Monday, May 18, 2009


Matt Yglesias, at Think Progress and the Daily Beast, is arguing that the Republicans have committed a tactical blunder by making Nancy Pelosi the issue in the torture debate.

Oh, Matt, wanna buy a bridge? Matt just doesn't get it. I'll explain below.

Here's what he writes:

Various conservative commentators have expressed their hope that gunning for Pelosi will blunt progressive calls for a "truth commission" ... What conservatives are missing here is that this is a fight they were winning before they started gunning for Pelosi. Their best ally in this fight was Barack Obama, whose desire to "move forward" rather than focusing on the past had been the subject of much consternation. Had conservatives simply reached out to grab the hand that was being extended to them, they could have gotten what they wanted.

But in their zeal to score a tactical win, the right has made a truth commission more likely not less likely.... if we're going to be looking backward anyway, thanks to conservatives' insistence on complaining about Pelosi, then the move forward strategy lacks a rationale. And far from forcing a standoff in which Pelosi will abandon her support for an investigation, the right has forced her into a corner from which she can't give in to moderate Democrats' opposition to such a move without looking like she's cravenly attempting to save her own skin.

But the Republicans can easily play this both ways, talking out of both sides of their mouths -- they can denounce Pelosi and fight any truth commission to the death in Congress and the court of public opinion (where, as usual, they'll frame the debate, with the media's help), arguing that an investigation would give aid and comfort to the enemy. This would leave Pelosi twisting in the wind. That's good enough for them.

Or perhaps the Huffington Post is right (emphasis added):

In the midst of arguing that Speaker Nancy Pelosi "stepped in it big time" by insisting she was kept in the dark about the use of waterboarding, RNC Chairman Michael Steele made what could be an important declaration of support for an investigation into the past administration.

"I think you have heard a lot of Republicans call for that," said Steele during an appearance on Meet the Press. "If this is a door that the Democrats and their leaderships, they have the House and Senate and the presidency, and if they want to expose all this, then let's put it all on the table and take a closer look at it."

... Steele's position on investigations is slowly becoming more of a mainstream one within the GOP....

Why wouldn't they be able to maintain their mastery of the news cycle through a truth commission investigation, the way they've done it through recent developments? Crank up the Mighty Wurlitzer anytime a Democrat looks bad. Piously invoke the understandable desire to avenge 9/11 anytime something stings a Republican. Why is Matt so sure this wouldn't continue to work just the way it's worked the past few weeks?

Oh, sorry -- he thinks the public is as logical as he is:

I've seen polling which suggests that the public is reasonably sympathetic to the pro-torture position. But I'm quite certain the public isn’t generally aware of facts that would certainly come out in a truth commission process. For example, that the Bush administration's torture techniques were specifically modeled on techniques employed by Chinese forces during the Korean War for the purpose of extracting false confessions. That the experts in the techniques whose advice was sought in designing the torture program warned interrogators that the methods were illegal and unlikely to produce reliable information. That one principle purpose of the torture program appears to have been to generate false information about links between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Or that abusive detention practices occurred far beyond Abu Ghraib and have led to the deaths of many people.

Matt's faith in the power of reason and facts to sway public opinion on this very emotional issue is touching. I sure wish I shared it.

Look, we already know this was done by a president and vice president we hate, and the best-known images of abuse came from a war we hate. Why hasn't that been enough to fuel widespread public opposition to torture? In fact, what the poll numbers say to me is that torture is one of the most popular policies of the Bush presidency (in that it's one of the few that's not wildly unpopular). Is that really going to turn around if we just give the public a little more backstory?

In any case, it's possible the Republicans don't care. I think they think they can send out two contradictory messages simultaneously -- investigating torture gives aid and comfort to the enemy and it's all Pelosi's fault anyway, as much as anybody's. And they may not care who on their side gets burned -- most of the targets are ex-officeholders anyway -- so long as they get a Democratic pelt.

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