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Friday Talking Points [Vol. 8]

[ Posted Friday, November 2nd, 2007 – 17:18 UTC ]

Since this column has not been afraid to coin new terms, I submit for the blogosphere's approval the Bush Doublethink Corollary to Godwin's Law: "Stating your opponents are ignoring a new Hitler while at the same time advocating tactics which the Nazis themselves used." The sheer Orwellian audacity of doing so should be apparent to any sane and coherent individual. [References: Godwin's Law, and also Reductio ad Hitlerum]

Bush has earned this moniker for saying recently that congressional Democrats ignore Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and are making the world a more dangerous place, by refusing to confirm his nominee for Attorney General because he refuses to call waterboarding torture. Or something like that. It's hard to fathom what Bush is really thinking at this point. Here is the relevant quote:

In the 1920s, the world ignored the words of Hitler, as he explained his intention to build an Aryan super-state in Germany, take revenge on Europe, and eradicate the Jews -- and the world paid a terrible price. His Nazi regime killed millions in the gas chambers, and set the world aflame in war, before it was finally defeated at a terrible cost in lives and treasure. Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. And the question is: Will we listen?

The reason he gave the speech was to shore up support for Michael Mukasey, who adamantly refuses to call a technique pioneered by Tomás de Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition as torture. No matter that this technique has been prosecuted as a clearly-illegal war crime in world courts, in U.S. military courts, and in U.S. civilian courts for over a century (bonus points to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post for writing an article which included the Monty Pythonesque phrase "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition").

So, according to Bush, you're a Nazi appeaser if you refuse to confirm someone as our highest law enforcement officer who will use Nazi tactics against our prisoners. Or something. Let me try again -- you're not against Nazis strongly enough if you don't allow me to behave like a Nazi and torture anyone I want. Boggles the mind, doesn't it? Like I said, it's hard to tell what he's thinking these days.

Anyway, remember you heard it here first: the Bush Doublethink Corollary to Godwin's Law.

With that out of the way, we turn our attention to what Democrats have been doing this week.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

The runner-up for this week's award is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for his eloquent speech on the floor of the Senate against Mukasey's nomination (this speech is well worth reading). But, giving credit where credit is due, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) was the first Democratic Senator to publicly call for Mukasey's rejection by the Senate. He wrote a strongly-worded defense of his position here on the Huffington Post this week, which means he gets the Most Impressive Democrat of the Week award (the Golden Backbone) for the second time in three weeks. Well done, Senator Dodd! While other Democratic presidential candidates came out later against Mukasey's nomination, there's a name for the difference between declaring you're going to vote against Mukasey after it appears to be politically safe for you to do so and declaring you're going to vote against him on principle before anyone else does -- it is called "leadership."

Next week's early contender for this award: Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who will be introducing a bill to ban all private security contractors in Iraq permanently. Watch for her bill to be introduced next Wednesday.

[Congratulate Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

I was going to award this to whichever Democrat decided to scrap the five-day work week for Congress and let everyone go home early for a three-day weekend every week, but that was before I read one of the most manure-filled opinion articles ever penned by a Democrat.

I refer to Senator Jay Rockefeller, IV (D-AT&T), who wrote this fact-free screed for the Washington Post explaining why we should grant telecommunications companies amnesty for their participation in the illegal warrantless wiretapping program -- which, it should be noted, the Bush White House initiated seven months before 9/11 happened.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Rockefeller has recently received boodles of campaign donations from employees of said telecommunications companies. It should also be pointed out that opposing this tripe is what won Chris Dodd his first MIDOTW award two weeks ago.

For blatantly ignoring the "rule of law" -- you know, that pesky Constitution you're sworn to uphold -- Jay Rockefeller wins this week's MDDOTW award hands down.

Next week's early contenders for this award: Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (DINO-CA) who are too timid to come out against Mukasey. One Democratic vote on the Judiciary Committee is all it will take to advance Mukasey's nomination to the Senate floor, and if either Schumer or DiFi votes in favor of him they will likely win next week's award.

[Contact Jay Rockefeller on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his stance.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 8 (11/2/07)


Waterboarding IS torture

Fight back any suggestion that there is any kind of gray area in no uncertain terms: "Waterboarding is torture." "Waterboarding equals torture." "Any lawyer or any judge will tell you waterboarding is torture and it is illegal." "Waterboarding is against U.S. and international law."


The Inquisition

From Senator Whitehouse's speech:

"Will we [America] join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?

I hope not."

Bring up the Spanish Inquisition every chance you get. Bring up Torquemada by name. Remind everyone that Torquemada had what he considered a good excuse for torturing people, too.



"We prosecuted both the Nazis at Nuremberg and the Japanese for using waterboarding. Back then, we called it a war crime. The crime hasn't changed, but apparently President Bush thinks America's values have somehow changed to those of the Nazis. And then he has the gall to say Democrats are equivalent to Nazi appeasers for not allowing him to use Nazi tactics. It's time to stop the Nazi references, Mr. Bush, and also time to stop using their tactics."


Moral relativism

Republicans used to condemn Democrats for being moral relativists. It is sad to see that they have now become what they used to despise. Listen to President Bush:

"It’s wrong for congressional leaders to make Judge Mukasey’s confirmation dependent on his willingness to go on the record about the details of a classified program he has not been briefed on."

Um, no, Mr. President. It's whether Mukasey will clearly state that waterboarding is torture. This has nothing to do with whether we've done it or not. All he's being asked is whether it is legal or illegal, whether it is torture or not torture. Nobody's even mentioned "a classified program," except you.

Now listen to CIA Director Michael Hayden:

"Judge Mukasey cannot nor can I answer your question in the abstract. I need to understand the totality of the circumstances in which this question is being posed before I can give you an answer."

Once again: no, you don't need to know any circumstances. It's either torture, or it isn't. It's either legal, or it isn't. There is no mushy gray area. Except in the fetid swamp of moral relativism.

Republicans all thought it was a big joke when President Clinton said "it all depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." Now they're parsing their own language to excuse torture. This needs to be pointed out strongly.

"Torture is morally wrong. I strongly believe there is a bright line between what is right and what is wrong. Torture is not right. Torture is wrong. We cannot afford moral relativism on this point. We want the rest of the world to actually believe us when America's President says 'America does not torture' -- instead of laughing at us for his hypocrisy. The only way to change this is to stop torturing people, because it is against the American values we hold dear."


Who would Jesus torture?

Make the moral case even stronger by using Christian imagery.

"Jesus was tortured. I am on Jesus' side, and not on the side of the Roman soldiers who tortured Him. When I ask myself 'Who would Jesus torture?' the answer I get is 'no one.' "


Condi Rice has proven that Blackwater is accountable to no one

Earlier this week, I called upon Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to resign. I have not changed my mind in the meantime. Her granting of immunity to the Blackwater guards involved in the recent Baghdad shooting incident in order to interview them is shameful.

"The head of the State Department has proven by her own actions that mercenary companies like Blackwater are answerable to no one in Iraq. They operate under no law -- not U.S. law, not Iraqi law, not international law. This is disgraceful. Congress needs to change this situation immediately, since it is obvious that neither Bush nor Rice will ever do so."


Republicans put ideology before children

The head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has apparently lost her marbles. That's the only conclusion which makes any sense, it appears. In testimony before Congress this week, she revealed that there is only one person responsible product-safety testing all the toys coming into the United States from China. One person.

Despite this, and despite recall after recall for dangerously and negligently high levels of lead in children's toys, Nancy Nord believes that the CPSC has sufficient personnel and doesn't need more money, apparently because she's a staunch Republican who is against "big government." This crosses over from the insane to the criminal.

"Nancy Nord needs to resign immediately. She needs to be replaced by someone who puts the safety of American children before Republican ideology. I defy the Republican Party to make their case to America's parents that 'smaller government' is more important than their children's safety. But I would caution them that if they do so, they'd better be prepared to run -- since the torches and pitchforks will not be far behind."


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


3 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [Vol. 8]”

  1. [1] 
    spermwhale wrote:

    RE: #4 Moral relativism:
    For Senators Feinstein and Schumer to rubber stamp this president's AG Nomination is treasonous at worse and thumbing the eyes of the electorate at best!

    Ok, we might concede that by all accounts, Judge Mukasey is honest, thoughtful, tough-minded, and independent qualities his disgraceful predecessor notoriously lacked.

    Copping a plea in response to Senator Leahy's question on his position on water-boarding is not acceptable. If we can not expect our nation's top lawyer to support the law of the land, then we have not moved an inch past the state of corruption his predecessor left us in.

    I am sorry Mr President; you are also fresh out of political, moral, and military capital.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    spermwhale -

    Yeah, I hear you. But even though I'm outraged, I have to say that blocking Mukasey may not have even been possible. To do so, first every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee would have had to have voted against him. Harry Reid would have had to have held firm, and refused to move his nomination to the Senate floor, and you can bet Bush and friends would have upped the pressure (all that "up or down vote" yapping) to do so. Even if both of those had happened, I would bet dollars to donuts that once Congress went home for their Christmas break, Bush would have "recess appointed" Mukasey anyway. After all, Bush only has a little over a year to go, and a recess appointment would have put Mukasey in there for almost the whole time. So it may have been a losing battle anyway.

    But that doesn't mean it was a battle worth fighting! I'm still pretty annoyed with how it all worked out....

    Anyway, thanks for writing.


  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Dear Chris,

    I've found the Mukasey confirmation "fight" interesting for a couple of reasons. One, you pointed out under talking points is that a few Democrats finally found a bit of a foundation to stand on: torture = bad.

    Chris Dodd even goes one step further. I love his quote in his post-debate article, "We defend the Constitution TO protect the country."

    Part of the trouble that Democrats face in this fight is that they've gone too far in accepting the "war on terror". I think if they really want to stand on principle, Democrats need to come up with something else to replace the "war on terror".

    Why? Because if we're at war, Bush logic makes sense to a lot of people. The argument goes like this: if we're at war, we should use any means possible to win it. The problem is, this really isn't war. Or it wasn't a war until Bush made it a war. What it should be is more of an extended security assessment.

    But many Americans believe in results and using any possible means to achieve them. Especially if we're at war.

    That's why I was glad to see Dodd trying to explain his vision that what we really need to do is defend the Constitution to defend America. If our national goal were to "Defend America" rather than engage in a "global war on terror," the argument against waterboarding is much easier to make.

    The two visions that are in conflict here, I'll refer to as "24" and "Heroes" after the TV shows that illustrate them (thanks to Juan Cole for one of my favorite articles pointing this out ).

    In the "24" world, there is good and bad, and sometimes good people have to do bad things to win. In the "Heroes" world, people are not inherently evil or good, but struggle to do the best they can. Everyone is equal. It is a more optimistic view of people.

    What I'm interested in are ways to explain the Heroes worldview better and to turn it into a vision. Not an easy thing to do I've found. So I thought I'd ask you, Chris, since I think you might share this interest. How might the Democrats replace the "war on terror" with a better goal? A goal and a vision in which torture and waterboarding don't make sense.

    I think Chris Dodd is headed in the right direction when he starts talking about how we have to protect our ideals to protect the country. Maybe the objective could be "Protect the Constitution, Protect the Country".

    Another approach that might make sense is to find a goal that doesn't distinguish between "us" and "them". For instance, "A Better World." This may be a bit cliche, but I put it out there more to illustrate the idea that war, torture, and illegal wiretapping don't make as much sense if you think about it from the standpoint of fighting for a better world.

    Interested in yours or anyone else's comments. I just feel like the biggest thing the Democratic party is missing is a goal to get behind. Currently, the only thing we have is "beat the Republicans". I think a lot of people would get behind a solid goal if we had one as people are tired of the fear and the never-ending "war on terror".

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