Wednesday, October 3, 2012

George Will on why Americans may re-elect Obama


Perhaps a pleasant paradox defines this political season: That Obama is African-American may be important, but in a way quite unlike that darkly suggested by, for example, MSNBC's excitable boys and girls who, with their (at most) one-track minds and exquisitely sensitive olfactory receptors, sniff racism in any criticism of their pin-up.

Instead, the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake choosing him — seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African-American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation's heart, if not its head.

Interesting perspective. Nothing else I've read explains Obama's competitiveness in this election, other than rank corruption and insanity of the American electorate. Obama is an objectively failed president. His opponent is a man of obvious competence and decency.

If Will is right, an Obama reelection will prove to be an uncommonly expensive form of affirmative action.


  1. Nothing else I've read explains Obama's competitiveness in this election, other than rank corruption and insanity of the American electorate.

    Perhaps the populace prefers the vision of the United States that Obama represents over the insane version that you seem to think should be supported.

    The other factor is that Rommney is doing a very good job at making Obama look like a far superior alternative. The Republican nominee pool was full of options hailing from the lunatic fringe that made Rommney look like the electable choice, but the reality is that once he didn't have them to compare himself to, it became obvious that Rommney is an intensely unlikable campaigner.

    1. Romney won't give you a phone.

    2. I don't need a phone. I already have one. Using it right now. Rommney is still unlikable.

    3. Gotta agree with Anon. Romney is about as exciting as McCain was four years ago.

      Policywise, the two candidates are pretty much indistinguishable: both war hawks who are happy with the status quo in terms of domestic and economic policy.

      The only major party candidates who were willing to talk about real significant policy changes (Paul and Kucinich) were quickly sidelined by the media.

      I'll consider voting for a major party candidate the day the major parties give me a real choice. Until then I'll vote third party, although most people who feel like I do tend to not vote at all.

      I'm predicting that fewer than half of all eligible voters will even bother to show up to the polls next month.

    4. John:

      There's obviously a huge difference between Romney and Obama.

      I've always considered the "I'll consider voting for a major party candidate the day the major parties give me a real choice" a little off-putting. I guess the political affiliations of 99% of Americans aren't quite up to your standards.

      Both parties have their problems, but one party is pro-life and pro-religious freedom and at least tries to promote fiscal responsibility, and the other party is a crime syndicate.

    5. Out of curiosity, what are these huge differences between the two, policy-wise? They may seem obvious to you, but they continue to escape me.

      You say that one is pro-life, by which I assume you mean Romney who was "committed to a woman's right to choose" when it was convenient, and only had a change of heart when he decided to run for national office. He has since informed the public that he doesn't think the president should have any say in the matter, dismissing it as "an issue for the courts." Perhaps you can explain to me how voting for this man will make the slightest difference in how abortion is practiced in America? Does it even matter whether the candidate we vote for claims to be "pro-life" if he's also not going to do anything about it while he's in office?

      You also mention religious liberty, by which I assume you're referring primarily to the HHS mandate that almost all employers (with some very narrow exceptions) buy health insurance for their employees that fully covers sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and contraceptives. Think Romney plans on reversing that? His record suggests otherwise. This is the same guy who enacted Romneycare in Massachusetts while governor, on top of an existing MA mandate that was (a) very similar to the HHS mandate and (b) never opposed by Romney. During a recent interview with Raymond Arroyo, he was asked about whether he planned on reversing the mandate, and danced around the question with a lot of platitudes about religious freedom.

      So no, the parties that wage wars of aggression, condone torture and extrajudicial assassination and abortion on demand, and bail out multinational banks and insurance companies with borrowed public funds are not up to my standards. Neither are they up to the standards of half my fellow Americans (who don't bother to vote at all, most of the time) or even the standards of those who *do* vote for a major party candidate but feel dirty and used when they do.

      Democrats thought they were putting an end to corporate cronyism and wars of aggression when they elected Obama. They were deceived. If you think you'll get an end to abortion and conscience violation when you elect Romney, you're being deceived too.

    6. John,

      You make excellent points, with which I have a lot of agreement, but there are differences.

      Specifically, you ask:

      [Perhaps you can explain to me how voting for [Romney] will make the slightest difference in how abortion is practiced in America?]

      There are nine differences between Romney and Obama on abortion. Two of the differences-- Justices Sotomayor and Kagan-- will set back the drive to overturn Roe v. Wade by a generation.

      If we had had a pro-life president (whatever Romney's waffling on this issue, I have no doubt that he will appoint pro-life justices, we could now have a 6-justice majority to overturn Roe and allow the states to regulate abortion. That could be saving thousands of lives each day.

      Your comment warrants a full post, which I'll try to do.

  2. Why are you so certain Romney would appoint judges who might reverse the Roe decision? Even the non-waffler GW Bush gave us Roberts and Alito.

    Not that there's any more reason to assume the Supreme Court is why more interested in reversing the Roe decision than they were interested in reversing the Dred Scott decision in the 1850s.

    Do you know what abolitionists did when they got sick of the lip service they were receiving from the Whig party?

    That's right: They said "You are not up to our standards," and they voted third party. The fact that Americans don't have the cojones to do that anymore is precisely why we wind up with tools like Romney, and not leaders like Lincoln.

    1. I would welcome a truly conservative third party, if it were viable.

      Now I'm just doing what I can to get Obama and his gangsters out.

      I think that you underestimate the evil of the left. There is a real difference.

      Regarding your earlier reference to Kucinich and Paul, I actually have quite a bit of respect for Paul, and I agree with him on many things. I disagree with Kucinich on more things than I can count,and his flop on abortion is excreble. He also has supported the Fairness Doctrine (excreble), gun control (excreble), environmental nut-case legislation (excreble). Some of his civil liberties views are ok, but you don't seem to count if you are an unborn child or a third world kid with malaria but without DDT to kill the mosquitos that gave it to you.

    2. I would welcome a truly conservative third party, if it were viable.

      You do see the irony here, right? The reason there is no viable third party is the unwillingness of voters to make one viable by voting for it. Enough voters could make it happen if they could stop buying the perpetual hysteria about how terrible things will be if The Other Guy wins.

      Now I'm just doing what I can to get Obama and his gangsters out.

      You have illustrated my point about Romney beautifully. No one is excited about him. Conservatives figure they're stuck with him, so they're making the best of a bad situation. Just imagine; that's how liberals have been feeling, pretty consistently, these past four years, and that's the feeling they're carrying with them to the polls. They thought they'd elected Hope & Change, and what they got was four more years of War Without End, Executive Overreaching, and Economic Stagnation.

      I think that you underestimate the evil of the left. There is a real difference.

      Oh, Leftists are all convinced you Righties are evil too. That's the problem with public discourse in America these days. Everyone's so busy hyperventilating and accusing their opponents of being monsters in human form that you can't even hold a conversation anymore. There's no honesty left because the media/political machine has succeeded in selling us an arbitrary one-dimensional "political spectrum" that has no real value apart from its ability to divide and conquer the public.

      If you pick up the Blue flag, the Blue leaders will tell you, day in and day out, that the Reds hate foreigners, women, minorities, gays, and poor people; that they're all a bunch of spiteful old, rich white men who want nothing more than to control others. And, for the most part, the Blue followers swallow this, and everything a Red tells them passes through this filter before it enters their brains.

      If you pick up the Red flag, the Red leaders will tell you, day in and day out, that the Blues are a bunch of lazy, shiftless parasites that hate hard work, self-discipline, the nuclear family, God, babies, and America; that they're all a bunch of whiny, entitled, self-pleasuring sophists and elitists who hate their fathers and want nothing more than to tear down all that's good in human culture and tradition. For the most part, the Red followers swallow this, and they can't hold a conversation with a Blue because they can't imagine that a Blue would ever do or say anything that wasn't self-serving and destructive of all that's good in Western culture and tradition.

      We're so damned committed to this ridiculous and arbitrary party loyalty that we can't even have an honest conversation anymore.

      Take abortion. Even the terms we use are obfuscatory. We shouldn't be calling our positions "pro-life" and "pro-choice"; we should be saying "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion." Anyone who's afraid of calling things by their simple, honest, right names ought to be asking himself long and hard what he's so afraid of.

    3. (continued)
      If you ask me, the "political spectrum" is arbitrary and doesn't match reality. Why on earth is support for torture on the same side of this one-dimensional scale as opposition to abortion? Why is support for drug legalization on the same side as support for gun control? It's stupid and arbitrary, and what scares me is that so many people are so afraid to noodle out political and social issues honestly that they don't think about them critically; they just pick a side and adopt its talking points as if they were reasoned opinions.

      That's what's happened to Christendom in America; Christians have been split along party lines, and the worst part is they seem to have a stronger allegiance to their party than to their faith. That's why you have Conservative Catholics tuning out their bishops and the Pope when it comes to matters of war or immigration. It's also why you have Liberal Catholics tuning out these same leaders when it comes to matters of contraception and abortion. Both sets of issues are about welcoming caring for others, and respecting the sanctity of their lives. It's the same selfish I-got-mine-ism that leads someone to abort a baby, drop a bomb on a foreigner, turn a poor worker away at the border, or pop a pill so they can screw around without the sacrifice involved in raising a family.

      These political allegiances are spiritually destructive. Why are Catholics listening to Nancy Pelosi and Glenn Beck, rather than HH BXVI? It boggles my mind.

      The worst of it is that both parties pretend to be different, but all their offering is the same garbage in a different package. When it comes to issues of substance, there is a difference in rhetoric, but no difference in practice. The Democrats promise to act like doves and end corporate subsidies on the campaign trail, and then blow up weddings and pass laws that benefit huge insurance conglomerates (mandated insurance, anyone?) when they're in office. The Republicans talk a good line on abortion and liberty when they're on the campaign trail, and don't do a damned thing about abortion and pass the Patriot Act when they're in office.

      Sorry, but that is not good enough.

      In case you're wondering why I'd support Kucinich over Romney, it's this: When it comes to Kucinich's pro-abortion stance, I figure it amounts to the same as Romney's "pro-life" stance: neither will do anything to end abortion. Republicans have had numerous opportunities in the past 40 years to put an end to abortion, and they just aren't that interested. Romney's no exception. So I figure, both Romney and Kucinich will both do the same thing about abortion: precisely nothing, because they're both happy with the status quo.

      On the other hand, I could see Kucinich accomplishing something substantial by bringing our troops home or nationalizing the Fed - neither of which Romney has any interest in whatsoever.

    4. I agree in principle with "bringing our troops home" and that the Fed is problematic (I'm not sure about "nationalizing"). I even have some fondness for Kucinich-- he seems sincere.

      But his view points are far left, his abortion flop is horrendous, he supports the Fairness Doctrine, which is grossly unconstitutional (the government has no place regulating the content of political speech).

      Indeed many Catholics take their politics quite seriously, red or blue, and I an not so sure that is wrong. We are called to be "the light of the world", and He didn't add "but not too seriously".

      Your equation of conservatives and the left is misguided. Catholicism is inherently conservative, and the left has been the most implacable and violent enemy of Christianity in modern times. They are not both equally misguided.

  3. A few quick points:
    1. The Fed should be under the direct control of Congress, per Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Allowing a private bank (owned, in part, by foreign investors) to print American dollars out of thin air and loan them into circulation at interest is ridiculous and unconstitutional.
    2. Yes, Kucinich supports some awful things. On the whole, though, I think we would all be better off after four years of Kucinich than four more years of whatever the two-party machine manages to cough up.
    3. I wil concede that, generally speaking, I find self-identified conservatives to be more reasonable than self-identified liberals.
    4. However, the kind of conservatism the GOP keeps giving us (borrowing money to bail out banks and wage wars, shutting the borders to individuals while opening them to multinational corporate interests, maintaining the status quo on abortion, torturing prisoners, and building a surveillance state) looks an artful lot like the liberalism the Democratic party keeps giving their constituents.
    5. I was not criticizing the fact that Catholics take their politics seriously; I was criticizing the tendency of many American Catholics to place a higher priority on the platform I'd their political party than on the teaching of their Church. And I will reiterate that it is the same heartless refusal to sacrifice our own comfort for the life and comfort of the helpless that leads us to abort, wage unjust war, and turn destitute Yucatecan would-be workers away at the border.

    I'll end with a question: How bad does the Republican party have to get before you would vote for a third party candidate?

    1. John;

      1) I don't know enough about the Fed. I should point out that Congress is a very corrupt crowd. I want it running as little as possible.

      2) Kucinich is Obama, without the Chicago political savvy. Whatever personal affection I have for Kucinich, he is a disaster in any office he holds.

      3) I agree.

      4) The GOP has done many horrendous things. Each has been an imperfect imitation of mainstream Democrat policy.

      You and I have some differences of opinion on torture and surveillance. I oppose torture per se, but I don't believe waterboarding is really torture. I think it is a legitimate and moral tactic in war.

      I respect the belief that it is always morally wrong, but to be honest you must then admit that eschewing it costs innocent lives, and that you take personal responsibility for those deaths.

      Regarding surveillance, I take the same view. Obviously I don't like government surveillance, broadly understood, but the egregious lapses leading up to 9-11 were wholly a consequence of the liberal anti-surveillance policy (e.g the wall of separation between the FBI and the CIA, the reluctance to real Moussaoui's hard drive.0 It cost us 3000 lives-- you guys have a lot to account for, and I haven't heard either "I'm sorry" or "it's better that 3000 died than if we had better surveillance". The liberals' silence on their complicity in 9-11 has been shameless.

      5) Church teaching on morals involves two distinct arenas: clear matters of morality, which Catholics are obligated to follow Church teaching, and matters of prudential judgement, in which Catholics are permitted to differ on means to achieve moral ends.

      Social welfare schemes and immigration policy fall under the rubric of prudential judgement. I hardly think that liberal Catholics can tout the success of welfare dependency or insolvent entitlements as unambiguous 'goods'.

      Much of liberal policy has devastated family structure and economics and public safety in poor neighborhoods. And on immigration, consider that no Catholic church would allow people to lawlessly enter Church property and set up homes illegally. Liberals shouldn't ask our nation to do it either.

      There are many ways to help destitute Mexicans. Allowing rampant law-breaking and invasion of other peoples' countries are not self-evidently the best way to do it.

      If you believe it is, please provide your home address where illegal immigrants can come and live, and I'll publish it in Mexico.

    2. 1. I should point out that the privatization of the Fed (and the fact that it remains private) is a consequence of Congressional corruption, not the other way around. If you're so averse to Congress doing their job, perhaps you'd like to privatize their other responsibilities, such as legislating and declaring war?

      2. I disagree, but have nothing more of substance to say.

      3. Well, alright, then.

      4. Oh, no you didn't. What if I told you that you were responsible for the deaths at Columbine and in Aurora because you support second amendment rights? You'd tell me that just because someone abused those rights does not mean we should abolish them. By the same token, just because a dozen zealots abused American fourth amendment rights does not mean those rights should be abolished. The blood of the 9/11 victims is no more on the hands of those who support fourth amendment rights than the blood of Columbine students is on the hands of second amendment rights supporters.

      I also reject the idea that a principled stance on torture costs more lives than a more utilitarian stance. For one thing, I hear that the intel gained in this way is generally useless or worse than useless. But even if it worked it would be as ill-advised as paying ransom to terrorists who take hostages. Bad national policy, for many reasons. Again, you cannot blame a nation that doesn't torture for the crimes committed by terrorists any more than you can blame a cartoonist for those same crimes. It's not your moral responsibility to do evil (whether that be suppressing the voices of video-makers or torturing prisoners) to counteract the evil of others.

      That's basic Catholic moral doctrine, and if you can dismiss it by saying, "Yes, that's all very nice in theory, but you can't expect people in the real world to practice it," then I must put you in the same category with my liberal fellow parishioners who take the same view on the Church's teachings re: contraception.

      5. I never said anything about social welfare, and I tend to agree with you that the welfare system is generally bad for people.

      However, I must say that welfare policies are made necessary by government policies that favor corporate interests. When the government signs a free trade agreement that makes it profitable for my employer to ship my job off to China or India, and I can't find a suitable replacement because all the other companies in town are doing the same thing, they give me unemployment or GA or WIC or food stamps so I don't revolt.

      And you Pennywise Conservatives have the audacity to call me a parasite while simultaneously supporting multi-billion dollar bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks and insurance companies?

      As to your suggestion that you publish my address in Mexico, you can't because I don't have a home address. I sleep with my wife and four kids in a single room in my in-laws' house because it's the only way my wife (who runs a home business) and I (who have not stopped working full-time since I was 16) are able to pay our bills. Those of us with five-figure incomes don't have as much to share as you 6+ figure folks, but we share what we can, and yes, I have every intention of opening my home to homeless kids once we have one to open. Somehow, over the last 50 years, the income gap has been growing, and it has become much more challenging for people on the bottom side to raise a family with what they make. I could point to dozens of reasons - the cost of healthcare, usury, and competition from Asian workforces driving down wages. Whatever the reasons, neither major party is addressing them.

      Difficult as it might be to find decent work for us working-class types, I don't resent poor men from other countries doing what they have to do to feed and clothe their kids - even if it means breaking current immigration laws.

    3. John,

      We agree substantively on 1-3.

      #4: The 'wall of separation' Justice Department memo written by Gorelick was essential to allowing Al Qaeda to operate in the US: "Attorney General John Ashcroft, facing criticism, asserted that 'the single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents' and that I built that wall through a March 1995 memo." (

      Gorelick's memo wasn't merely a mundane application of the 4th amendment. Al Qaeda is a foreign entity engaged in war with the US. To prevent intelligence services from communicating with domestic law enforcement about combatants' plans to kill Americans is insane, and has nothing to do with protecting Constitutional rights. In fact, as many observers have noted, by insisting that Al Qaeda combatants have such rights will inevitably lead to the weakening of such protections for Americans, because it will establish precedent in Constitutional law based on Al Qaeda's behavior. I would not want my rights equated with Bin Laden's.

      On the issue of torture, I define torture as causing serious lasting physical harm. Waterboarding does not. It obviously causes fear, but causing fear is not necessarily torture.

      As an example: is plea bargaining torture? Threatening someone with years in a prison cell if they don't talk is much more akin to torture than threatening someone with waterboarding if they don't talk. Yet we do it all of the time.

      Waterboarding to get information is not torture if plea bargaining to get information is not torture. Most defendents would much rather be waterboarded than imprisoned.

      #5 I mostly agree with you. Corporate welfare is horrible, and should be abolished. It is as bad for corporations as traditional welfare is for individuals and families. We should not ship jobs to China.

      I point out that the way to end corporate welfare is to promote a free market economy, which is a Republican agenda.

  4. (Sorry for the typos. Typing on a touchscreen.)

  5. Re: 9/11: When I mentioned the surveillance state, I was not referring to the sharing of information between law enforcement agencies (provided the intel was gathered within the bounds of the Constitution.) I meant things like the Patriot Act and Mayor Bloomberg's camera-on-every-corner program. The fact that Republicans can simultaneously claim to favor small government and support this kind of government intrusion "for our own good" is further proof that the liberal-conservative political spectrum is arbitrary and philosophically inconsistent.

    Re: Torture: I think your definition of torture needs some work. It's not about what the prisoner would prefer; as a father, I would rather have my toes clipped off than spend the next ten years in jail, even though the one is torture and the other is not. Neither is it about inflicting permanent physical damage; a medical amputation is not torture, but repeated application of painful electrical shocks is, even when the shocks leave no permanent physical scars.

    The catechism defines torture as that "which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." (paragraph 2297) If you want to argue that strapping someone to a plank and simulating drowning on them is not physical or moral violence, then I guess there's not much more to talk about on this point.

    Finally, while I can agree that the promotion of a free market is certainly a Republican talking point, the party is very selective about what kinds of freedom they promote. Freedom to contract with Foxconn in China? Absolutely. Freedom to move your family from China to America and enjoy the working conditions and minimum wage there? Not so much.

    Incidentally, one very important role of the government in the market is protecting the weak from exploitation by the strong: think workweek laws, overtime laws, workplace safety laws, and child labor laws. "The market" wasn't taking care of these things; a laissez-faire approach wasn't taking care of these things.

    1. The Patriot Act is a complex issue, as is public surveillance (eg Bloomberg). We need to balance security with freedom, within Constitutional boundaries. The right thing to do is often not easily discerned.

      What upsets me is the moral preening by those who propose to err on the side of liberty. Failure to prevent terror attacks has very real consequences, and people who believe that such attacks are preferable to loss of liberty (and they may be right) have a moral obligation to acknowledge that their policies will probably kill innocents. I never hear anyone admit that.

      On the torture issue, I admit that a very strong case can be made against even waterboarding. I continue to believe that imprisonment can be folded into a broad definition of "torture", and that plea-bargaining could then be considered quite analogous to threatening to waterboard a prisoner who didn't come clean.

      Also, I emphatically believe that even if waterboarding is licit, it is only licit in a theatre of war. It is grossly unconstitutional, and can never be used in US civilian law enforcement.

      The free market has its weaknesses, but no thoughtful person still believes that socialism is a viable system. Obviously regulation is necessary (eg child labor), but even some ostensibly good regulation (minimum wage) has been advocated historically for all sorts of evil motives (anti-black and anti-Asian motives were common in the AFL in the early 20th century).

  6. Failure to prevent terror attacks has very real consequences, and people who believe that such attacks are preferable to loss of liberty (and they may be right) have a moral obligation to acknowledge that their policies will probably kill innocents. I never hear anyone admit that.

    I think you would do well to apply the gandersauce principle here. ("What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.") How would you feel if I asked you to:
    -Admit that gun rights policies will probably kill innocents?
    -Admit that allowing criminals to go free unless they've been convicted in a fair trial will probably kill innocents?
    -Admit that a lack of heavier sanctions on private automobile ownership will probably kill innocents? (Car wrecks kill 40,000 Americans every year, and limiting their use - forcing people to take public transit - would likely save many lives.)

    You'd tell me that these are bullshit questions, and you'd be right. Deaths from firearms, unconvicted criminals, and automobiles are unintended secondary consequences of our freedom to own guns, have a fair trial, and drive a car. We don't intend them, and it's not even that we sat down and said, "Well, I really live driving, so I'm willing to let a hundred-plus people die every day so I can keep driving." Nothing so utilitarian as that. Americans understand (no one better) that freedom means risk, and we're rightly suspicious of anyone who promises us security in return for our freedoms. Surely that's something you can sympathize with?

    I can see why you might call imprisonment torture, but I think intent is the key difference: when we imprison criminals, the goal is twofold: to protect society from the criminal, and to give him a chance to be rehabilitated. If that's the intent, then the criminal's suffering becomes (again) an unintended consequence of protecting society. If the intent is purely punitive, then yes, I can agree that imprisonment is to be condemned as torture.

    Finally, you say The free market has its weaknesses, but no thoughtful person still believes that socialism is a viable system.

    I never said anything about socialism, and I would like to point out that this is another example of the kind of limited binary thinking engendered by our current political system. The capitalism-socialism quandary is a false dichotomy, just like the liberal-conservative political spectrum. Corporate capitalism and state socialism are both abhorrent and oppressive. Both systems are broken because they both tend towards concentration of power: the one toward concentration of economic (and, eventually, political) power in the hands of the wealthy; the other toward the concentration of political power (and, eventually, economic power) in the hands of party leaders.

    What both political parties are giving us right now is the worst of both worlds: an unholy marriage of Corp and State that leaves most citizens working for, and dependent on, both the government and large corporations. Our choice is not between corporate capitalism and socialism; our choices are vastly more complex and multidimensional than that. My point was not "Unfettered capitalism doesn't solve everything, so let's replace it with socialism." It was "Unfettered capitalism doesn't solve everything and is, in fact, a nightmare when it reaches its logical end."

    A truly just society would promote individual entrepreneurship and *small* businesses. When I hear corporatists talking about the merits of The Market, and how it rewards hard work and initiative, I immediately think of Donald Trump and the chairman of AIG and how much more money they've made *harming* our economy than all the hardworking five-figure guys I've known who actually build value, but don't own any property of their own.

    I don't really expect Mammon to reward virtue (decent poor folks can expect a very different reward from a very different God) but I do get sick of the moralizing of corporatists.

    1. John:

      God points about torture. I understand that waterboarding is difficult to defend, and that the Church's teaching on torture is sound and seems to preclude it.

      Alan Derschowitz says that he asks this question of each of his constitutional law classes: (paraphrase) Imagine that you are a prosecutor in New York, it is Sept 10, 2001, and you have a suspect who you are certain knows about a big terror attack that will kill thousands that is to happen the next morning. All of this is certain. You do not know when or where-- you have no idea of the specifics. But you know that the next morning thousands of innocents will die if you don't find out the specifics. He will not talk. What would you do? The question is not 'what is legal' or even 'what should you do' in an abstract sense. The question is 'what do you do'?"

      It's a fair question, obviously quite realistic. If you don't force him to speak (waterboard, whatever), thousands will die avoidably.

      Those who utterly oppose waterboarding elide this scenario. In my view, they hide behind preening moralizing without facing the agony of this issue. They may be morally right-- but there are going to be dead people, and we all need to admit it.

      Drawing comparisons to other scenarios is beside the point. There are real differences between the scenarios. This scenario-- the captured terrorist and the imminent terrorist attack-- is real and lives directly hang in the balance.

      On your views of the free market, I basically agree. Chesterton championed a concept called Redistributionism, that is akin to your suggestion. It was free market capitalism with regulations to keep the capitalists small and avoid concentration of power.

      I have no problem with that from an ethical standpoint, although I point out that the politics of it are treacherous, and could easily devolve to socialism.

    2. Let's look at Dershowitz's question a bit more closely, as I think it's another good example of a false dichotomy. Dershowitz wants us to assume that we are presented with two choices: torture one man or let thousands die.

      But that's not a choice anyone is ever really faced with; his scenario is not realistic. Here's why:

      -The scenario assumes we know for a fact that the next day an attack will be carried out that will kill thousands. In fact, on 9/10/01, there was no way anyone not involved in the plot could know that for sure. Even if they'd had this hypothetical conspirator in custody, all they would have would be suspicions, and you can't justify torturing someone on the suspicion that he might know something that could save lives.

      -The scenario assumes that, if tortured, this conspirator will tell us the truth. I'm not a professional interrogator, but from what I've read, the consensus seems to be that people who are being tortured may be coerced into talking, but don't necessarily tell the truth when they talk. In this example, there's no reason why Captured Conspirator should give you the actual details about the intended attacks when he could avoid torture just as easily by sending you on a wild goose chase.

      I'm not trying to avoid the question; I just think it's important that the question be an honest one. Generally speaking, I think real-life scenarios boil down to one of two different possibilities:

      1. All I have is a suspicion that someone knows something that could save lives, and I have no guarantee that he would give me accurate information even if I did torture him. In this situation, I have no right to torture a man on suspicion of knowing something, particularly when I have no guarantee that torturing him will accomplish anything useful even if he does know something.

      2. I know for a fact that someone is in the process of trying to kill people, in which case I am in a battlefield situation, and I defend my life and the lives of others accordingly.

      Neither real-life scenario makes it necessary for me to commit an evil act to save others from someone else's evil act.

      As I said, I think this kind of hypothetical situation presents us with a false dichotomy. I also think it is insidious and evil. It says, in essence, that moral principles are all well and good in theory, but when the rubber meets the road, we have to be willing to sacrifice some of our ideals for the real-world greater good.

      Interestingly enough, this line of thought is as common among the "safe, legal, and rare" crowd (who furrow their brows and talk about what a "terrible choice" abortion is) as it is among the military hard-liner crowd (who - also with furrowed brows - talk about how men and women in the field have to make tough choices to protect the rights of armchair admirals and peaceniks back home.) In both cases, we get to hear about how people in difficult situations are actually behaving heroically when they sacrifice their morals on the altar of utility. Remember when heroism actually meant the opposite?

      This argument is, in my opinion, a trick of the Deceiver. His arguments always sound reasonable and appealing, but they always lead to death. In contrast, God's commands frequently seem difficult, and often seem to point toward defeat, but they always lead to life. The Deceiver offers us easy quick fixes, promises earthly dominion, and delivers death. God offers us crosses and burdens, promises earthly persecution, and delivers life.

      This is the perspective we lose when we place our party loyalty above our loyalty to the Gospel, as handed down and elaborated upon in the Church founded by Christ. It's what we get when we stop listening to the bishops and start listening to the pundits.

      Of course, I could be wrong. Can you present me with an actual real-life example of a time when someone was presented with a clear-cut binary choice between torturing one man and letting thousands of others die?

    3. It's a perfectly valid question (even if it is a trick of the Deceiver, which it may well be). There are quite plausable scenarios in which you might be quite sure of the time and magnitude of an attack, but unaware of the location and unable to stop it unless you do know the location.

      I can understand and respect the view that torture is always wrong. But I insist that when we invoke that moral decision, we are honest about what it may mean and we accept responsibility to the lives lost.

      I really don't like moral preening.

    4. I point out that moral preening was not a trait our Lord found appealing in Pharisees.

      To insist on no torture of any kind in an age of mass terrorism and to deny responsibility for deaths that result from the ban on torture is pharisaical.

      I respect moral rectitude, but it is not easy, and can be agony, which should be owned up to.

    5. [ It says, in essence, that moral principles are all well and good in theory, but when the rubber meets the road, we have to be willing to sacrifice some of our ideals for the real-world greater good.]

      No John, it doesn't say that. My scenario says that in real life moral rectitude is often painful and very costly, to others as well as oneself. A part of the rectitude is honest acknowledgement of that cost. The fact is that forgoing torture in the war on terror will almost certainly cost innocent lives.

      It may well be moral to forgo torture (I suspect that the Lord proscribes all torture), but it is immoral to pretend that moral conduct is without cost.

      Be honest about the cost.

    6. One more analogy, John, that I think is quite close.

      Imagine that you are a priest, sworn to the seal of the confessional.

      A penitent tells you that he has kidnapped a child and is torturing the child. You know the details of the act (you recognize the penitent's voice, you know where he lives, etc). You could save the child by going to the police and breaking the seal of the confessional.

      What do you do?

      Let us say that you do not break the seal. You certainly would be acting in accordance with moral law, as applied to priests by the Church.

      But you would be very wrong to claim that your moral act did not harm the child who was being tortured. If you are honest (moral, that is) you must be candid with yourself that because of your act the child is continuing to suffer horribly.

      To deny that the child is continuing to suffer is to lie.

  7. I can understand and respect the view that torture is always wrong. But I insist that when we invoke that moral decision, we are honest about what it may mean and we accept responsibility to the lives lost.

    Fine. Next time you invoke gun ownership rights, I want you to acknowledge the cost in human lives.

    Or you can just admit that people who support liberty are not to blame for the murders committed by those who abuse that liberty.

    I really don't like moral preening.

    How would you define moral preening, and how does it differ from arguing against evil?

    Re: The priest/penitent scenario: Another never-happens-in-real-life hypothetical. If anyone went to a priest to confess such a crime, the priest would tell him to let the kid go. If the guy's not willing to do so, how can he expect absolution? If he's not there for absolution, why would he risk confessing to a priest in the first place? This scenario makes even less sense than the terrorist-in-custody-who-will-absolutely-confess-the-true-details-of-a-terrorist-plot-if-only-you-can-get-over-your-squeamishness-about-torturing-him scenario.

    Making up ridiculously improbable hypotheticals is a great way to teach yourself to become comfortable with sin, but it's not such a great way to criticize a position you disagree with.

  8. Anyway, all quibbling about moral absolutism and preening aside... Before I got carried away, my point was just that Romney's not different enough from Obama in any way that matters to get me excited about voting for him.