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September 30, 2006

How The Bloggers Got It Right

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

We all know what happened.  For partisan gain, Republicans decided to embrace torture, shred the most fundamental principles of American law, and put innocent people at risk of spending their lives in jail without trials on terrorism prosecutions.  They intended to give Democrats a horrible choice.  Go along, and their base would be demoralized at the ensuing disaster.  Fight, and they would be hammered for supporting terrorists' rights. 

Most Democrats -- 160 of 194 in the House, and 32 of 44 in the Senate -- fought.  Admittedly, they didn't filibuster.  That would've taken at least 7 more Senators.  And even if Harry Reid could've somehow put it together, Republicans would've been happy to use the filibuster as a month-long commercial about Democrats obstructing the War on Terror.  Whenever they wanted their triumphant ending, the nuclear option was available.  It's hard to see how Democrats could've beat this thing, even totally united. 

The purpose of this post isn't to excuse Senate Democrats, though.  It's to call attention to the people who may yet make this whole maneuver backfire on the Republican Party. 

If the major progressive blogs are any indication, the Democratic base was smarter than Republicans expected.  Rather than attacking their own party for failing to stop the disaster, many Democratic bloggers took a realistic view of the situation, and took up arms against the real enemy.

Let's start with The Editors (go to their place if you want all the links):

It’s true, “the Democrats” didn’t send this awful, anti-Democratic bill to defeat. But, then, they didn’t have the votes for it. Nor, indeed, did they fillibuster the bill. But, as Sen. Reid confessed, and as the final vote proved out, they didn’t have the votes for that, either. But they should have made a futile gesture! you complain. Well, many Democrats did make futile gestures, futile speeches even, even crappy Hillary Clinton. But they should have made the futile gesture I wanted them to make! Well, perhaps they should have, but I fear we this discussion may now drifting from political commentary into interpretive dance criticism. The bottom line is the votes weren’t there. The day was lost.

Scott is right as usual:

this is a Republican bill, and it would not have passed if Democrats controlled Congress.

The most basic error that people who want to put most of the blame on the Democrats make is the assumption that you can infer voting behavior when you control the agenda from voting behavior that occurs after the agenda has been set by someone else. But this is foolish. The fact that John Kerry voted for the Iraq War does not mean that he would have sought to invade Iraq if he had been President

Chris Bowers lists a bunch of issues on which most Senate Democrats voted right.  It's a long list with plenty of important stuff.  He continues:

I am not sure if there has been a single issue in the Senate over the past four years where the majority of Senate Democrats did not side with the progressive position and oppose the Republican majority. Would it have been better if all Senate Democrats had stood united on all of these issues and stopped any one them from passing? Obviously. But to characterize an entire party because of the actions taken by a minority in that party is simply unfair.

Amanda forcefully explains why not voting for Democrats is really dumb:

if you start howling at them for not controlling what they have no power to control, you’re making a joke of yourself. Telling people to pull our support from them when they’re all we’ve got is, like torture, self-defeating. If you’re so gung-ho about people not being complicit with the Republicans, the first step is to quit being complicit with Republican attempts to hold onto power by telling people to abstain from voting the Republicans out.

But my favorite of all was Bitch PhD, who lists the six things she's going to do about this:

1.  Mail in my registration to vote at my new address today.
2.  This weekend, talk to Mr. B. about volunteering, money, and a strategy for what to do about the upcoming election.
3. As I get to know the other parents at PK's school, ask what they think about the upcoming election, the new law suspending habeas corpus, etc.
4. Convince my dad, who lives in a reddish part of a blue state, that he has both the time and responsibility to call *his* local Democratic organization and volunteer to help register/get out the vote.
5.  Call *my* local Democratic organization and volunteer to help with whatever.
6.  Join the ACLU. No, I don't belong yet. Yes, I am ashamed. Find out who else to join/read/subscribe to, especially locally, to get the political lay of the land here.

If a substantial portion of the Democratic base responds to this the way Dr. B did, the Republicans will have hell to pay when November comes around.  And making sure that they pay for this is absolutely essential.  For the good of America -- not only today, but a hundred years from today -- we have to show that any party that tries to destroy the most historic and essential principles of American law for partisan gain will face devastating retribution.  Democratic Senators weren't able to inflict this retribution.  But we can. 

I'm already registered to vote, so that takes me to #2 on Dr. B's list.  It looks like time to double the amount of money I've spent on beating Republicans this year.  The first beneficiary is Jim Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy who's running for Senate in Virginia.  The torture bill came up in one of his debates:

Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb said Sunday that President George W. Bush's terror-detainee legislation would weaken the Geneva Conventions and potentially subject captured U.S. soldiers to torture.

"We have to stay on the moral high ground," Webb said during a debate with his opponent, Republican Sen. George Allen, on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."

Webb is slightly behind in most polls, but the latest one has them tied at 43.  Allen, in keeping with his tendency to act out all the most vicious behaviors of the Republican Party, voted to pass the legislation.  Matt, Ezra, and hilzoy don't really have a habit of asking people to give people money, but that's what they did here.  And on this last day of the fundraising quarter, I'm willing to listen. 

I've already told you about the wonderfulness of Victoria Wulsin and Gary Trauner, but they're also getting  more cash from me today.  They're both in very close House races against weak opponents, and they have less money than other equally competitive challengers.   So whatever you give them will have a real impact. 

And as I've done before, I encourage you to donate too.  If you'd like to look at the candidates I'm supporting, they're on my cute werewolf-themed page.  The events of the past days make it absolutely clear why we can't let the Republicans control both chambers of Congress going into the 2008 elections -- do you want them with the ability to control the agenda and serve up their favorite country-destroying wedge issues again?  That's what committee control, which is the result of having a majority, allows them to do.  But if Democrats control just one chamber of Congress, they can block terrible legislation in committee, without even letting it come to a floor vote. 

So please do whatever you can to help out.  For some of you, that'll involve money.  For others, that'll involve volunteering.  For me, it'll be a little of both.  The Republican strategy based around this bill must utterly fail, and lead them to a devastating defeat this November. 

September 30, 2006 | Permalink


In league with Dr. B's suggestions, I'd add the simpler directive of relentlessly hassling and annoying every single person in your extended group of friends who you know to have lefty sympathies to make sure to vote.

Once out of every two years, annoy the hell out of your friends for a month or two. Get them in the voting booth, by any means necessary. They'll forgive you later.


My personal favorite moment in political activism came in 2000. I was living in a Presidential swing state, in a college town with a large Nader contingent.

I was not organized in any way, but I had a large social circle. So I spent September and October of 2000 button-holing Naderites and disaffected non-voters at every (many) parties I went to, all to get them to agree to pull the lever for the Tennessee lame-o.

I think I saved serveral hundretd voting souls. And given the eventual closeness of my state, I think I managed to play an absurdly large part in winning the state for Gore.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 30, 2006 10:09:49 AM

For partisan gain, Republicans decided to embrace torture

any party that tries to destroy the most historic and essential principles of American law for partisan gain

While I think the Republicans will use the issue for whatever political gain they can, I don't think that was their motive for their position on this. The Supreme Court forced this issue on Congress, and the Republicans are, for the most part, supporting the policy they think correct.

Having said that, I'll surely cast my vote for Democrats in every race, as I always do, a completely futile thing where I live. Petey, too bad you didn't live in Florida.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 30, 2006 11:17:00 AM

What you write does feel like an excuse. Basically it seems to say "because we can get the Republicans with this, it doesn't matter that some of us went over to the darkside." In fact, enough of us went to the darkside to prevent a fillabuster. There is no way to spin when we screw up, and nor should we.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 11:50:37 AM

You may be right, akaison. But who should you vote for and support?

I'm not sure, not having followed this closely, how many of the Democrats who supported this bill did it because they thought it was the best bill they could get, better than nothing, and how many did it for tactical political reasons. But I think I know what the chances of this bill even coming to the floor would have been in a Democratically controlled House or Senate.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 30, 2006 12:25:13 PM

Another thing to do: tie torture around the necks of the Republican party. They were hoping to use this against the Democrats--weakness on the "War on Terror" and all that crap. It's time for us to turn this on them.

I'm sorry but the vast majority of Americans--even those brainwashed by right wing propaganda--are decent people. They are not in favor of torture. It's a moral issue, dammit: what has made this country great is a strong sense of right and wrong. It's wrong to torture another human being, period. It's morally wrong and its a tactical mistake: torturing leads to false confessions and the creation of many more enemies of the United States.

I got an idea of how Republicans respond to the issue when I called the offices of our two horrible senators from Texas the day of the Senate vote. I made it clear that I was strongly against torture--that it so clearly violates the principles that have made this country the best in the world. I asked how their senator could possibly justify torture. Then I asked, are you personally in favor of torture? How does it feel to work on the staff of someone who condones the torture of another human being? Do you think it's Christian to torture? Let's just say there were not a lot of happy staffers.

Like Torture? Vote Republican.

Posted by: LoneStarLiberal | Sep 30, 2006 12:32:55 PM

one of the worst mistakes of clear thinking is to muddle the discussion. If we are talking moral virtue, and doing the right thing, and Constitutional law, then with these things, the Democrats not only failed, but part of us gave comfort and aid to the morally corrupted, anti little 'd' democratic institutions upon with this nation exists. if you are talking pragmaticism, then I will vote Democratic because I know that more of them are with me, than against me, but I don't confuse being pragmatic with all the other things I mentioned. I hope you don't either.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 12:42:35 PM


I guess the question is, how does this vote affect your future action?

What Neil and his collected friends are arguing, I think, is that we should not use this vote as an excuse to dial down the work we do to get the Democrats elected. The argument is for a pragmatic ethic - given the real structures of America, if we stand for this morality you describe, we need to work over the next month to get Democrats elected.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 30, 2006 1:16:01 PM

I've put about 2k into democratic campaigns. Before I made my 2nd round of donations last night, I deleted candidates who had voted for the detainee bill. Sorry, my tent ain't that big.

Posted by: BroD | Sep 30, 2006 1:23:14 PM


As someone said of this site and folks like Neil (and it appears some of its commentors) there is a lack of any moral compass here. I don't need to be lectured to about the practicalities of politics. I have a degree in it. I have worked in it. All of which is completely irrelevant to making a moral judgement and fighting to better the party. I understood that before and after this vote. I still also understand,however, morality. Trying to make excuses for an immoral act because its expedient is lacking in a moral compass. Period. I am not going to paint all other actions they do based on this, but I am going to note that they did this. Anything less makes me like Neil- that is complicit.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 1:30:39 PM


And it does mean that when I get the chance- I will fight to get rid of those in the party who support odious things such as this. It's pretty much that simple because big tent to me is about being an American first, rather than simply a Democrat.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 1:33:26 PM

The Democrats must get control of the House and Senate, so that torture bills will pass by narrow minorities, BUT all persons discussing them in the future will be able to claim that the bills were bipartisan in nature.

Further, we must control the House and Senate so that we can fail to seriously investigate the Bush White House and become yet more complicit in our slide toward fascism.

First Alito and now this. No, voting for Dems will not change anything at this time. First we fix the Democratic Party, THEN we back it into power.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Sep 30, 2006 2:10:24 PM

Akaison, not agreeing with you about either the practical or moral aspects of this doesn't imply the lack of a moral compass. That kind of thinking is a moral problem in itself. I'm not sure what you and Neil really disagree about anyway. I don't think he supports the votes for the bill by Democrats or Republicans, but he supports the people most likely to enact the policies both of you favor. Just like Feingold does, as he strongly supports Brown for Senate, Brown who voted for the bill. What do you two disagree about?

First we fix the Democratic Party, THEN we back it into power.

Good luck, Kimmitt, in 2040, or whenever you think the party will be fixed.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 30, 2006 2:41:22 PM

For partisan gain, the Republicans impeached Clinton. They've been at this for a long time.

Posted by: Quiddity | Sep 30, 2006 3:18:40 PM

Thanks Neil - this was a lot of what I wanted to say.

I respect the views of those who are terribly upset - bad things will happen as a result of this bill becoming law. My Mother, the most liberal person I know, is beside herself with anger. But she doesn't lose sight, and neither will I of what needs to happen here: if we don't want more of this, we need to make sure that Democrats are elected. Now. Not when the party is "fixed" or when we "get rid of" the wrong element (whoever that is; and it seems to be a long list when you talk to some folks).

Look, we - any of us - are enever going to get entirely the Democratic party we want, or the one that would get all of our progressive issues passed (if we could just explain what they were and all agree on them). What we have is the other party, the better party, the one that's been right on this stuff all along. I understand being upset. But there was nothing - nothing - that could have stopped this bill being passed. Bush has lied, trampled the objections of his own party, asnd demonized all who oppose him in his attempts to get what he wants. This is not a time for hand-wringing, This is a time for stopping this before it goes further. We couldn't stop this bill. But if we get Democrats into leadership positions for the next Congress, we will have a better chance at stopping them in the future. That's what we've got, and it's pretty much all we've got.

If you don't like it, if it drives you to sit this one out, or blame the people in your own party, then I guarantee you that they have won... and that this will continue. Stop them. Let's stop them. Let's get as many Democrats elected as possible. God knows, it cannot be worse than what's happened up to now.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 30, 2006 4:00:16 PM

1) This is the first I had heard of "Republicans are doing this to depress the Democratic base". I think the Republicans rarely give 2 cents of thought to the Dem base, and this whole bill has certainly in general made it easier to hate the administration. My own thought had been that the 2007 will likely bring the first real oversight of the War on Terror with Democratic committees with subpoena power, and the Republicans were rushing through the "Cover My Ass" Act of 2006 as fast as possible. Given that they had to get through such a bill, they played it as well as they could, but they didn't WANT to be doing this.

2) The question is will the upset base GIVE (or tell their friends to give), not whether they will vote.

3) Brown seriously disappoints me. But yeah, futile neay votes in the House aren't the biggest concern int he world.

4) Obviously I love all the candidates you mention. On one hand I prefer focus on the House rather than the Senate, but then I must remember that a Webb victory means holding that seat for 6 years, affecting the calculations for the next two rounds as well.

Posted by: Tony v | Sep 30, 2006 5:14:34 PM

Akaison, when talking with Sanpete about torture, remember that he's not really very anti-torture, at least as long some false equivalence about it can be generated by the statements of some unspecified Israeli security officer somewhere.

And Sanpete's continued condemnation of locating the argument about torture at the moral level as "problematic" says a great deal about whether or not it's even worth having a conversation with him about the very existence of principles.

Pragmatism does not mean giving up basic human decency as at least an ideal to strive for, or at least it should not.

Posted by: paperwight | Sep 30, 2006 5:29:22 PM

Paperwight, were we talking about torture in this thread?

Since you bring it up, let's talk about decency. How decent is it to assume that those you disagree with, whom you don't even know, lack a moral compass or basic human decency, or are just trolls, or whatever thing you happen to feel about them at the moment? I asked you once whether you actually have any friends or family with whom you disagree about political or moral issues like this, and if so, whether you judge them all as lacking the moral compass and decency you seem to think you have more fully. I still wonder if you just don't have any friends you disagree with.

I do know people with whom I have strong political and moral disagreements, some of whom are the best, most decent, moral people I could ever hope to know, better than I hope to be. It's way too easy to explain away differences in views by just assuming everyone else is defective, but you aren't.

If you disagree with my views on torture, which you seem not to understand very well, why not engage me on the subject directly, and deal with the points I raise in good faith, rather than running around after me making posts like this? My moral compass, which admittedly may not be as big as yours, tells me this would be the more decent thing to do. And better in a thread about torture than whichever one you happen to find me in when you come round.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 30, 2006 7:54:23 PM

To me the key is to get back some checks and balances - the only way to do that is to vote democrat. As soon as our nation is at least moderately safe from the current regime I will get back to fighting to break the republicratic deathlock on our democracy. What we are dealing with now will always be a possibility as long as we have political parties, especialy when we essentialy have only two.

A thought that frightens me a lot is what if the democrats take both chambers? Then in a couple of years they take the white house as well? While not quite as chilling as continuing the status quo, it is deeply disturbing to me just the same. I do not want an undivided government, single party rule is exactly what our founders were trying desperately to avoid and I think why they were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the idea of political parties.

One reason for this fear is that single party rule seeks to weaken the judicial branch. They have to because the courts are as close to non-partisan and objective as any branch of government can be. To actually succeed at passing a radical agenda one must get it past the courts. The judicial system in this country is set up in a manner to avoid it's absolute control by any single party or philosophy. Even with the courts stacked with republican appointees, they cannot push their entire agenda through the court system - the only answer is to weaken the ability of the court to do it's job. I do not trust the democrats to do differently in the position that the Repubs are in right now - especialy as they will be up against a very conservative judiciary.

The other reason is that it seems that the country was doing great when we had a divided government. I just don't see the dems doing any better with all this power that the repubs. I think Aikaison makes the important point, but I would take it further. When one pledges their loyalty to a party they divide their loyalty. I am not a republicrat. I am not a green or libertarian. I am an American and that is damned plenty for me to be. I will not be loyal to an agenda or a party - I will be loyal to the ideas and issues I think cna make this the best country in the world again. I expect I am wrong in many regards as to what is, in fact best for America and that is why I expect people to denounce those ideas that are wrong and support those that are right. To support politicians that I find repugnant or positions with which I am diametricaly opposed is stupid - yet I am doing it to oust the current entrenchment. But we must break this cycle - it is prohibiting our democracy from flourishing and will continue these cycles back and forth until we can drive it out of our country.

Posted by: DuWayne | Sep 30, 2006 9:51:24 PM

actually sanpete- if you think torture is something that can be compromised on- then yes- there is something wrong with your moral compass.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 10:01:33 PM

and oh- its not me you are disagreeing with- its the weight of western tradition including such pesky documents as the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, but don't let that stop you from thinking of all things as mere political gains and loses.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 30, 2006 10:03:04 PM

DuWayne, I'd be much happier with all Democrat than all Republican, but it's true that there are advantages to split government, never more apparent than now. Helps keep things more honest.

Akaison, your willingness to question my "moral compass" (whatever you think that is) for reasons you know virtually nothing about where I'm concerned says more about you than me. As with paperwight, I wonder if you really know anyone with whom you have strong disagreements about such things. I wonder how people go through life thinking that they can explain disagreements about moral, political and religious matters in this way, thinking that the others are just defective in some fundamental way that they themselves are not. What must it be like to not actually know anyone you disagree with well enough to see they're just as good as oneself? I suppose this helps explain some of the polarization we see in politics, religion, and so on, but it's still a little strange to me.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 30, 2006 11:06:51 PM

Republicans would've been happy to use the filibuster as a month-long commercial about Democrats obstructing the War on Terror.

I don't know why you consider this a success, Neil. This is one of those fights that needs to be fought. Democrats have no strength on national security, because they never make the case on national security at best they're pale reflections of the Republicans.

This was a fight about legalizing torture. If the Democrats don't think they can win that fight, then they can't win on national security. We needed to see the opposition party come out fighting, reminding the people of this country that this nation is the strongest in the world and doesn't need to trade away its morality to win against terrorism. We've faced far worse than Al Qaeda, at times when this country was much weaker than it is now. We made it through those times without becoming barbarians. Why can't Bush fight with the tools that defeated the Nazi's and held off the Soviet threat?

Whenever they wanted their triumphant ending, the nuclear option was available.

There is no nuclear option. And if the Republicans want to use it to trade away centuries of established law, let them try. There are many conservatives and moderates who are repulsed by this bill. It would be nice to see someone fighting hard against it.

This was an opportunity for the Democrats and they blew it, again.

It's hard to see how Democrats could've beat this thing, even totally united.

As long as you can't see it, its not going to happen. If they can't win on this, then there's nothing important that the Democrats can beat the Republicans on, and that's why they're seen as a minority party.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 30, 2006 11:53:23 PM

On more point. Tomorrow, Sherrod Brown gets to debate Mike Dewine on Meet the Press. In all likelihood, Tim Russert will ask him about his vote on this bill and we'll get to see another Democrat making the Republican case for stripping away our rights and principles.

People like me will think he's a weasle who's not much better than his opponent (I wouldn't be surprised if he loses some points on this vote just based on disgust). Partisan Republicans will see someone who'll needs to have his arm twisted to defend the country, but who won't really commit to turning the screws on the enemy.

In other words, Dewine wins this fight before he even shows up.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 1, 2006 12:07:51 AM

Why do I need to know your reasoning or who you are? First, the easy one- moral values aren't based on who you are. That's what the Christianists belive about W. They absolve him because he is their second coming. No leader our society gets to do this- that's what having elections and democracies should be about to anyone not trying to intellectualize a lack of leadership.

Second how can your reasoning ever justify this? So far all I have heard is that we need to win in Nov- and my response back is that's irrelevant to the moral question. It's in fact faulty logic to base a moral question on the practical advantage that you believe you will receive (which by the way hasn't been tested or proven).

The moral question is based on learned thought that goes beyond whether Democrats win in Nov or not. It's based on the geneva convention, the constitution, western thought and a whole lot of things beyond your sense of self importance.

It's that same sort of analysis by the way that lead many Dems to vote for the Iraqi War in 2002 without placing checks on Bush. The exact same expediency argument that their short term gain was more important than the country's democracy. We lost in 2002 and 2004 because as Mike points out peo thought we were weak.

You seem to think there is something you can say- anything you can say- that will justify what is the natural conclusion of your intellectualization of an immoral act. We are talking about torture here. That means rape is okay among other acts. Supporting this leglisation is per se immoral because of what its about, and what western thought (not just me) including American legal history says on the subject, and what the effectiveness of the tactics says on the subject.

I don't need to, for example, to hear the arguments about slavery to know that any such arguments are wrong. I don't need to hear the arguments about disenfranchisement of the vote by voter suppression (regardless of who does it) is wrong. There are some topics such as this of which there is nothing you can say to justify yourself.

There are many topics which you can say there is a give and take- taxes, regulation of the environment, labor laws etc, which reasonable peo may differ. Toture simply isn't one of them. It is per se wrong to torture.

You can continue to post as many times as you feel like about how it is not an evil act for these dems to have voted for it, and give me any number of justifications for how winning means more to you than their evil act, that doesn't change the nature of the act. I will vote for these peo because I will overlook this for the greater good- but I am not going to delude myself into believing this act here wasn't an evil or do as Neil does- which is to excuse them by saying well there is the greater good. Both are possible first by a) in the short term addressing the greater good but b) in the long term finding peo who can find moral courage where its easiest to have it. If they can't have it hear- I can't trust them to have it on the subtle less easy to figure out questions.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 1, 2006 12:30:27 AM

I will vote for these people because I will overlook this for the greater good - but I am not going to delude myself into believing this act here wasn't an evil or do as Neil does- which is to excuse them

Exactly. But its important for most people to have something to vote for.

Republicans understand this, which is why they've spent so much time defining themselves to the country. Are you afraid of gays? Vote Republican. Think taxes are too high? Work for a major oil company? Vote Republican. Worry that the foreigners are taking over the country? Believe Islamofacists are at our doorstep? Vote Republican. Think God should be a central part of our legal system? Think abortion is murder? Vote Republican.

Why should anyone vote for the Democrats?

This was a defining issue. And the Democrats decided to avoid it.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 1, 2006 12:57:53 AM

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