Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tortured logic

Here's a question that's circulating in the blogosphere: is Bush uniquely horrible for (among other things) being the first president to make torture an explicitly acknowledged instrument of policy? Or, since the US has practiced torture in the past, is he just more of the same? Two of my favorite poltical bloggers, tristero and IOZ, have been having some back and forth over this:
What sets the Bush Administration apart is only that it has been unabashed where others have been circumspect. This has made it easy for partisans like Tristero to fulminate against abuses that they would have otherwise been happy to ignore.
Underlying this question is the deeper one of what is the appropriate political attitude when you are temperamentally opposed to state power in all of its forms? Should you just say to hell with the lot of them, with all politicians, all government, and become a withdrawn anarchist? Or should you pick and choose and do your part to try to ensure that the less-horrible party gets control?

I vacillate on this. In the 2000 election, I voted for Nader because the two parties seemed about equally corrupt to me, although if I hadn't been in a safely Democratic state I would have voted for Gore. I regret that now. Gore, whatever his faults, would have been an infinitely better President than Bush.

In 2008 I might have the choice between Hillary Clinton, who I do not like very much due to her support of torture, her willingness to cave on Iraq, and a zillion other reasons, and Giulani, who appears to be fucking insane, a Bush with more intelligence and less charm. Yech. Well, I'll vote for Clinton, because the real consequences a Giulani presidency trumps whatever moral satisfaction I'd get by abstaining, or voting for the Democratic Socialist candidate, or whatever. The recent failure of Democrats to hold Mukasey's feet to the fire over the torture issue proves they are almost totally useless -- but "almost" is key. There are differences.

Back to torture -- I really do believe that torture practiced openly is worse than torture practiced in a strictly underground, black-ops fashion. Hypocrisy is better than outright, flagrant immorality. Torture as a dirty secret is one thing, torture as something openly practiced and defended at the highet levels of government is something else. It moves the Overton window -- if torture is a recognized and acknowledged instrument of government, what even worse things will sprout up in the shadows?