Corrected by Shakespeare's Sister, Thursday, 1:30 PM.
After recounting the story of Maher Arar, the Candadian computer engineer who was kidnapped and handed over to the Syrians to torture for 10 months, Glenn Greenwald (via Shakes) asks the question that common decency demands asking:
How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct?
Brad DeLong gives the short answer:
...you can be a Republican Loyalist.
Brad's a very busy college professor and didn't have time to exapand in his post.
I've got nothing much going on right now, so I will.
In fact, a lot of Republicans are outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted. They just aren't on the editorial boards of newspapers, don't blog, don't host talk radio shows, and aren't United States Congressmen and Senators up for re-election, and I'll get to the importance of that fact.
First, we live in a country where people support the death penalty even though it doesn't do any real good, either in deterring crime or in providing justice---dead is dead, and making one new dead body doesn't bring the first one back to life or, as studies have shown, make the grieving relatives and friends of the first dead body feel any better about their loss, let alone feel as though they've been compensated for it.
But the human need to exact blood has a greater force than the human desire to do right. We are sadistic animals and want an excuse to tear something living apart.
Torture doesn't work, it's morally indefensible, but it's just so darn much fun to imagine another animal in pain.
Make the case that torturing an enemy gives the enemy an excuse to torture our troops in return and the defenders of torture will say, That's a risk our guys are willing to take, as if they would know. What they mean though is, I get off on the idea of a hero getting tortured as much on the idea of the villain being tortured, maybe even more.
Torture porn is a main attraction of the old James Bond movies.
Top this off with the fact that people are cowards.
Prove to them that the death penalty has resulted in the accidental execution of many innocent people and they will say, in effect, Better that than one bad guy gets free to come after me.
It is just one of the lousy facts of human nature that most people will permit their rulers to do anything that makes them feel comfortable and safe as long as it's done to somebody else.
This is not a trait that's intrinsically Republican. It's just that for the last 90 years, since the Party was taken over by businessmen and ran Teddy Roosevelt out of town, it has been the main plank of the Republican Platform.
It's usually summed up as I got mine, you get yours. But that puts too happy a face on it. It should be I want mine and if I don't have it, it's because you have it and don't deserve it, so hand it over, now!
It's a kind of apology to voters for the Party's generally Social Darwinistic and Calvinist principles. Republicanism preaches that wealth and status belong only to the hard working and deserving either because Nature or God ordained their superiority to the rest of us.
But most people who vote Republican aren't rich, aren't high on the social totem pole, aren't obviously favored by God or Nature, and in their hearts they know this.
They know that by their own Party's principles they are LOSERS!
Not that the Party would ever tell them so flat out. It's not much of a campaign slogan, Vote for Us Rich Guys Because We're Better Than You.
Honest conservatives used to say it, though. They'd make the case like this: Yes, you are a bunch of losers, despised by God and cursed by Nature, deserving of not even the very little you have. You're lucky that your betters bother to do the bare minimum to keep you alive and safe, so don't dare ask them for any relief from your misery or consolation in your grief. And if you dare to think that maybe this is unfair, remember this. Any attempts by Liberals to improve your condition is just going to make it worse, because that's the way the world was designed to work.
Somewhere around 1929 this honesty stopped helping to win elections.
The Party began singing a different tune with lyrics rewritten to perfection by Barry Goldwater but which needed Ronald Reagan to turn into a song that eveybody liked to hum along with.
It was called the Politics of Resentment.
It went like this. Only losers aren't rich and powerful, only real losers need or want the Government to do anything about their condition as losers. But you aren't a loser, no matter what it looks like to the outside world. You are born to be rich and powerful. If you aren't, it's not because God or Nature gave you the shaft. It's because OTHER PEOPLE are screwing you out of what you rightly deserve.
The demonization of the Other became the touchstone of all Republican campaign rhetoric.
This is what made the Party so attractive to the unreconstructed Southern racists the Democrats finally convinced were not welcome anymore in their party in the 50s and 60s. Those guys were really good at demonizing the Other, having inherited 300 years of practice. Probably why they now run the show.
Throughout history, most tribal people have treated the Other as less than human, lower than some animals. Except for some of the more uninhibited Right Wing bloggers, the Party on the whole has chosen to treat the Other as an abstraction. Big Government or entitlements or Special Interests or Islamofascism are all words invented to distance people from the real human beings the Politics of Resentment would otherwise treat as demons to be exterminated.
This has been done helpfully, so that xenophobes, racists, and barbarians don't have to face up to their own xenophobia, racism, and barbarism, but also so that decent-hearted folk who are by the Party's definition losers don't notice their own similarities to the Others and start asking difficult questions.
The Other has been turned into a non-person.
And in this way children can be allowed to go without doctors when they are sick, old people can be forced to choose between buying their medicine and food, men and women can be made to work demeaning jobs at poverty line wages with no benefits and no hope of improvement and no job security, air, water, soil, food, animals, human beings can be poisoned in the name of profits and more profits, without anyone having to notice the connections between what's happening and how they voted in the last election.
A Party that encourages people to feel nothing at the thought of 90 per cent of the world living in misery, poverty, and degradation as long as the 10 per cent they belong to don't have to pay an estate tax, isn't going to encourage them to have any qualms about some obscure Other---a Canadian with a funny name---getting tortured.
But there's more to it.
Another tactic the Party has adopted to help hide from their loyal voters the truth that they are voting against their own best interests, as well as against the better angels of their nature, has been to encourage a Cult of Personality.
This is simply an accident of Reagan's popularity, but it fits with the authoritarian instinct to wish for a king. But under Reagan and now under George W. Bush, good Republicans have been encouraged to see no difference between their President and their Party.
Consequently, under Reagan and now under Bush, as stands the President so stands the Party.
When Reagan was President, it worked pretty well, but only in that it let Republicans turn a blind eye to all the many times Reagan betrayed the Party's principles.
Whenever Reagan had success governing as a moderate and, which sometimes happened, even as a Liberal, Republicans congratulated themselves on another victory for conservativism.
The Party benefited from the general misconception that conservativism was not what it in fact was.
The benefit will turn out to be temporary because one of the drawbacks was that members of the Party were fooled too. They thought that Reagan's successes as a moderate proved that conservativism worked, and once they got total control of the government they began to govern as conservatives, running the country right into the ground and in the process violating the agreement they had with voters, which was that as long as it was done to the Others, it was fine.
Start messing with my comfort, my prosperity, my entitlements, my life, and you're history, bub!
Even so, the cult of personality made George W. Bush the synechdoche of the Party. As he fares, so fares the Party. What he is, the Party is.
If George Bush fails, the Party fails. If George Bush is wrong, the Party is wrong.
This has put the Party in the position of needing George W. Bush to be not just successful, but always in the right. Two things he is apparently biologically incapable of ever being.
Reagan saved the Party by being, often, successful, and by being truly popular. People liked the guy; they didn't need to be told over and over and over and over and over again that not only did they like him, they had to like him or the bad guys will come and kill us.
Reagan also helped himself and the Party by being able to give up on a project or an idea that wasn't working.
Bush's reaction to being wrong is to throw all his energy into being more wrong.
He's the kind of guy who if you tell him he's driving the wrong way down a one way street steps on the gas.
Party loyalists in the back seat are forced to say, No, no, this isn't a one way street, it's just narrow, or if it is one way it's one way this direction and all those other cars coming right at us are going the wrong way but fortunately George is such a skillful driver that they'll all miss us.
We're winning in Iraq. Torture is good. Up is down, down is up, the lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn, Bush is in the White House, and all's right with the world.
One of the best accounts I've read of the rise of the Politics of Resentment and the mindset it engenders I've read is in Rick Perlstein's terrific book on the 1964 Presidential campaign, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.