Self-Compromise and the Torture Investigation

As I am wont to do, I think Stephen Walt makes a compelling argument that those who decry the release of Abdel Basset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi because it represents an abrogation of the rule of law should by the same token be supportive of Eric Holder’s investigation of Bush era torture policy. Laws are laws, irrespective of politics, and the legitimacy of laws stems from the evenness of their enforcement. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to make a completely unrelated point based on something Walt says.

I have no doubt that the president would prefer to “look forward,” because an investigation and/or prosecution will drive both the CIA and the right-wing media types crazy and because he’s got enough alligators to wrestle with already.

I think by now we can mostly agree there’s simply no appeasing Republicans. When they see an opening to exploit something for political gain, they’re going to do it. John McCain, after all, came up with a health care plan. Now it’s not the right time for health care reform. Not long ago, Republicans supported death panels. Now they don’t. Legislators in the Finance committee even dropped the provision, and there’s still no sign of compromise on health care. Shall I go on? Republicans were apoplectic over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who by any reasonable standard was a relatively moderate selection for a Democratic nominee. But the point is that she wasn’t John Roberts or Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. The lessons is that Republicans are going to oppose any measure that is Democratic so it just doesn’t make any sense to base policy on what is going to be the most palatable for Republicans; they’ll find things that can be exploited and then they exploit them. You can’t win, so don’t even bother.

Sure — Republican hypocrisy is absolutely galling — but that’s the name of the game. They’ve been doing it for years, and nobody seems to care. What led to defeat for the Republicans in 2008 were the results of a bad policy in power and a little bit of bad luck. It wasn’t because Republicans claim to steadfastly oppose wasteful spending but still voted for a bloated Medicare drug benefit.

Anyway, as it relates to an investigation of torture, it’s the right thing to do because the law should not be subject to the caprice of political expediency. But even on a crassly political basis, there’s almost nothing you can do that’s remotely liberal that won’t ignite febrile rage among Republicans. If you try to appease them, the only thing you’ll do is wind up compromising with yourself until you realise you’re getting your pants pulled down. The thing for Democrats to do when they possess legislative majorities is to pass the best policy they can muster and hope the results speak for themselves.


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