Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It Hurts To Talk About It

Torture Hurts

Like a master jeweler who carefully studies the crystalline structure before cutting a beautiful diamond, Obama is applying stress to all the Republican fault lines. Meanwhile, the GOP “leadership” flops on the beach, supine, incapable of resuscitation, and all too willingly cooperating with its own vivisection.

Obama’s jiu jitsu is magnificent. Here we have the Democrats, notoriously and publicly advocating free abortion worldwide and free euthanasia as the calling card of government health care at home. Yet they have maneuvered events so that the Republicans are defending torture. But wait – can’t honest people differ? Well, that doesn’t matter, because the discussion we’re getting isn’t honest. It hardly touches on morality – in fact, it often mimics sheer buffoonery.

Now comes Dick Cheney, who was even more unpopular than George Bush as their second term ended, insisting that torture works, and demanding that secret documents be declassified to prove it! Torture is a sure loser for the dwindling number of Republicans still in office, but Cheney doesn’t care. Trotting Cheney out now is the kiss of death, so Democrats naturally welcome his histrionics. He is playing into Obama’s hands.

Republicans have by default allowed Obama to orchestrate an exquisite array of threatening scenarios – torture hearings run by Democrats? Special prosecutors? Perhaps a blue-ribbon torture commission? Meanwhile, Republicans are stuck defending the very Bush policies that destroyed their old majorities, when they should be busy building new ones. They hurl the usual catcalls – “witch-hunt” and “partisan politics” -- but all the public notices is desperate Republicans defending torture.

Last winter, George Bush told an interviewer that he hadn’t admitted mistakes during his presidency because it might have demoralized his people in a time of war. Well, could conservatives be any more demoralized than they are today? Maybe it’s time for the GOP to admit its mistakes after all. Conservatives should certainly admit the mistakes of those leaders we supported, for good or ill. But why do so many resist?

Conservatives are, well -- conservative. They seldom change their spots – or their leadership. Remember how Bill Clinton was on the ropes in 1996 and the GOP ran – Bob Dole? The groans in the Republican cloakroom were audible: “Well, it’s Bob’s turn,” the gloomy senators would mutter, shaking their heads. In 2000, the GOP went looking for a non-Clinton, and chose the scion of the very family that had betrayed Reaganism when it took over the White House in 1989. Again in 2008, the party went with another war-horse, John McCain, who split what was left of the coalition instead of uniting it. Admit mistakes? Get real. During the primaries, no Republican but Ron Paul would even mention George Bush, much less own up to his mistakes.

For years, many conservatives just couldn’t bring themselves to criticize President Bush when he was being unconservative. It wasn’t long ago that one David Keene, a long-time conservative operative and Beltway trough-dweller, threatened to fire Don Devine, who had been a high-ranking Reagan official, because Devine had the temerity to criticize Bush to columnist Robert Novak. Would Keene do so today, or would he finally be willing to face reality? No one knows -- and that ambivalence plagues the entire “conservative movement.” It represents the conflict between nostalgia and loyalty, on the one hand, and timeless principle, on the other.

And there’s an element of pride involved too. Some key Bush supporters have changed their mind, but it wasn’t easy. Ken Adelman, famous for predicting a “cakewalk” in Iraq, later turned savagely on Bush and Cheney as the war dragged on (they always blame somebody else). But true conservatives also bear a burden. Being betrayed by someone you trust is a humbling, often bitter experience. The long and short of it is that Obama has diagnosed this infirmity in the GOP and is making the most of it. Meanwhile, what he is bringing about has, in the past, been called a variety of names – fascism, national socialism, social democracy, democratic socialism – but whatever history calls it, it is bad news, and Republicans are powerless to stop it. The fault lies not in their stars, but in themselves. If the Barry Goldwater of 1960 reappeared on the scene today, the GOP would probably run him out of town.

“Catholics For Torture”?

Catholics believe in admitting our mistakes – we have to: why else do we go to Confession? But the torture fiasco has made troubling ripples in Catholic ranks. Perhaps it was predictable, but it is nonetheless deplorable. Karl Rove, President Bush’s political director, was very skilled technically, but principles were not his strong point. Early on, he put together several ethnic and religious coalitions -- of Jews, of Catholics, and of Evangelicals, among others – and smothered his selected leaders with face-time in the Oval Office and other political lollipops. As George Bush changed from an advocate of a humble foreign policy in 2000 to a crusader for international wars to bring democracy to the world in 2004, Rove expertly kept his lapdog Catholic and Christian “leadership” groups in line. Seldom did they complain publicly about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, abut the martyrdom of Catholic priests and prelates in Iraq, or the devastation of Christian Nazareth and Bethlehem in Israel. They defended Bush down the line.

In recent weeks a considerable amount of evidence has emerged about the U.S. government’s use of torture during the past eight years. Even now, however, a rump core of Bush supporters nonetheless continue to defend his policies, including torture. This is not surprising, since a lot of careers are at stake, a lot of prestige, and, frankly, a lot of money. Maybe some of them really believe in torture. But what is distressing is the Catholics! A dwindling coterie of Catholics who stuck with Bush through thick and thin now find themselves trying to justify not only Bush, but torture! Suddenly torture is becoming an ingredient of Catholic “Just War” theory. Permissible in wartime only, of course – but wait: didn’t Dick Cheney say that the Global War on Terror would last through the lives of our grandchildren?

Meanwhile, as Americans are subjected to the public spectacle of these wayward Catholic Republican “leaders,” they might unfortunately have good reason to wonder, “if Republicans aren’t even serious about torture, are they really serious about abortion? Maybe those ‘Catholics for Obama’ were right after all.”

Black Eye For The Irish

One of those Catholics dazzled by Obama just got run over by reality. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., thought he could use an award for a pro-life leader as cover for inviting Obama to Notre Dame’s graduation on May 17, but former Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon wasn’t buying. After being told she was to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal, Glendon learned that Notre Dame was trumpeting her appearance as a “balance” to Obama. No sale.

Admittedly, I was hoping that Glendon’s address at Notre Dame might have been as excruciating for Obama as Mother Teresa’s address to the National Prayer breakfast was for Bill and Hillary many years ago. But she did not like the odds: “"It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dames decision,” she wrote.

Jenkins has received hundreds of thousands of protests against the invitation, but this is the one that is most likely to help him come to his senses.

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