About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The so-called Bush legacy

The New York Times is generally considered a “liberal” paper, especially by Rush Limbaugh. This is, of course, because the width of the political spectrum in the United States is so narrow that it only includes the moderate right, the right, the far right, and the obscenely far right. As an example of the latter, CNN (another alleged liberal outlet) yesterday reported that Grand Old Punk Representative Steve King of Iowa said that the election of Obama to the Presidency would have terrorists dancing in the streets. The reason? Well, look at Obama’s middle name: Hussein! (I am absolutely not making this up, folks.)

But I digress. Back to the New York Times and Bush’s legacy. Steven Lee Myers wrote a piece for the NYT about the fact that W. is going to veto a bill that passed the House of Representatives. The bill would hold our so-called intelligence agencies (the same ones that didn’t think their own pre-9/11 memo entitled “Bin Ladin determined to strike inside the US” was that important) to the same standards of interrogation of prisoners as the military and the police. In other words, the House bill says that things like water boarding are naughty and shouldn’t be done, and that if the FBI doesn’t do them, neither should the CIA.

Seems pretty mild to me, but Bushy boy will veto it nonetheless (and “straight talker” McCain, who has publicly said that water boarding is torture and is illegal, decided to do a 180 and back his former nemesis because he is desperate to appease the obscenely far right I referred to above). The Times article frames this as Bush’s continuous effort to “fight for strong executive power,” just like any other administration has done before this one (according to the Times).

Now, Bush may certainly be taken to task for seeking even more executive power than Presidents have had before him, turning this country into a de facto monarchy if he keeps succeeding. But the immediate and obvious point for which he should be taken to task is his strong endorsement of torture under the flimsy excuse that we are in the middle of a war (we are not: terrorism is a police matter, not a military one, as the Europeans understood long ago). Torture is morally wrong, even when effective (and there is plenty of evidence that it isn’t effective, and this evidence is provided by the military and the FBI, not the communist party).

To insist, as Bush does, that we should have available “all the tools we need” is a good old fashioned Machiavelli-style argument that the end justifies the means, and the Times ought to have highlighted. We keep going down that road and we lose any remaining moral high ground we may have left, essentially conceding the point to the terrorists, who would have succeeded into turning us into a mirror image of themselves. The Bush administration has gotten us already far enough down that dangerous road, which is why we don’t need the “straight talker” to continue this nefariousness for another four years.

But the New York Times, while mentioning the torture issue (how could they not?), focused the article on the scope of Presidential power, making it sound like a standard political tussle between two branches of government, thereby shifting the attention of the reader away from the naked fact that our esteemed President would -- under different and more sane circumstances -- be denounced as a war criminal first (for his conduct during the actual war in Iraq), and as a sadist leader second. But that would be too much to write for a moderately conservative paper like the Times.


  1. I'm taking bets, on a scale of one to ten, on how offensive, irritated, childish, or inane Cal's first post in this thread will be.

  2. She promised to be gone for awhile.

  3. "If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America--even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It's a transformative issue" - former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora

    That's something I haven't see pointed out in any newspaper or network news.

    Hearing some defenders of this administration (such as Bill O'Reilly) it hard not to wonder why they don't support torture as a police tactic, too. The arguments they offer would seem to warrant that.

  4. Of course you aren't joking about the references to "Hussein." It's a "known fact" of mid-America chit chat that Obama is a Muslim and will befriend the terrorists. That's what passes for "conservative thought."

    These are the same people who support Bush's (BushCheney's) push for a stronger executive. They believe, with the force of their faith, in a hierarchical world order; their god at the top, then the man who speaks to god, then the men that the man who speaks to god speaks to, on down to the properly submissive wives who are busily beating their small children with rods no thicker than 1/2 inch as per Dr. Dobson. They WANT the country turned into a "de facto monarchy." It would bring a god-ordained hierarchical order to our country.

    And if the man who talks to god approves of water boarding, then the people should be trained to submit to his authority.

    I really don't think people who live in more balanced urban areas take this seriously enough. It seems so idiotic; yet it is so pervasive and powerful. Dangerous.

    And, by even mentioning it, **I** sound like a wacko.

  5. I'm sure there are many good Muslims in the US, and Mormons for that matter, who could do a reasonable job as POTUS. I don't think a Muslim could get elected, however, and that is certainly the reason that the Republicans are spinning this the way that they are. Furthermore, the likelihood of Obama acting any differently from the standard liberal Democrat is miniscule, which is what really worries them.

    There are, however, important issues related to Obama's connections to Islam. Whether Obama sees himself as a Muslim is irrelevant to some actual Muslims. Since his father and stepfather were Muslims, many will see him as a Muslim too, and they will react in one of two counterproductive ways. 1) They will consider him guilty of apostacy, an opinion which has serious security implications. Obama has, on occasion, deliberately neglected advice on security. 2) They will consider him to be akin to Muslim, almost a Muslim perhaps. In that case, there may be serious disappointment engendered by his likely adherence to a self-interested US foreign policy stance. It could also be a net positive. Who knows. Could a Polish pope be expected to deliver for Poland? It worked out that way, I think, mainly because the interests of the Church aligned with the interests of the Polish.

  6. I really miss cal. Apparently she's as necessary to this blog as Satan is to Christianity.

  7. Obama and Islam

    take a look at "Who is Obama?" at snoopes. http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/muslim.asp
    The article contrasts the fear mongering of the religious right with the real history of Obama and his interesting childhood.

    But as I said in another comment: The reality will be seen as worse than Islam. It can legitimately be said that he was raised in an Atheistic home by his anthropolist mother. She believed in none, though educated her son to as many religious holidays as she could. .

  8. And now Barak's Christian ties to Pastor Wright may do him in. The guy just can't win.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.