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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Haters

Rush Limbaugh says that he hopes President Obama will fail. Is he serious? Wow, this surprised me. His "reasoning" seems to be that, if Obama succeeds, he will have succeeded only in ushering in socialist solutions to our current economic woes. Ergo, he must fail.

What's interesting here is that Limbaugh isn't saying that socialist policies will fail (put aside, for now, what constitutes "socialist"), but rather that if socialist policy succeeds, this is itself a failure for us. This, of course, is a complete tangle. If an economic remedy worked -- if it succeeded -- by any measure of success I'm aware of, the country would be (somewhat definitionally) better off. Because the policy worked! And so, Limbaugh is apparently at war with "socialistic policies" regardless of outcome. Now that's an ideologue. Better that we plant both feet in traditional capitalism come hell or high water than try non-capitalist policies, because God forbid they might work (and then what?).

Of course I'm not a "socialist"; this not what I'm getting at. It's just so over the top to want a President to fail, just to preserve some view of the world. This is not my view of America or politics generally.

On the other side of things, right-of-center thinkers especially, please take time to watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann and immediately after The Rachel Maddow Show. They're so Rush Limbaugh. I get this perverse sense of superiority watching people with such a simple rubric, their whole raison d'etre predicated on the proposition that "the other side" is evil. It's really good viewing.

Mainly, lately, it's the simple idea with these shows that "Bush is evil". That's it. I've been watching. That's pretty much it. It's an almost religious calling to continually open wounds and fester them and spew forth venom at George Bush. Bush is an idiot, he should be accused of war crimes, he ruined the country, and on and on. I keep hoping, but there seems no possibility of acknowledging anything positive whatsoever about the Bush years. Nothing. There's just this Limbaugh-like failure to accept or to even grasp the context of the former Administration, and indeed the precarious place that we all occupied in the wake of September 11.

Nothing but hatred... that's easy enough. What's harder is to try to figure out what happened, why particular decisions were made, what effects they had (positive and negative), and what can and should be done better next time. A sober, thoughtful analysis. But you won't get this from Olbermann or Maddow.

In the same vein, Limbaugh ought to attempt a similar treatment of Obama's current plans. But he won't. And so you won't get it from him either. And on and on the haters go.


mijopo said...

I completely agree with one of the underlying points here, i.e., that political "discourse" in this country has become more about your team winning than getting to the truth of the matter. It's particularly remarkable that the discourse is as rancorous as it because the two mainstream parties are remarkably similar in philosophy and practice.

But beyond that, I think there'sa bit of sleight of hand here. You start out by acknowledging that Limbaugh has said something stupid (remarkable!) and then in one quick step conflate that with (I think) arguments that allegations of torture, deceit and abuse of civil rights should be investigated and perpetrators brought to trial.

That moves a bit quickly for me. It's one thing to hate Bush just for the sake of hating him, something that was done far too much. But arguments that allegations of torture, deceit, suspension of civil rights should be investigated and possibly tried is a much different kind of things than what Limbaugh is doing. If the alleged events occurred, they're fairly remarkable and quite terrible, quite a different thing than hoping someone's policies fail so your side can win.

And I don't think I understand your references to "the context", the gravity of Sept. 11. Is it your position that the attacks of September 11 warranted torture, willful government deceit and (unacknowledged) suspension of civil rights of foreigners and even Americans? Or is it just that the situation was so grave that it warrants not investigating evidence that they may have occurred? Or is that we may never criticize a torturer or a lying government official or those who play fast and lose with civil rights until we've walked a mile in their moccasins? (I thought all the moral relativist/situational ethicists were liberals.)

Of course, people are aware of the Sept. 11 context, GWB asserted it mantra-like every other day of his presidency. People have quite explicitly rejected it as a defense for these kinds of practices.

Erik said...

All right, like Sisyphus, I push my rock once again...

I don't think we should open an investigation of whether Bush authorized warrantless wiretaps, or waterboarded Al-Queda members. We know he did.

As I mentioned earlier, the United States Senate confirmed Mukasey as AG in spite of the fact that he refused to say whether the technique was torture. Hilary Clinton, our current Secretary of State of course, was likewise coy about calling it torture. Is this the basis for prosecution of war crimes? I don't think so.

Now, there is a sense from the Left that the book should not be closed -- though I'd like to see something more specific than the waterboarding, or wiretapping, which have been debated and in the case reviewed by the FISA court. I respect that as part of a healthy democracy. But just as we all moved on after former President Clinton lied to a Grand Jury (and how much does this undermine our system, our respect for the rule of law, and set a precedent?), we ought now to move on as well.

I'm not equating sexual peccadillos with interns in the White House with waterboarding Al-Queada members, of course, but the broader issue is that for a U.S. President to lie under oath is quite a serious issue with respect to the honor of our Constitutional system.

The Right in this case of course fulminated long after the Left had ceased to care, but there was clear justification for the Right to continue to make hay over lying under oath.

So, returning to the question of the treatment of prisoners as well as privacy issues such as wiretapping, unless something more surfaces beyond isolated cases of waterboarding Al-Queda members in 2002 (discontinued in 2003, officially), I'd side with President Obama and say "let's just move on".

Finally, not to strike too cynical a tone, but I'm sure that the executive order that Obama signed today banning certain torture techniques while leaving room for "additional" techniques outside the Army Field Manual will leave plenty of room for the CIA to -- this time secretly -- conduct covert actions on combatants to fight the ongoing struggle against terrorists. We don't want to know. Cynical, I know, but it'll happen again. Unlike the Bush administration, no one this time will announce it.

Erik said...

Also, I've been meaning to ask someone on the Left:

If Obama does not wish to investigate "war crimes" with the former Administration, and if it's so clear cut that there were such acts committed, what does that make him?

What should the "hang Bush for war crimes" crowd then conclude about our new President?

Weak, or morally suspect?

mijopo said...

"All right, like Sisyphus, I push my rock once again..."

You acknowledged in the last set of comments that you hadn't even read the most recent allegations of torture.

Erik said...

Perhaps. But on my question about Obama... what say you?

mijopo said...

I agree with you on Obama, I think they're obligated to pursue them.

BTW, I'm no defender of Obama, the man is a right winger with a modicum of liberal window dressing in my opinion. It disappoints me if he's not willing to insist on sticking with the Army Field manual but it certainly doesn't shock me.

Erik said...

So it's not as hard of a bullet to bite. Most of the Democrats I've talked with (i.e., the slightly left of center folks who vote Democrat), would be horrified at the prospect of accusing Obama of some moral or character deficiency with regard to his intent to move on...

mijopo said...

Oh, to answer your question more directly, weak and morally suspect.

Glenn Greenwald makes the case crystal clear that by Holder's own testimony and the laws surrounding torture they have to investigate and if appropriate bring to trial:


Erik said...

Yes, and Holder also admitted when pressed during confirmation hearings by Sen. Orin Hatch that Article II of the Constitution cannot be contravened by a statute. This essentially says that the President has powers to engage in wartime acts including surveillance acts without congressional approval. The media didn't much cover this, however. You can read the article, "Holder for Wiretaps", here: