Monday, May 18, 2009

The root of the torture defense - the Republican Culture Wars?

Much has lately been written about the American understanding of, and response to, the actions of the Bush (43) administration, as well as Mr. Obama’s not quite full record in keeping his promises. I won’t rehash what is already on the books, so to speak. Readers interested in my views are certainly invited to browse the blog entries below.

So today, running through my morning blogroll, I was really blown away by Stephanie Z over at Almost Diamonds. This is one of the longest non-fiction posts I’ve seen from this prolific writer in a while, and I read all the way through it. I highly encourage you to do the same.

In a nutshell, Stephanie points out that, as often as not, debates about rules and laws are really debates about cultures, societies, and the definition of “us” and “them.” She weaves this meme together very nicely, citing everything from internment of Japanese Americans to the Bush torture debates. At the end, she notes in what may be her most important paragraph (FWIW) that increasing numbers and kinds of rules, which supposedly further the divide between groups or culture, are also increasingly resource intensive. A very fine closing.

Having read it, I think I am beginning to see the torture debate in much sharper, and perhaps more sinister focus. If, as Stephanie suggests, this debate about the “legality” of the torture actions by that Administration is really a mask for a cultural debate, it makes more sense why the “Law & Order” Republicans are so hung up on excusing law breaking by their highest elective officials. It would also explain why so many former Bush Administration folks are so prominently attacking Mr. Obama these days.

Think about it – the Republican/conservative culture wars have gone on for almost three decades by my shallow count. In that time, we’ve seen conservative commentators and politicians over and over again trot out an “Us vs. them” meme – whether on abortion, gay rights, the economy, or the Iraq war. That latter was, in my view, one of the worst culture war episodes, with the Vice President essentially calling me a traitor to the U.S. because I saw no strategic value in attacking a country that hadn’t attacked us (using trumped up evidence to boot).

Of course the great irony in the culture wars is there is a lot of enflaming of the “Base” with little follow on action. And I do have to wonder if this current rearguard reaction to the call for torture prosecutions will play out the same way. After all, if the Republicans could, for six years, have majorities in the House and Senate, and a willing President in the White House without passing a single Abortion banning bill, how can they really expect to hold off legal action if in fact they broke the law with regard to torture?

Obviously, I need to ruminate over this a lot more to fully see if Stephanie’s meme leads in this direction. Until I’m done though, I just want to say thanks – you made me think, which made my day.


Mike at The Big Stick said...

I continue to believe with every fiber of my being that were the American public to know everything that our Presidents have known..this would be a very, very different conversation.

While both sides argue about this subject I think we should keep reminding ourselves that we're having an arguement based on probably less than 50% of the available facts. Imagine a judge trying to oversee a case where the prosecution only has access to half of the evidence and defense can only reveal half of the evidence. Would you be really satisfied with the verdict?

Philip H. said...

well, yes, I probably would, in as much as the totality of fact surrounding eveyrthing is generally not knowable at the time. And there would have been a trial, which implies openness, argement, and evidence. In the case of torture, however, there has yet to be such a trial, so we have to make our own judgements based on what is available to us.