The Torture Debate as Kabuki Theater

A few weeks ago, a very good friend of mine, a progressive with a bit of an independent streak, asked what the story was with our criticism here of John McCain. Mind you, he harbored no illusions about McCain, having completely lost any faith in the guy when McCain endorsed the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' in public school science classes. But still, he was a bit taken aback by the seemingly sudden level of anger.

In response, I explained that, at least for myself, it was becoming incredibly frustrating that one of the most conservative members of the US Senate was able to position himself as a 'moderate' just because he didn't support torture. That it's accepted and promoted by the corporate media as conventional wisdom shows just how far right the center has shifted in the last twenty years.

Essentially, I told him that I thought the 'fight' between McCain and Bush wasn't real.  "It's all kabuki theater for 2008," is exactly what I wrote. My take on the situation was -- and still is -- that supporting torture doesn't hurt Bush's already low approval ratings as the people who are truly bothered by torture abandoned Bush a long time ago. However, loudly speaking out publicly against torture helps John McCain. It sets him up as independent from the President and makes him look like a humanitarian next to Republicans like Rumsfeld. The whole 'fight' on torture has more or less been stage managed.

According to Andrew Sullivan's reporting, it sounds like there's some confirmation that I was right all along.

THE ABOLITION OF TORTURE: I'm told a White House statement is imminent on the McCain Amendent. I'm told the White House has embraced the amendment, with no changes. If true, this is a huge step forward for the president, the war and American honor. It also has, I think, implications for McCain's possible succession to Bush as president.

How can Sullivan be so naive? I don't know. I'm guessing that it's a case of willful ignorance. But I expect this will become the conventional wisdom on how the 'torture debate' played out -- McCain stood firm in the face of opposition from Bush, but eventually got him to come around on torture. Wow, McCain's a Great American and Bush is reasonable, after all.

Like I've said all along, this whole thing was stage managed. The only good thing to come out of it -- and it's no small thing, to be sure -- is a ban on torture. We'll see if the ban is just window dressing or if it actually changes bad policy. But make no mistake. This isn't being done because it's the right thing to do. It's being done because it makes the most political sense for the Republican Party at the moment.

Tags: 2008, General 2008, John McCain, Republicans (all tags)



Cold Comfort
Great. So now we can be abducted off the street and held incommunicado for no reason, indefinitely - but not "tortured."

That makes me feel so much freakin' better.

by jkdism 2005-12-15 10:27AM | 0 recs
kabuki is right
Theater, all theater.
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-15 10:49AM | 0 recs
Never thought of it this way
But it makes sense.  If this is true (and it now looks like it is, with the White House giving in on the issue), I suspect that McCain is Bush's (Rove's) choice in 2008, and with have institutional backing to win the nomination-meaning it's his "turn".  Now, sometimes they pick somebody who's "turn" it is, even though they are shitty canidate (IE, Dole in 1996)-but that ain't the case here.

Damnit.  McCain scares the hell out of me, beause the general public buys his moderate/independent/maverick act.  If he is nominated, he will win the presidency, no matter who we nominate.  If he really is the insiders choice, the only things we can hope for is the religious right revolting and picking somebody else, or McCain having health problems due to his age.  Otherwise, it's his for sure.  Because of his "maverick" image, he doesn't even get tainted by scandals by other Republicans (unless he is directly involved with them).

by Geotpf 2005-12-15 01:16PM | 0 recs
Kabuki for both Bush & McCain
The President gets a photo op with the most popular politician in America. ran it as their A1 story, ABC has it in the "politics" section, and NBC has it above the fold but not A1.

McCain gets his independence and gets to look humanitarian in the face of Rumsfeld.

Win-win, as they'd say.

by niq 2005-12-15 03:09PM | 0 recs
Democrats Failed Us All on Torture
Insipid leadership from our Democratic Senators and Congressmen has led to the ascendance of John McCain the Valorous, the defender of American values. Democrats failed to unite as a party and have allowed John McCain to be seen by the nation as the fatherly, moral figure who is leading Congress in restoring America's tattered reputation by standing tall against torture.

Of course, compared to the typical Republican Senator or Representative, elected Democrats have spoken out more against torture. Still, that was not enough. Our leadership failed us by not unifying and denouncing torture consistently and strongly .

From the moment Senator Kennedy stood on the Senate floor and denounced Alberto Gonzales for his attempt to abet the President in skirting anti-torture law all Democrat leaders should have united on the issue. Kennedy had this to say to the Senate:

The issues raised by Mr. Gonzales's nomination go to the heart of what America stands for in the world and the fundamental values that define us as a nation - our commitment to individual dignity, our respect for the rule of law, and our reputation around the world as a beacon for human rights, not as a violator of human rights.

How can the Senate possibly approve the nomination of Mr. Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, the official who symbolizes our respect for the rule of law, when Mr. Gonzales is the official in the Bush Administration who, as White House Counsel, advised the President that torture was an acceptable method of interrogation in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq?

Torture is contrary to all that we stand for as Americans. It violates our basic values. It is alien to our military's longstanding rules and traditions. We send our men and women in the Armed Services into battle to stop torture in other countries, not to participate in it themselves.

Kennedy spoke for me that day. But have our representatives pressed this issue?

Democrats could have been the anti-torture party. At that moment, Democrats were the anti-torture party. But they lost their focus and seemingly forgot about the issue.

Now John McCain owns the headlines and is walking out in the sunshine while the Democrat Party is left to follow behind in the muck. Morally and politically our leaders failed us by not uniting and working as a bloc to end torture practiced by our military and intelligence services. They should have told the country loudly and insistently as a party that torture is wrong and the United States is not a nation that tortures.

They should have made waves. They should have caused trouble. They should have shouted and stomped until America listened.

America is listening to John McCain now.

Was it politics and focus groups that held us back? Isn't it time we stopped calculating and started standing strong for our beliefs?

by Curt Matlock 2005-12-15 05:10PM | 0 recs
We helped McCain
I think the democrats helped create this image of McCain. In 2000 after the push polling incident occurred, and after McCain was then taken out of the picture, the democrats were the first to stand up and say, how could Bush do this to a war hero and great man like McCain. We vilified Bush by championing McCain, and it's starting to come back to bite us in the ass. This fake war between them is just that, and part of that is our fault. And now, McCain is seen as taking the high road in helping Bush out in the 2004 campaign, but as Bush's poll numbers crash it doesn't rub off on him.
by Saddlebags12 2005-12-15 08:04PM | 0 recs


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