Entry from April 21, 2009

What’s behind the apparent obsession with so many on the left with what they keep insisting must be called “torture”? A lot of it obviously has to do with the media’s “narrative” of the last eight years, which became a moral psychodrama featuring George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the role of what amounted to comic-book supervillains. No speculative evil was too heinous to be attached to their names — remember Howard Dean’s saying that the idea of the Bush administration’s complicity in the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001 was an “interesting theory”? — and no behavior for which there was actual evidence was beyond characterization, on equally flimsy grounds, in the blackest of terms as “war crimes”, “atrocities”, or “torture.”

This was a legacy of the anti-war movement from the Vietnam era which formed the culture of so much of today’s Democratic party when it comes to matters of war and peace. Now, after President Obama’s first performances abroad, we see he has given notice that he belongs to that often-dominant faction of the party which the late Jeane Kirkpatrick called the “blame America first” tendency. “America” that is, exclusive of the good people who vote Democratic and have now, at last, “taken back” their country from the bad people who vote Republican. This infantile form of political thought was typified by Michael Moore when he remarked on the fact that the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks “did not deserve to die” because, being from a liberal enclave like New York City, they hadn’t voted for President Bush. Presumably, if 3000 Texans had been killed, it would have been all right.

President Obama’s apologies in Europe and at the Americas summit for the misdoings of his predecessor(s) — though I’d have thought it’s not much of an apology when you make it clear that somebody else was at fault for the thing being apologized for — marked his acceptance of his own role in this media master-narrative, which is that of superhero to the Bush-Cheney supervillains. So too did his highly impolitic decision to publish the “torture” memos, which was also a concession to those Bush-hating anti-warriors who did so much to put him in office. Today’s Daily Telegraph decries such “point-scoring” and editorializes that “Barack Obama should stop laying blame for the past on his political opponents. He has already won the election.” But this misses the point. Presidential leadership is now indistinguishable from campaigning, which means that point-scoring is governing as Mr Obama and a large part of his constituency now understand it.

Accordingly, we read in The New York Times that he is leaving open the possibility of unleashing the investigatory hounds against those whose actions were undertaken in the name of public safety. Unless he is now accepting the unfounded allegations of the lunatic fringe that these actions had in fact some vicious or corrupt motive instead, what is there to investigate? The president will doubtless distance himself from the investigation á la Howard Dean by proclaiming that the nutters have an “interesting theory,” but it’s really just indulging his talent for point-scoring and moral posturing — which is pretty much the only talent he has ever displayed when it comes to the actual business of government, as opposed to campaigning. That he has got away with this and is likely to continue to do so is a result of the media’s long-term project to convert political matters into moral ones as well as their shorter-term project, now successfully completed, to hoot the pantomime villains from the stage.

The larger culture has made its contribution too, of course. Why, for instance, is it so widely taken for granted that (a) any pain or discomfort inflicted on a terrorist is tantamount to “torture” and (b) that the same is automatically to be regarded as immoral and even illegal? Whence comes this absolutist insistence on equating sleep deprivation or using a caterpillar to frighten someone with the rack and the thumbscrew? I think it comes from the crypto-pacifist assumption that all “violence” is to be equally deplored — an assumption which is ultimately what’s responsible for the “blame America first” tendency as well. The “cycle of violence” theory of conflict, that is, is based on the same sort of absolutism, which holds that retaliation against evil is equally evil. I think there are more and more people, nearly all of them Obama-voters, who sincerely believe that there would be no conflicts that America need concern herself with if America didn’t provoke them in the first place. Perhaps we are now going to find out if they yet are a majority.

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