Thursday, September 28, 2006

Here's the GOP Strategy on Torture and Detention

Here's what just happened with the habeus corpus and torture bills that just went through Congress. The Democrats had an opportunity (or at least a possible opportunity) to filibuster these bills and prevent their passage before Congress recessed to go back their states and districts to campaign. Their failure to do so has outraged a number of different commentators, including myself. And I'm sure this is going to cost the Democrats votes.

What it comes down to is that Karl Rove or whoever came up with this is a clever bastard. They put the Democrats in a lose-lose situation. The Democrats' choice came down to this:

  • Don't filibuster and/or throw obstacles in the way of these legal debacles. Make a pro forma show of resistance by voting against it. This will lose you votes on the left
  • Filibuster and lose votes in the center and even on the right from those who are pissed about the myriad Republican failings in many areas (economy, Iraq, Katrina, general incompetence, etc.) but would still rally back to the GOP if scared with the "weak on terror" shibboleth.
Given that the final Senate vote on the measure was 65-34 on the detainee bill (and the vote in the House equally lopsided), it's quite likely that even attempting a filibuster was a quixotic idea, meaning that votes lost by playing into that hand would have even been in vain. But the larger strategic picture is that, of the many Congressional races that are in play in the '06 election season, many of them are in relatively "red" areas—think Montana, Tennessee, Colorado, Florida. Losing swing votes in those areas is probably more threatening to the Democrats' chances of taking one or both houses of Congress in this election than are losing left-of-center votes in California or Massachusetts.

I'm not saying I could have been Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi and stomached not doing everything I could have to stop these betrayals of American principles and morals. Those of us who believe we just had a Reichstag fire moment—with the detainee and torture bills our very own Enabling Act—find it impossible to view such a batch of horribly cynical and damaging provisions through a strictly tactical lens. The unfortunate problem is that the current administration has no such moral foibles. The only defense I can offer the Democratic leadership is that it's hard to wrestle pigs without getting muddy.

Now, I'm not at all confident that Democratic control of Congress will mean that they'll do what's required to stop these measures. After all, even if they take both houses, Bush is still the President and the Democrats will hardly have a veto-proof minority. But, for those of us who oppose the administration, these measures that sell out the very meaning of American tradition, and our on-rushing dictatorship, let's be clear that the blame rests squarely on the GOP. So, on Election Day, drag your heavy heart out of the house and vote Democratic anyways, if not for the Democrats, then against the Republicans.

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