people do to keep our country safe. And as much as I dislike the President’s views on any number of issues, he has my complete trust that he will ignore the law and do what is right when the situation calls for it…and I am completely okay with that.Report

              • The difference here is that you have a self-dealing situation that creates problems that go well beyond just whether torture was appropriate in a specific instance. This isn’t simply a question of a prosecutor deciding whether or not to prosecute a pot smoker; it’s an issue of the Executive Branch deciding whether it will or will not hold itself accountable for its own potential violations of the law.

                If the Executive Branch gets to decide which laws it will and will not follow without having to disclose information pertinent to whether it followed those laws, then it ceases to have any meaningful restraints on its exercise of power.Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                “And as much as I dislike the President’s views on any number of issues, he has my complete trust that he will ignore the law and do what is right when the situation calls for it…and I am completely okay with that.

                Well we all know, because Nixon and Rice tell us, that when the president does it it is not illegal.

                “By definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture,” Ms. Rice said, almost quoting Nixon’s logic: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”


              • I think that’s where you have to give them some lattitude as commander-in-chief.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Some lattitude” includes, for me, the willingness to grant a pardon after a jury finds them guilty.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “They deserve our trust.” (citation needed)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Bullshit. We’re not talking about the torture of KSM at this point. We’re talking about the enhanced interrogation of teenagers who may or may not have thrown hand grenades at military vehicles in a war zone.

                There’s a reason why torture prosecutions have never picked up steam. People in Washington know what info was gained form these sessions and they don’t want to be made to look like pansies in the press for trying to stop men and women from trying to protect he country with whatever means necessary.

                Yeah. I fell for that line of bullshit when they threw Jose Padilla in prison without charges. “But he was plotting to blow up a dirty bomb!”, I said in Ashcroft’s defense.

                When it came to trial? You know what happened?

                That shit never, ever came up.

                American Citizens are being thrown into prison for years without charges and the bullshit justifications being given to “the people” don’t hold up under scrutiny.

                They’re lying to us.Report

  13. Avatar Sam M says:

    “The perilous situation of New Orleans, and how it would withstand a direct hit from a hurricane, was a situation that had been known and discussed for a LONG time–it isn’t like a meteor falling from the sky and flattening Topeka. ”

    Agreed. In fact, I would even say it was known for many years prior to Bush beibg sworn in as president.

    So from 1992 to 2000, was ignoring black inner cities the de facto liberal position? Would it be fair to tar, say, Daniel Patrick Moynihan with this position? Had Katrina hit in 1996 and New Orleans had gotten washed away, would it be fair to tell rank and file Democrats to shut the hell up about issues because, you know, liberals hate cities?Report

  14. Jaybird,

    I do not support indefinite detainment. And I also don’t support the military interrogating detainees. They are too close to things (buddy got killed last week by an IED, I’m ripping this guys arm off). All I support is remember who we are fighting, what their tactics are and to allow people who have been well-trained and have the best interest of this country to take the gloves off if there is a good reason to do so.

    And this isn’t just about waterboarding someone to stop an imminent attack. This is also about being able to deprive someone of sleep or alter their diet or play loud music to get hem to give up where arms or being stored or where they are getting their weapons.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:


      Do you think that a jury would vote not guilty for a guy who played “Wannabe” 500 times in a row to keep KSM awake in order to get him to tell us where IEDs are being manufactured?

      I’d vote to let that guy off, for the record.

      Put the guy on trial. If you don’t think that a jury would let the guy off for what he’s doing, that should set off klaxons in your head.Report

      • Couple of questions:

        Are you talking about a full civil trial or some sort of intel panel that would review each instance of interrogation?

        Do you think that a district attorney who prosecutes a case following the letter of the law, gets a conviction and then later has it over-turned with new findings should be charged with a crime?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Look at the laws. Would playing “Wannabe” fall under civil or criminal law?

          How about punching?Report

          • So every time a CIA operative wants to use ‘inhanced interrogation’ he has to hire a lawyer? That will just mean they don’t do it and the intelligence is lost. Then when we have another attack in the US who do you think will be blamed for dropping the ball?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Yes. Every time a CIA operative wants to use “Enhanced Interrogation”, he ought to hire a lawyer.

              If he says “man, this guy probably doesn’t have information good enough for me to want to have to go to the trouble of talking to a lawyer”, he doesn’t have information worth torturing for.

              I don’t see how I can make this any clearer.Report

              • So back to my question about prosecutors. Should they be charged with a crime when they wrongly put someone in jail? Or how about a lawmaker for passing a law that is later ruled unconstitutional?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Charged? Sure!

                If they acted in good faith, I’m sure that their actions wouldn’t even make it past the grand jury stage.

                I’m sure they’d agree!Report

              • I have no problem with a review panel for interrogations and if it is found that someone used inhanced methods on thin or no evidence, charge them. Something like the shooting panels when cops have to use their guns in the line of duty. I just don’t think it’s even remotely a good idea to go to trial every time.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Balko provides a fair amount of evidence for why this whole “cops defending cops” thing may have unintended consequences.

                I’d rather put it up to a jury.

                Do you not trust the Grand Jury process for our betters? Why not?Report

              • I don’t trust a public process that can be politicized. Secret civillian panels (call them juries if you like) that review each case and determine if it should go to trial is fine with me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I find public servants to be much more likely to be politicizable than average non-public servant.

                If you don’t trust 12 average Joes to say “I can see why he did that”, then you probably shouldn’t be slapping that teenager you paid $500 to a warlord for across the face.Report

              • “I don’t trust a public process that can be politicized. Secret civillian panels (call them juries if you like) that review each case and determine if it should go to trial is fine with me.”

                I tend to think judges are pretty capable as it is of deciding when a case is sufficiently meritorious to go to trial. It seems redundant to have: 1. A federal prosecutor review the charges in secret to see if they’re worth bringing; 2. A civilian panel review the charges in secret to see if they’re worth bringing; 3. A federal judge review the charges (almost certainly in secret again) to see if they’re worth bringing; and 4. A civilian jury hear the facts of the case (probably mostly in secret again) to determine whether it’s worth convicting. I see no material difference between steps 2 and 4.Report

              • As I said – I am fine with a review process…I just don’t want harsh interrogation methods taken off the table completely.Report

              • The point is that standard criminal procedures are already a “review process” that need not be unnecessarily politicized.Report

              • Jaybird – 12 civillians. Sure. I’m on board. But you keep saying trial. I’m saying secret review panel. There’s a difference.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Let’s make your “secret review panel” analagous to my “grand jury”.

                Would that be good?

                Do you think that the grand jury will find stuff distasteful that your secret review panels will understand as broken eggs without which omelettes cannot be made?Report

              • I’m saying secret review panel adds an unnecessary layer of extralegal procedure that serves only to draw things out and, yes, leave them more susceptible to politicization. Judges already do precisely what you propose a review panel to do.Report

              • As does a grand jury, as Jay points out. The difference is that a secret civilian review panel is not going to be a jury of peers capable of obtaining security clearance, but instead will be a group of hand-selected politicos and activists. It will, as such, be uniquely politicized rather than simply being a random selection of people capable of obtaining security clearance.Report

              • Look guys – call it whatever you want. Use whoever you want (civilians, peers, lawmakers, judge). I just don’t want it public because I don’t want intel info and our methods out there for public consumption… and i don’t want a full-blown trial every time harsh interrogation methods are used. That will kill the entire intel process. If you can keep it brief and secret – I don’t care who sits on the panel, jury, bench, whatever.Report

              • When a prosecutor charges and prosecutes someone who he reasonably believes is guilty, but is in fact innocent, there is no crime committed because there is no mens rea and arguably not even an actus reus – at most, there is a mistake of fact that, if true, would make the purported actus reus a non-criminal act. In the case of torture, however, there is most definitely a mens rea and an actus reus – the law makes no exceptions based on the guilt or innocence of the individual being tortured. There may, in some very rare instances, be an affirmative defense of necessity (though even this is debatable), but so long as the interrogator knew that he was committing the acts that form the basis of the charge, he is guilty of the charge and has the burden of proving (by a preponderence of the evidence, no beyond a reasonable doubt) any affirmative defenses.

                In the latter example – constitutional violations are not criminal acts, so there’s no actus reus and therefore no crime. Note that this is before you even reach the question of legislative immunity, just as the prosecutor example is before you even reach the question of prosecutorial immunity.Report

              • So what i advocate then is interrogatorial immunity for exactly the same reasons as the other two.Report

              • 1. This misses the point, which is that in your examples, you don’t even have a crime in the first place.
                2. Immunity is a common law and/or statutory doctrine. The Executive Branch cannot simply decide on its own that a new immunity doctrine exists, and use that as a justification for refusing to prosecute a crime that it committed. Again, the issue is not simply whether we should care about the extralegal torture of a handful of alleged terrorists; it’s whether we are willing to keep meaningful restraints on Executive Power.Report

              • If it’s not a crime why do they get big fat settlements when they are freed?

                There are plenty of restraints on executive power. I simply don’t think they should be extended to terrorists.Report

              • 1. The don’t get “big fat settlements”; instead, they get statutory compensatory awards from the State in states that have such statutes. This is compensatory, not punitive, and it’s paid by the state, not the prosecutor.
                2. Cash settlements are a form of civil, not criminal liability.
                3. Frequently, innocents who are freed get nothing at all: http://219mag.com/2009/07/wrongful-conviction-unfair-compensation/
                4. There are in fact occasions where a prosecutor can get held in criminal contempt of court for misconduct. But you still need a mens rea. Simply prosecuting someone you falsely believe to be guilty doesn’t meet the mens rea requirement.
                5. Alleged terrorists, you mean. We have a judiciary that gets to decide whether they are, in fact, terrorists. Torture avoids that due process.
                6. If the Executive Branch is able to: 1. Keep any secrets it wishes from the public under the rubric of “national security”; 2. Choose which laws it will and will not obey; 3. Keep secret which laws it has and has not obeyed; and 4. Refuse to prosecute itself when it refuses to obey a law….what meaningful restraints on executive power are left?Report

              • I’m not saying the administration gets to do any of those things i.e. there are allowances made in an o-fficial way. What I am saying is that I sincerely hope that there are members of the legislative branch, the cabinet and the President himself who, in rare cases, are willing to ignore the law in the interest of national security, just as i have no doubt they have been doing since at least WWII if not earlier. Sure, we need to check executive power. But I also believe that not every piece of information pertaining to national security is also obligated to be shared with the public.Report

  15. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    You guys totally thread-jacked my combox.Report