Monday, November 07, 2005

George W. Bush is Not A Conservative

On last night's debate episode of the West Wing, Alan Alda reminded us what the best conservatives used to believe in. Personal freedom. Individualism. Equality of opportunity.

Tax Panel Could Shrink Mortgage Benefit (AP)

AP: DeLay's staff tried to help Abramoff get a high-level Bush administration meeting for Indian clients, an effort that succeeded after the tribes began making a quarter-million dollars in donations.(AP)

AP - The government wants to offer [wealthy] airline passengers the chance to avoid extra security checks.

FBI Patriot Act Plan Concerns Lawmakers (AP)

President George W Bush promises his Brazilian host to work towards eliminating US agricultural subsidies.

(The Republicans also used to be the party of farm subsidies. It's supposed to be a security thing -- we don't want cut-off-able supply lines. And a "way of life" thing, of course. Republicans were big on both.)

Alan Alda's character, of course, is not supposed to be a social conservative. Bush is. But the social conservatives I know (admittedly mostly Catholic, who have more complex political loyalties) don't like him much either. He may be anti-abortion, but he's also pro-death-penalty and pro-war.


And wishy-washy on torture I'd have more respect for him if he defended it. You can make a case for torturing one person to save the lives of thousands. Every season of "24" provides ethics thought-experiments that put anti-torture viewers (meaning me) in a tough position. But Bush doesn't make that case. Instead he twists the language in Orwellian ways.


Andrew Gray said...

Where did I put that link... ah, yes, here. I Miss Republicans.

The debate episode sounds like a gimmick, but on the other hand it sounds like a good gimmick. Will have to try and track down a copy.

(I have a rant about the "to save the lives of thousands" thing, but I need to polish it a bit before letting it go)

Mary said...

The "I Miss Republicans" essay is awesome.

I suspect your rant centers on the argument that people have no incentive not to lie when they're being tortured? I keep telling Jack Bauer that...

It was a pretty good gimmick. I hope a lot of people were watching. And I hope they'll replay it in 2008. And I hope the Republicans nominate Alan Alda as their candidate for president.

Andrew Gray said...

Much to my surprise, the "lot of people" watching it included my father, in a bar in Annapolis. (He was there for a conference; in two weeks he's off to sit in bars in the Caribbean for his holiday. Jealous? Moi?)

Anyway, he was sitting there, TV on in the background, quite entertained. Eventually, he turned to the chap he was with and said "I never knew Alan Alda went into politics". Cue some tactful explanations.

He claims, in his defence, that it was a very convincing debate, and Alda becoming a Senator isn't that implausible, when you consider some of the people who've managed it.

[second post on torture]

Andrew Gray said...

WRT torture... it's twofold. There is the aspect that under torture, people will agree to anything, sign papers claiming they're really a small fish, anything to stop it now. Reliability of information obtained under torture (under threat is another matter, but has a lot of the same faults) is pretty minimal, especially when you come to the table with movie-plot threat preconceptions about thousands of lives at stake, &c. "Yes, yes, I was, uh, going to hijack an aircraft carrier and sail up the Potomac to ram the Pentagon with it! Please, not the bamboo slivers!" - you've "validated" the crazy theory of the week, but it doesn't help you find the half-pound of explosive in a shopping mall trashcan in Des Moines, which is a little bit more likely to be the actual threat.

But, all this aside, let us imagine the most incredible movie-plot threat you can think of, the classic there-is-a-nuke-in-NYC and you have to torture the guy to find out where it is or THOUSANDS WILL CERTAINLY DIE. So, our terrorist is in a holding cell in, hmm, Brooklyn somewhere. They know who he is and that torturing him would possibly produce the information, which he will never reveal otherwise. They know there is a bomb, and that the clock is ticking. But - oh noes! those dangerous liberals have passed a no-torture-ever law!

Think about this one for two seconds. Does anyone seriously believe that the existence of a law prohibiting torture is going to stop the local police, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the National Guard, or the Boy Scouts, going in and demonstrating Interrogation By Size Ten Boot? Of course not; and if it came out afterwards, it would be political suicide to prosecute them. And envisaging a broadly phrased comprehensive presidential pardon is not exactly difficult.

Basically, this movie-threat-scenario will play out exactly the same in situations where we have the law as those where we don't, with the exception of a bit more paperwork for all concerned afterwards and some noisy editorials in the papers a few months later. Even were it a plausible situation, it would still be a strawman. It's the situations where there is no need for torture that we need to worry about, which is basically any situation not coming off a Hollywood screenplay...