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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Sullivan’

“Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture” — that was a prominent headline  earlier this week in The New York Times. To which Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick replied:

Do we have to have another big national debate about torture? Really, do we have to? Headlines like this one, in the New York Times no less, inform us that the Osama Bin Laden raid has “revived” the arguments over the “value of torture.” That’s strange, because until now, the only people “reviving” the debate over the wonders of torture were the same people whose names are actually on the torture memos or who were in the room when torture methods were being approved. This does not constitute a “debate.” A better term would be self-serving propaganda.

Lithwick is right in her characterization of John Yoo and former Vice President Dick Cheney (see video), and in calling their arguments self-serving propaganda. But Lithwick and Deborah Pearlstein (who also laments the “disheartening” return of the torture debate) should not be surprised.

The debate never was settled in the first place.

And President Obama deserves as much credit (so to speak) as anyone. Obama’s choice not to investigate Bush-era abuses essentially put the debate into a deep freeze; there’s never been any proper accounting, much less accountability, that’s needed for a proper public resolution.

As a result, those responsible for perpetuating and defending torture, such as Cheney, Yoo and (so sad) former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, remain free to pounce on any opportunity to make their case.

But as Alice Ristroph notes over at Balkinization, these renewed arguments by the torture apologists undermine their previous rationale: the ticking time bomb:

The fantasy of the ticking bomb was designed to make people more comfortable with torture, in part by suggesting certain conditions on its use: most importantly, an imminent threat of catastrophic harm that could be averted by torture and torture alone. The renewed endorsements of torture after the death of Osama bin Laden illustrate that it’s not about the ticking after all.

On the revised account, the torture of suspected terrorists was justified if it yielded one piece of information that contributed to the eventual success, years after the torture took place, of a long-term manhunt (a hunt based, by all reports, on a vast array of intelligence from many different sources). Torture need not “work” quickly, it need not be the only means of gaining the information, and the information need not be essential to avert imminent catastrophe. Indeed, torture need not be concerned with future threats at all – it seems widely acknowledged that killing bin Laden was a matter of “bringing him to justice” for past deeds, or, as one honest fellow put it, exacting revenge.

Many, notably Andrew Sullivan and Lithwick,  also have offered strong rebuttals. But without the force of an independent investigation we are back to the same deadlocked back-and-forth stalemate on torture that existed during the Bush administration. And in this case, justice debated remains justice denied, to our shame.

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Andrew Sullivan, who is many things but definitely not a liberal, hits the nail on the head in this post:

It seems to me that the last year or so in America’s political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama’s presidency in its crib.

Emergency measures in a near-unprecedented economic collapse – the bank bailout, the auto-bailout, the stimulus – were described by the right as ideological moves of choice, when they were, in fact, pragmatic moves of necessity. The increasingly effective isolation of Iran’s regime – and destruction of its legitimacy from within – was portrayed as a function of Obama’s weakness, rather than his strength. The health insurance reform – almost identical to Romney’s, to the right of the Clintons in 1993, costed to reduce the deficit, without a public option, and with millions more customers for the insurance and drug companies – was turned into a socialist government take-over.

Every one of these moves could be criticized in many ways. What cannot be done honestly, in my view, is to create a narrative from all of them to describe Obama as an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion. But since this seems to be the only shred of thinking left on the right (exacerbated by the justified flight of the educated classes from a party that is now openly contemptuous of learning), it became a familiar refrain – pummeled into our heads day and night by talk radio and Fox.

Last week I wrote of conservative media figures who possess much cultural authority but bear no responsibility for what they say. Though I expanded on that thought in a comment, Sullivan’s post drives the point home even more clearly.

To illustrate his argument, Sullivan embarks on a lengthy case study on how one conservative pundit after another ripped a statement by Obama on American exceptionalism out of context and distorted it to fit their narrative. This critique is a worthwhile and sobering read. Sullivan’s point — and I agree — is that this is hardly an isolated example. (Sullivan has posted reader responses, which also are worth a look.)

The issue is not whether or not one agrees with Obama or finds the Democrats likeable. Many good people who differ with him and the Democrats — including members of my extended family. That’s as it should be in a democracy.

The central issue is one of intellectual honesty, with ourselves and others. One need not be naive about the rough-and-tumble nature of politics to also recognize that some degree of veracity, as philosopher Sissela Bok calls it,  is necessary for a society to function. But for the largest media pundits, the most powerful of which are conservatives, veracity is beside the point.

How then can a Christian voice of grace prevail in such a context, when so many see their opponents as dire threats who must be conquered? How can I, in turn, avoid falling into the same trap when I look at the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck?

To possess grace is to grasp the importance of seeing “the other” as fully human, especially the person with whom we disagree (or worse). This is not mushy-headed sentimentality, but an act of moral strength. Christians, whose faith is anchored in God’s grace toward them, should understand this point better than anyone else.

When they do not, they only abet the triumph of untruth.

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Saw this quote earlier today on Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

They should have been indicted. They absolutely should have been indicted for torturing, for spying, for arresting without warrants. I’d like to say they should be indicted for lying but believe it or not, unless you’re under oath, lying is not a crime. At least not an indictable crime. It’s a moral crime.

That’s Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, in a moment of commendable moral clarity, discussing former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during a recent TV interview. Perhaps he has made similar statements on Fox, but I couldn’t help but notice that this statement appeared during an interview on C-SPAN 2. Opposition to torture is a value that should transcend the distinction between conservative and liberal. To resist torture is a sign of moral strength, not weakness. I wonder if the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page will denounce Napolitano as an enemy of national security, as it has with other opponents of torture.

Just goes to show: You never know where a small bit of grace will burst through the media haze.

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Andrew Sullivan, who has been leading the way in the blogosphere since its beginning, offers a thoughtful reflection on the relationship between old media and the new. It’s worth reading the entire post, but here’s a portion:

I believe the blogosphere first truly gained traction in America for a good reason. There is something about blogging’s freedom from the constraints of conventional journalism that captures an American ideal: civic engagement totally free of anyone else’s influence. It is an ideal of a fourth estate hostile to authorities public and private, suspicious of conventional wisdom, and, above all, confident, even when confidence seems absurd, in the power of the word and the argument to make a difference … in the end. The rise of this type of citizen journalism has, in my view, increasingly exposed some of the laziness and corruption in the professional version – even as there is still a huge amount to treasure and value in the legacy media, and a huge amount of partisan, mendacious claptrap on the blogs.

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Several items of note this morning:

  • Talking Points Memo, one of the leading news blogs, is reporting that its audience in March 2010 is 79 percent larger than it was in March 2009. With that growth TPM plans to continue expanding its news staff.
  • Andrew Sullivan has announced that he will now take weekends off. For years he has delivered dozens of posts a day (with the help of two assistants), seven days a week. Now there’s going to be a hint of sabbath in his professional life. Good for him — I had often wondered how he could maintain such a pace. Sullivan sees his work as a calling, and it’s easy to see the passion in his work. But in a workaholic society there still needs to be balance — and on that point I can sympathize with Sullivan. 
  • CNN, meanwhile, continues its stunning decline, trailing even Headline News and CNBC in the ratings. Worse yet, CNN appeared to be casting about for just about any solution it can find, leading only to more humiliation. John Stewart offers a brutal critique.

Amid the financial hardships of traditional news media and the growth of blogging and online news, the question is not whether journalism will survive. There will always be a news business. The questions are: What kind of journalism will survive, and what kind of business model will be necessary to support it? The first question depends on the second for its answer.

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