Friday, May 29, 2009

Sad fantasies about today's Republican Party

Colin Powell before the UN 02/05/2003: bold truth-teller and Republican moderate?

There are some strange pieces of Republican Party history floating around. One that was a hit in the last couple of weeks was the idea that on national-security policy, there were essentially two G.W. Bush administrations: one from 2001-5 in which Cheney's ideas dominated, the other from 2005-9 in which the good members of the administration pushed Cheneyism aside. Do you remember how in 2005-9 everyone thought that we were seeing a drastic change and enjoying the Good Bush years? No, me neither.

Even Democrats get into the act. Last Sunday on Meet the Press, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who otherwise did a decent job of jamming Newt Gingrich, who for some unfathomable reason is still one of our Pod Pundits' favorite Republicans, offered this argument:

At the end of the day, it was President Bush in his second term who abandoned the Cheney approach, who said, "We're not going to use torture. We're going to close down Guantanamo because it isn't working to keep America safe." Now, I just want to tell you, when people like General Colin Powell step forward and say to us, "Put torture behind us and close Guantanamo," I believe they are on the right track. Here's a person who served our nation in the military and on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he believes we can keep America safe with a much better approach.
Like Linda Blair in The Exorcist being thrashed about on her bed by the evil spirit tormenting her, when I hear stuff like this I want to yell, "Make it stop! Make it stop!" (I saw an interview with her once in which she described filming that scene. There was a bar holding her on the bed that came loose at one point and was beating on her. So part of the time she was yelling "Make it stop!" for real.)


I guess I need to look at Marcy Wheeler's timelines more closely at Emptywheel. But why is any Democrat taking at face value the self-serving claims that the Cheney-Bush administration stopped torturing people after 2004?

And I can see using Bush's announced intention to close Gitmo as a "gotcha" point in a debate with a Republican drone like Gingrich who's claiming that Obama is making the country unsafe by closing the facility. But Bush was still claiming in a public speech as of yesterday that everything he was doing in the torture ("enhanced interrogation") program was legal. He lies about stuff, in other words. Is there any reason to believe that he was actually taking serious steps to shut down Gitmo? If he and Cheney had any decency about this whole thing - a pointless hypothetical, I know - they would have closed down Gitmo and put the prisoners there into the regular US civilian and military judicial systems before they left office.

Since the Republicans are frantically trying to claim that Obama has accepted and thereby validated the basic elements of the Cheney-Bush antiterrorism policies - including the right of the President to order torture - the Democrats shouldn't be using gotcha points that are useful in the moment but also tend to validate this larger, false, toxic Republican narrative.

And I wish the Democrats at least could get over their worshipful attitude toward Colin Powell, whose 2003 pre-Iraq War presentation to the United Nations is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of American diplomacy and politics. The Pod Pundits adore Powell, and probably nothing can free them from that script. And in at least one notorious incident, Powell is reported to have participated in a detailed discussion about how to torture a particular victim. And earlier in his career, he played a key role in covering up the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

And, not to be snarky or anything. But David Gregory needs to get himself some lips! For someone who is obviously supposed to be a top pretty-boy infotainer as the Meet the Press anchor, having no lips just doesn't fit the image. Someone get that ole boy some collagen injections!

Colin Powell also features prominently in another favorite media narrative, the eternal quest for "moderates" in the Republican Party. A foundational assumption of High Broderism is that both Democratic and Republican Parties must contain "moderates" who stand bravely and responsibly against the extremes, especially those on "the left". For years now, their main exhibit for the alleged Republican "moderates" has been the greatest of media darlings, the bold Maverick John McCain, who has one of the most hardline conservative voting records in the Senate. The bold Maverick bragged in his 2008 campaign that he had a 100% pro-Bush voting record in 2008. The Maverick's alleged opposition to torture doesn't extend to supporting the one thing that is most critical right now, prosecution of all the torture perpetrators from recent years.

Another model Republican "moderate", Sen. Chuck Hagel, was bragging the prior year that he had the most pro-Bush voting record in the Senate.

Even TPM's Josh Marshall (Gas on the Fire 05/29/09) and Eric Kleefeld (Sotomayor Spark Lights Intra-GOP Conflagration 05/29/09) partially promote the notion of some kind of moderate Republican wing in their reading of momentary Republican divisions over Sonia Sotomayor's nomination as Supreme Court Justice. In Eric's formulation:

After a week of escalating race and gender rhetoric from the right over the Sotomayor nomination, it's now looking like some in the Republican Party -- those concerned with actually getting elected -- have become alarmed by the political damage the more extreme members of their party may be doing and are moving to rein in the vitriol. It's the starkest example yet of an interesting division within the right, one that has been apparent for some time, but which the Sotomayor nomination has not only crystalized but accelerated: the right-wing bomb-throwers obsessed with ideological purity versus the right-wing pragmatists who want the party to actually win election again some day.
Eric is especially careful to say this is a difference among ideological rightwingers. But what he describes is essentially a cosmetic difference over just how to oppose Sotomayor's nomination. And it's nothing that the Republicans run a highbrow/lowbrow campaign over issues like this, with the hate radio ranters and other non-officeholders serving up the real sleaze and with at least a few offering more high-minded reasons for supporting the same position. Arlen Specter has been notorious for offering high-minded cover in those situations, which is one of the reasons I am so appalled that Give-'Em-Whine-Harry Reid and the other Senate Dems accepted him into the Democratic Party so easily.

There may come a time when a real moderate faction emerges from today's Bircherized Republican Party. But Colin Powell going on TV and trying to rehabilitate his reputation doesn't qualify.

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