When it comes to the issue of torture, it’s been a discouraging week. Not only was the Senate Intelligence Committee report a heartbreaking indictment of an American scandal, but the argument surrounding the revelations started breaking far too much along partisan and ideological lines.
Antonin Scalia isn’t helping. The Associated Press reported today that the far-right Supreme Court justice joined the debate, such as it is, “by saying it is difficult to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened.”
Scalia tells a Swiss radio network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous.
The 78-year-old justice says he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all,” especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.
Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.
The interview took place at the court on Wednesday, the day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA’s harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. Radio Television Suisse aired the interview on Friday.
I think some caution is probably in order. The AP ran a five-paragraph article, and it seems entirely plausible, but there’s exactly one, six-word quote in that piece. Everything else is a paraphrase, and to offer a detailed response to Scalia’s take, we’d need to know exactly what the justice argued.
That said, if the AP report is accurate, Scalia’s perspective is deeply ridiculous.
For one thing, opposition to torture need not be the result of self-righteousness. Brutally abusing prisoners is about humanity, basic decency, and the existence of a moral compass. For another, the “ticking bomb” argument is childish and unserious.
As for the Constitution, it’s true that the document is silent on the issue of treating suspected terrorists, but it’s not silent on “cruel and unusual punishment.” And according to the CIA’s records, rectal feeding and hydration were forced on detainees without medical need – and the leap from that point to “cruel and unusual” seems quite small.
I’d still like to see a more detailed transcript of Scalia’s comments, but let’s just make this plain as part of the larger conversation: torture is wrong, it’s immoral, it undermines our security interests, and it’s illegal.
If Scalia is prepared to publicly argue otherwise, he’s in the wrong line of work.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 12, 2014
“You Can’t Elect A President And Then Just Sit Back”: Why Democrats Should Treat Republicans Like Their Mortal Enemy
Why do Democratic voters refuse to turn out in midterms? Why is the drop-off so large? Why is it so hard to convince them that the vote is important?
This is the existential crisis for the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama.
In trying to solve it, the political world has come up with a number of provisional explanations, none of them satisfying. Democratic pollsters blame the party and its message, primarily. Liberals blame the party and its lack of a message. Political demographers attribute the disparity to the over-performance, the too-blue blushing, of Democratic voters in urban areas during presidential years. My own guess is that it has something to do with persuasion.
In the latest New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky offers an answer that has a real ring of truth to it: Republican voters think about politics differently. They see politics as an enduring contest, not a series of discrete events. They are more apt to see the big picture, and therefore are easier to motivate.
Republican voters, being older and somewhat wealthier and more likely to own property, are more apt to see politics as a continuing conflict of interests that roll over from one election to the next — they can always be convinced that some undeserving person is coming to take away what they’ve earned. [NYRoB]
Democrats, by contrast, “are less likely to view politics in such stark terms.”
Younger voters, minority voters, single women, the non-propertied, might have more to gain from an active government, but it is much easier in general to motivate people if they fear they’re going to lose rights and privileges and stuff. Especially stuff. Especially stuff that they earned.
In a way, though, progressives who identify as progressives definitely see politics as a struggle; the elites see the Republican Party as revanchist, as standing athwart progress yelling “illegal immigrant!” and generally the biggest obstacle to a fair and just society where everyone’s material dignity is respected. What Tomasky is saying, I think, is that the mass of Democratic voters who share these values do so more in theory than in operation. They don’t live like they have much to gain; they live and vote to preserve losses.
Add to this the historical facts that the Democratic coalition is broader and harder to corral than the Republican coalition, and that the GOP has become more openly conservative (and therefore closer to the real views of their base voters) in the past 20 years, and the midterm imbalance begins to make more sense as part of the deep structure of both American politics and political identity.
GOP “extremism” attracts a larger share of voters than liberal “extremism” does. Extremism here is used not as a proxy for extreme views on issues, but as a way of describing a worldview, the set of issues it encompasses, what it takes to motivate people to act on those issues, and the lengths a party is willing to go to trigger that motivation. As James Vega notes in his latest memo for The Democratic Strategist, this strategy “views politics as essentially a form of warfare and political opponents as literal enemies.” It is not a new strategy for the GOP, or for conservatives. But it works better when the party, as it has done during the past several years, actively synchronizes its actions with its words — when the party that says that government is bad actively acts like government is bad.
No wonder why Democrats have been reluctant to habitually vote in midterms — the government they see is a discredited, delegitimized government of failed promises and total dysfunction.
Can Democrats change this? Republicans are not going to abandon their strategy anytime soon, especially as demographic change slowly chips away at their ability to win presidential elections.
Well, Democrats can teach their voters to think more like Republican voters in off-year elections. Tomasky describes a “massive and very well-funded public education campaign” that would basically drill into the heads of everyone who votes Democratic during presidential years that “they can’t just elect a president and just sit back and expect that he or she can wave a wand and make change happen.”
What’s the magic formula of words and threats that somehow makes this real for Democratic voters?
Maybe the party is too broad for a single perfect message to exist. Or maybe it will take casual language like Tomasky’s, a bunch more losses, and actual pain that is easily attributed to Republicans before these drop-off Democrats will understand that they need to view the Republicans like the Republicans view the Democrats: as an enemy.
For good-government, consensus, let’s-get-along, politics-can-be-pure types, this is a horrible message.
Can it be true that the only way for Democrats to vote their true strength is to treat the opposing party just as poorly as the opposing party treats the Democrats? Can it be true that the only way to break the logjam is to embrace a politics that is even more loathsome, more unctuous and more uncivil than it is today?
By: Marc Ambinder, The Week, December 3, 2014
“What The Keystone Vote Tells Us About The Democratic Party”: Republicans Succeeding In Defining What It Means To Be A Liberal
The bill to authorize construction of the Keystone pipeline failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate last night by a single vote. Every Republican voted in favor, since support for the idea of sending Canadian oil to American refineries so it can be processed for sale overseas has become a core value of conservatism. But they were joined by 14 Democrats. And if we look at who those Democrats are, we can learn quite a bit about the state of their party.
Five of those Democrats are red-staters who discovered this year that “distancing” yourself from Barack Obama isn’t enough to win re-election in a year of extremely low turnout. The first is Mary Landrieu, on whose behalf this entire exercise was mounted, on the absurd theory that Louisiana voters will turn out in droves for her runoff in December once they learn how much she loves oil, a fact of which they were supposedly unaware before now. Then we have Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and John Walsh of Montana. The first three lost their seats, and Walsh would have been ousted by voters had he not resigned over a plagiarism scandal.
The next group of Democrats are also from red states: Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota, John Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Through whatever combination of electoral fear and genuine conviction, these are among the senators who disagree with their colleagues most often. McCaskill is a particularly notable case; lately she has been moving to the right in visible ways, including proclaiming her opposition to Harry Reid remaining leader of the Democrats in the Senate and criticizing President Obama’s proposed actions on immigration. Rumor has it that she’s preparing to run for governor, which could help explain why.
The final group of Democrats who voted in favor of the pipeline may have each had their own reasons, but none could have imagined that voting against the pipeline would be a huge political liability. These were Michael Bennet of Colorado, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Tom Carper of Delaware.
So what does this tell us? To a great degree it suggests that Republicans are still succeeding in defining what it means to be a liberal, striking fear into the hearts of any Democrat who wants to win in a red state. Republicans haven’t actually spent too much time arguing the environmental concerns over Keystone, other than to dismiss them out of hand. Instead, they’ve touted the pipeline as a jobs boon that would boost the entire American economy, a claim no sane person believes.
But red-state Democrats still live their lives in a state of perpetual terror that someone might call them a liberal (the only red-state Democrats who voted No were Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, both of whom are retiring).
If these votes don’t change, when Republicans bring the pipeline up again in the new Congress, it will have enough votes to overcome a filibuster — but still fall short of the 67 that would be needed to override a presidential veto. And the Democrats who supported the pipeline will find that it really didn’t help them.
Their red state colleagues who lost their elections have already found out that high-profile breaks with their party don’t keep you politically safe. And indeed, those red-state losses have made the Democratic caucus in the Senate more liberal, and it’s possible that in 2016 the number of red state Democrats will decline even further (even if Democrats gain seats overall). So even if there is still the possibility of Dem divisions on some issues, the fracturing off of red state Dems could matter less and less over time, making the future of Democrats in Congress one of more, not less, unity.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 19, 2014
I actually remember the way Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) used to be, back when he boasted about being a “square peg” – a label he used as a shorthand to say he doesn’t always fit in.
The Utah Republican used to actually see value in cooperating with people with whom he disagreed, working with Democrats, for example, on stem-cell research, the DREAM Act, and S-CHIP.
But then he threw it all away. As Amanda Terkel reported, Hatch’s remarks at the Federalist Society’s annual conference are a reminder of the kind of politician he’s become.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) came out swinging against Democrats Friday, telling a room of conservative lawyers that Republicans were ready to give the other party “a taste of their own medicine.”
“Frankly, I intend to win with our candidate for the presidency in 2016, and we will give them a taste of their own medicine,” said Hatch. “And we’re going to win. We’re going to win. These next two years are extremely important. Maybe the most important two years in our history.”
“I get a big kick out of them using the word ‘progressive,’” the senator said of Democrats. “My gosh, they’re just straight old dumbass liberals anyway.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Hatch was positioned to become a rare statesman in Republican politics. But that was before his partisan Memorial Day tantrums, his occasional references to hitting people he doesn’t like, and his juvenile whining about “dumbass liberals.”
Those looking for GOP statesmanship will apparently have to look elsewhere.
On a related note, did you happen to catch Hatch’s remarks about immigration reform?
“Part of it is our fault. We haven’t really seized this problem. Of course, we haven’t been in a position to do it either, with Democrats controlling the Senate. I’m not blaming Republicans. But we really haven’t seized that problem and found solutions for it.” […]
“Frankly, I’d like to see immigration done the right way,” Hatch added. “This president is prone to doing through executive order that which he cannot do by working with the Congress, because he won’t work with us. If he worked with us, I think we could get an immigration bill through.”
For goodness sakes, does Orrin Hatch not remember the events of the last two years? With “Democrats controlling the Senate,” a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill passed easily, and garnered the support of the business community, labor, law enforcement, immigration advocates, and the religious community. Republicans then killed it.
“I’m not blaming Republicans”? Why not? They’re the ones who chose to reject the legislation. They’re also the ones who promised a more partisan alternative, only to break their word.
“If he worked with us, I think we could get an immigration bill through.” President Obama did work with Congress, and helped rally support for a bipartisan bill. GOP lawmakers killed it anyway.
How is it possible Orrin Hatch doesn’t know this? For that matter, given the circumstances, shouldn’t he be slightly more circumspect about throwing around words such as “dumbass”?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 17, 2014
“Honest Conviction And Straightforward Argument”: For Democrats, The Right Lesson From 2014 Is To Be More Liberal
Republicans will probably take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, according to the latest projections. It’s a grim result for liberals, particularly when you consider the likely consequences: the mountain of garbage legislation that will be dumped on the White House…the possible gutting of the Congressional Budget Office…the total halting of the confirmation process for judiciary and executive branch positions.
But if Democrats do lose, they must try to keep their cool, and refrain from sinking into the usual pessimism. Because make no mistake, centrist sellouts like Will Marshall are going to descend on the Democrats’ routed supporters and proclaim that the party must turn right to have a chance of victory in 2016. It’s critical that Democrats ignore these calls, not only because they betray a pathetic spinelessness, but also because they’re not even close to being true.
Here’s why Democrats are behind in 2014, in descending order of importance: 1) In the Senate, Dems are defending the 2008 wave election, which means they have to beat back challenges in 21 out of 36 seats; 2) Democratic voters are systematically less likely to turn out in midterm elections; 3) the House has been heavily gerrymandered to give Republicans a large handicap; 4) President Obama is fairly unpopular, especially in the states where the races are tightest. All together, Republicans have a significant advantage overall in a contest that will come down to turnout operations.
The bellwether for this cycle is the Senate race in Colorado, where the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is slightly behind Republican Cory Gardner in a tight race. To his credit, Udall isn’t being cowed by Very Serious Person hand-wringing. He’s making a hard play to turn out the Democratic base (basically minorities and women), and isn’t backing off his strong anti-torture and pro-civil liberties positions, despite being viciously terror-baited for it.
This isn’t just a noble stand — it’s probably his best strategy as well. Though ObamaCare is basically working (especially the Medicaid expansion part), neither the law nor the Democratic Party are very popular in the state. A progressive agenda at the state level has led to an enraged rural backlash, and Udall has had setbacks in other areas (in particular, an utterly moronic endorsement of Gardner from The Denver Post). Playing to the center simply would have further alienated Latinos and women. It’s worth noting that in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, Michael Bennet eked out a surprising come-from-behind win on the strength of Latino turnout.
And while there isn’t much hard data to support it, I stubbornly hold to the premise that honest conviction and straightforward argument garner more support than today’s politicos, usually focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives, tend to believe.
That brings us to 2016. During presidential election years, three out of the four issues I outlined above will be neutralized: Republicans will have to defend more seats than Democrats, Democratic turnout will be at its highest, and Obama will not be on the ballot. The electorate will also be measurably less white than in 2012 due to demographic trends. Thus, there’s every reason to think that a Udall-esque strategy of turning out the base (as opposed to the traditional Democratic move of snidely dismissing the base in a “bid for the center”) will work quite well.
Additionally, when you look behind the advantage that Republicans hold, you find Democrats seriously contesting some races in some totally unexpected places. Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia ought to be easy Republican locks, but have turned into competitive fights. Independent candidates have upended the races in Kansas and South Dakota — the latter is especially interesting, since the Democrat is running on a platform of unabashed economic populism.
Bottom line: don’t listen to the aging New Democrats. The 2016 election ought to be run on a confidently liberal platform.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, October 29, 2014