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September 22, 2006

The Deal On The Deal

So here's the "compromise" on detainees:

[T]he legislation will enumerate "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions which, if committed, could expose US officials to criminal prosecution. The list includes acts such as rape, murder and intentional infliction of bodily harm. For less-than-grave breaches, however, President Bush would be given authority to interpret the Geneva Convention provisions through an executive order. Defendants and their lawyers will not be given access to classified material in military tribunals, and prosecutors will enjoy wide latitude, according to Hadley, in the use of hearsay evidence, with burden on the accused to show that such evidence is either unreliable on irrelevant before it could be excluded.

More in-depth analysis here. So Bush got, basically, everything he wanted. The other day, in TAP's weekly editorial meeting, a few of us were puzzling over the import and motivation of McCain's actions. Why would he sacrifice his accelerating rapprochment with the right over this issue, particularly right before the 2006 election. Various theories were bandied about, from a realization that Republican voters no longer venerated Bush to wonderings about a possible independent candidacy. Our honorable editor man, however, leaned back and offered the novel interpretation, "maybe McCain just believes in this, and is doing what he thinks is right."

I was sort of struck by that. It had barely even occurred to me that McCain, whatever he did or did not think right, retained motives distinct from his presidential ambitions. It seemed like a good reality check to my preternatural cynicism: These are still people up there, and they deserve to be analyzed as such. But scratch that. As happens so often these days, my cynicism proved not to be too great, but totally inadequate. McCain postured and headlined and orated, but when it came down to actually protecting prisoners, folded to the White House. And now the feckless, cowering Democrats who yoked their hopes to his independence have no basis for opposition. What a shameful day on all sides. Oh. And good morning.

Yeah, at Tapped too.

September 22, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

I remember you writing a prescient post two weeks ago called, "Will the Republicans roll over?"

It's obvious what Democrats in the Senate should do--I mean morally. As for the politics: more complicated. But hell, running scared has lost them two presidential elections and both houses of Congress, and running scared now could demorialize the base, a dangerous prospect right before a midterm election.

So I say, Be Brave!

But there's no chance of that. This is bad.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 22, 2006 10:23:20 AM

Reid gambled on the moderates, and he lost.

He has no choice at this point but to filibuster. It's the only moral choice, and it's the only way to squeak a win or draw out of this situation. It could also lose the election - that is, the downside risk of a filibuster is far greater than the downside risk of acquiescence. But there's no upside in acquiescence, and this bill is far too evil to allow it to be passed into law.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 22, 2006 10:30:51 AM

Divguy, I'm glad to see that you've come around. A couple weeks ago you were complaining about us unruly former Nader-supporters calling on Democrats to take a loud stand and blasting us for not caring if it led to a loss:

"[T]he Democrats are opposing torture and upholding hte rule of law. They will all vote against this bill.

The question is what tactics will lead to the best outcome - that is, bill defeated and Democrats in power in '06. Former Nader voters think that shouting is always the right answer, and even concede that it could lead to a loss in '06. The Democrats think they can beat the bill and avoid electoral disaster, and it's going to require a little less feel-good chest-beating and a little more quiet, ugly alliance-making. I certainly don't know that they're right, but I'm very skeptical that shouting is always the right response - especially when it's so incredibly important that this bill be defeated."

How'd that "quiet ugly alliance-making" work out for you? In any case, welcome aboard.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 22, 2006 10:45:22 AM

Once again, Democrats pointed to some supposedly "moderate" Republicans, jumping up and down and shouting, "me too me too me too!"

It got them nothing legislatively and merely continued the narrative the Democratic leadership has been writing for years now: Democrats can't lead, they don't believe in anything, they actually all support the president on everything.

Oh, but I'm real sure that this brilliant strategy caused some Republican voters to decide to vote for Democrats from now on. 'Cause spineless ineffectiveness is just what Americans look for when voting.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 22, 2006 10:59:18 AM

Hey, if someone claims to be a former Nader-supporter, I will rip him or her all I like. That person has done far more to harm the Democratic party and to America than any jerk on the internet who hoped that deal-making could win this battle.

I was always very clear on the moral evil of the bill. I was arguing that the best way to win was not by loud opposition.

I think the Democrats have been harmed by their relative silence, but I think they have been aided by McCain's articulate defenses of the laws of war, even if he has now abandoned all but a thin pretense of moral positioning.

I still think it was rational to try to beat this bill without making it an election issue - I'm highly skeptical that it's a winning issue, and I want to win. But now that there's no choice, I think the Democrats have to fight.

The fact that the Democrats are in such a bad position now suggests also that this was a very bad position from the start. Loud opposition wasn't a winning strategy either. There are no winning strategies, but hopefully the Democrats can defeat this evil bill without losing too many votes in November.

Basically, what I would caution fellow partisans on is the easy illusion that doing the right thing wins votes. That's only true sometimes. I don't think it's true now. My hope was that the Democrats could do the right thing without losing votes - maybe even winning votes if Bush lost the fight - but with that off the table, opposition and hope are the only paths I see.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 22, 2006 11:01:42 AM

This ugly, demented piece of totalitarian legislation is going to pass, and the Dems aren't going to do anything to stop it - if they could. Rove and fear wins again. When this bill is signed, it will mark the transition of the American republic into the Caesar-like American empire. Hail Caesar!

The Democratic Party has lost all claims to moral authority and Constitutional leadership/governance, which the Republican Party lost decades ago. Even a Democratic landslide in Nov, however likely or unlikely, will not reverse this evil executive dominance of the US government. The US law has now become the enabler of dictatorship.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 22, 2006 11:18:14 AM

DivGuy, you should be a politician. You're incapable of simply saying, "I was wrong."

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 22, 2006 11:18:24 AM

Look, nothing has passed congress yet, the president hasn't signed anything, and the courts have not examined any of it. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here - there's a deal announced, but there is still the possibility that as these details get reviewed and discussed and the flaws, whatever they may be (I have yet to see the "we've worked out the final kinks" version of this), get revealed, some opponents may not be mollified.

I'm not sure Democrats played this right, but still, what was the right answer? For Democrats to lead the charge in opposing this bill would have given Rove exactly what he wanted, his case that Dems are "soft on terrorism" and do not understand what's at stake. Hogwash? Sure. But the way for Dems to fight it is to state clearly what they do think is at stake, and I have not heard a lot of that.

Talking to my Mom - the most liberal person I know - I was struck by something that she said that, well, kind of rankled. I think our mistake lately, is all the talk about protecting the innocent. It bel;ies the fact that some of the guys they've captured are, indeed, bad men who are guilty. Why, in God's name, do Republicans think that the guilty will not be convicted under our system of law? Why do they think that men this guilty need to be tortured and mistreated to achieve a dubious result? I think Democrats need to turn around the traditional civil liberties argument - sure, civil liberties proptect the innocent. But we believe in them because even with them we can convict the guilty and maintain the rule of law. If the Republicans don't believe that, then who, I ask, is really the unpatriotic one in the room? We can stop terrorists and convict terrorists under our legal system. That's why these provisions are so wrong. But if we can't say that, then what, really, do we have to add to this debate?

Posted by: weboy | Sep 22, 2006 11:30:35 AM

That is an interesting argument for a truly authoritarian police state. Care to expand on it?

Posted by: wcw | Sep 22, 2006 11:40:50 AM

but I think they have been aided by McCain's articulate defenses of the laws of war

That's astonishing. How can Democrats be helped by a Republican taking a stand on something while they either say nothing or just get in line behind him like the sheep they apparently are?

How is it possible for people to believe these things?

Partisans, by the way, do not shout all the time. We do not think that loud opposition to everything the other party does is always the way to go. Harry Reid has gotten the most praise from the Shoutin' Partisans when he has managed to subtly derail some awful Republican Senate scheme. The Shoutin' Partisans don't like it when Pelosi goes really public with something, but they love it when she works behind the scenes to accomplish truly Democratic goals.

What happened with the torture issue is that John McCain managed, again and with Democratic support, to look like the "principled maverick" who is ultimately brought around by the arguments of the Bush administration to the "correct" position that will "keep America safe."

I said several times that McCain is too vulnerable to capture the GOP nomination. I now take that back, because I hadn't counted on all the help the Democrats were going to give him in his quest to maintain his maverick image while simultaneously kowtowing to the most extreme elements of the Republican base.

Tell me again how "working with" (cowering before) the "moderates" in the GOP convinces GOP voters to switch parties?

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 22, 2006 11:44:47 AM

How can Democrats be helped by a Republican taking a stand on something while they either say nothing or just get in line behind him like the sheep they apparently are?

They can use the same arguments against the bill, which have been given the air of "bi-partisanship" by McCain's and Graham's use.

If the Democrats proceed to fold on this bill, then I've been wrong. If the bill passes and the Republicans get the electoral benefit, then there's no defense of the Democrats' strategy - they will have lost in every way.

My hope - and we'll see what happens - is that the Democrats will fight now. I'm highly skeptical that their lack of overt fight up until this point will hamstring their ability to fight now - isn't the argument that I've seen that fighting loudly is always a good strategy? Are you suggesting that now fighting is a bad idea?

Basically, the only way I saw a chance of upside in this situation was if the Democrats could defeat the bill without filibustering. A partisan fight over torture is bad in every way - the only thing it beats is the actual passage of the bill. Allying quietly with the apostate Republicans seemed to me like the only way to score a victory. Defeating the bill by partisanship and filibuster is a good thing because it means that torture will remain illegal, but it would be a bad thing in terms of chance of electoral victory.

Now, my defense of the Democrats was predicated on the assumption that they would not let the bill pass, and they were gambling they could win outright on the political theater as well as on the bill itself.

If it turns out that they were not actually committed to preventing torture, and the bill passes without a real fight by a unified Democratic party, then all my defenses pretty much break down and I'm wrong. I think the defeatism here and elsewhere is premature, though maybe I'm just too optimistic.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 22, 2006 12:54:59 PM

As happens so often these days, my cynicism proved not to be too great, but totally inadequate. McCain postured and headlined and orated, but when it came down to actually protecting prisoners, folded to the White House.

Maybe. You've left something out of your analysis. Did McCain have the votes to pass his bill, over a Republican filibuster? His alternatives may have been to simply block all legislation or to give in. Blocking all legislation would have been the better alternative on principle, perhaps, but in practice it wouldn't have changed anything. He probably believes that the compromise is a step in the right direction, better than nothing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 22, 2006 1:23:48 PM

Are you suggesting that now fighting is a bad idea?

There is no possible way that this follows from my statements.

Basically, the only way I saw a chance of upside in this situation was if the Democrats could defeat the bill without filibustering. A partisan fight over torture is bad in every way - the only thing it beats is the actual passage of the bill. Allying quietly with the apostate Republicans seemed to me like the only way to score a victory. Defeating the bill by partisanship and filibuster is a good thing because it means that torture will remain illegal, but it would be a bad thing in terms of chance of electoral victory.

Again, I cannot understand how a complete lack of leadership - moral, political, whatever - is supposed to be good for Democrats.

There is no shortage of people who say that it is bad for Democrats when they actually oppose Republicans publicly. Or that using the rules of the House and/or Senate are bad. Or that stating a clear position on an issue is bad.

Could someone please explain why? And don't tell me that it's because Americans love torture or some other BS Republican idea. In poll after poll Americans show that they are for racial and gender equality, that they are for minimum wage increases and even single-payer healthcare. They are against the war in Iraq. When Americans are polled on actual Republican positions, a majority opposes them. When they are polled on actual Democratic positions, a majority supports them.

But Republicans keep winning elections. How can this be? Democrats have been doing all the right things. They've been busily condemning their fellow party members, they've been voting for Bush's nominees (unless, of course, a couple of Republicans vote against them first), they've made sure to keep "partisanship" out of almost everything, they've let "moderate" Republicans take over their ideas and initiatives, wring all the good press out of them and then drop them in the trash.

This is good, right? This is the way to electoral victory. In the face of Republican partisanship, negative campaigning and strong, clear statements on a host of issues we, as Democrats, need to compromise, "work across the aisle," shy from negative campaigning and make sure that our statements on terrorism and foreign policy are either echoes of Republican talking points or mere agreement with them.

Somehow, we do all the "right" things, they do all the "wrong" things, and yet they have control over 2 branches of our government. That seems incongruous to me. It seems like the conclusion doesn't really follow from the data.

But I guess I'm just a Shoutin' Partisan, the bane of the Democratic party, the reason for all our woes.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 22, 2006 1:50:30 PM

When Americans are polled on actual Republican positions, a majority opposes them. When they are polled on actual Democratic positions, a majority supports them.

This is the danger of Policy Literalism. The majority of Americans, when polled, believe we should act militarily pretty much only in accord with the UN. And yet, the (untrue) Republican smear that Kerry supported a "global test" on American action was quite effective. What matters aren't individual positions, but the narrative into which they fit.

The narrative of American Strength Opposing Terrorism is really, really effective. "Tough interrogations" fit that narrative really well.

I never once called for any "Sister Souljah" moments, and I think the term is indefensibly racist. I never called for anyone to sell out the Democratic party.

But the fact is that we all love Bill Clinton, despite Souljah and despte the executions in Arkansas and despite the so-called DMA. Compromises are a part of politics, and winning requires compromising on issues where you won't win.

I am deeply skeptical that torture is a winning issue for the Democrats. Given that, the only real upside was in finesse. Reid gambled on the upside of finesse and lost, and if he now appeases the torturers, he will have done wrong by the party and the country and by those who mistakenly believed in him (like me).

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 22, 2006 3:20:31 PM

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