It's no secret that I just plain don't like George Will. Unless he tackles LGBT issues again, this will probably be the last post I write about him here on Bilerico.
He crossed a line today that no man of principle, even libertarian principles, would cross. His column starts out discussing reconciliation and health care, and, naturally, I find what he says there to be tired, unpersuasive, and rather hypocritical since I don't remember him denouncing reconciliation when the Republican Senate was using it several years ago.
But, whatever, I wouldn't expect to agree with George Will on health care reform. The guy is well-taken care of by the Washington Post's health care plan, I'm sure, and he's made a boatload of money over the years telling rich people what they want to hear. (FYI to aspiring political writers - that's a really, really, really easy way to make a career. Just look at George Will.)
Then he segues rather awkwardly to talk about calls for prosecution of Bush administration officials for torture. His discussion makes no sense after years and years of him saying that the law should be followed literally, because if the law were followed literally the attorney general has no choice but to investigate these crimes or appoint someone to do so. The UN Convention Against Torture, signed by Reagan and implemented into American law under Clinton, specifically calls for our country to conduct investigations into possible torture. And the US Constitution, in Article VI of the US Constitution makes that binding law.
But George Will's literal interpretation of the Constitution goes straight out the window when powerful people might be facing prison time. Funny how that happened.
Throwing out the Constitution when he pleases
He acknowledges that what's been outlined in various Bush administration memos is torture, but here's his reasoning about why we should do it anyway:
On the other hand, four things are clear. First, torture is illegal. Second, if an enemy used some of the "enhanced interrogation" techniques against any American, most Americans would call that torture. Third, that does not mean that the memos defending the legality of those techniques were indefensible, let alone criminal, because: Fourth, the president might be mistaken in saying that there is no difficult choice because coercive interrogation techniques are ineffective.
In other words, George Will is really, really scared, and he thinks that the government violating the law sometimes is OK as long as there are material benefits to breaking those laws.
Did you catch that? He is quite specifically arguing that the US government can violate both statutory law and the Constitution if it thinks that there are benefits to doing so. That's the exact opposite of what libertarians like Will say to justify their political opinions.
In fact, he goes much further than liberals' and progressives' "living" interpretation of US law. George Will thinks that even following a liberal interpretation of the Constitution is breaking the law, that, if we don't like a law, Congress must change them and they should be interpreted literally. But liberals never advocated that the government just completely ignore the rule of law and do whatever it pleases, just that law should be interpreted in the context of contemporary values and realities.
If George Will, in the face of nearly all experts on the topic, thinks that torture actually makes America safer, then he should be lobbying Congress to pass a law repealing our signature from the UN Convention Against Torture and repealing the legislation that implemented it. That's what his stated philosophy requires him to do, not just ask for people who broke the law to get off the hook.
But he won't be doing that, because there's no way that Congress would consider repealing the ban on torture. Torture makes us less safe, and not just because it gets unreliable information out of people. Who knows how much money and resources were wasted on the wild goose chases the CIA was sent on because of the false information torture elicited from Abu Zabaydah. Torture has generally been used throughout history to get false confessions, not actual information.
No, the two main reasons it makes America less safe are about perception. First, there's no better way to rally the world against our country than to come out in favor of torture. It's taboo for a reason, and when we're ready to get into it, and get our hands dirty with torture as official US policy, there's no reason to think that it won't incite more violence against America or that organizations that demonize the US won't use that to propagandize further against us. We'd be handing the people George Will is so afraid of plenty of material to use against us.
In fact, painting us as an amoral bully would probably be the fastest way to bring down this country. Other people tend to not like the idea that their citizens can be plucked off the street, imprisoned without charges (as Obama proposes we continue to do in Bagram), and then tortures anyone it pleases. Other empires have been brought down for less than that.
The other reason is that there's no faster way to turn off our allies than to violate the treaties we made with them and to continue to do something that the Western world agreed long ago was off-limits. We're already overstretched in two wars and are having enough trouble getting other countries to work with us instead of against us. Imagine how fast that situation would deteriorate if we legalized torture.
Ironically enough, by asking that the ban on torture be ignored when needed, George Will is becoming everything he's accused the left of being that we never were. Funny how that happened.
Did someone say "partisan hack"?
But it gets even worse. George Will, in all his smugness, thinks he has a trump card for the "hard left" by saying that Democrats in Congress may have known about torture as well and did nothing to stop it. He thinks that only liberals oppose torture (even though polling says that a majority of Americans want investigations into Bush Era war crimes), and so if he can prove that Democratic leaders were involved as well, they'll back off.
Because of course the only thing that motivates people opposed to locking up others in a coffin with insects or tying people down and making them think they're drowning or using prolonged pain to get them to talk are Democratic partisans looking for cheap political points!
Really, there's no other way to interpret this:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was frequently briefed as a member of the intelligence committee, could usefully answer the question: What did you know and when did you know it? She regularly conquered reticence about her disapproval of the Bush administration. Why not about the interrogation methods?
Furthermore, four of the president's 15 Cabinet members are former members of Congress, as are the president, vice president and White House chief of staff. So seven of the administration's 18 most senior figures might usefully answer those questions, and this one: What did you do about what you knew?
First of all, no one thinks everyone in Congress was in on this, mostly just Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, and Harry Reid. So his numbers in that last paragraph are misleading (wow, George Will lied to prove his point? What an effin' surprise).
Second, only those people supporting torture think that it's a partisan issue. Almost everyone who's calling for investigations, should they find evidence that high-level Democrats were in on this, would say, "Yes, yes, prosecute the Democrats who knew too! This is about accountability and enforcing the rule of law, so anyone who took part in this should face the consequences."
George Will's libertarianism, his claimed respect for the rule of law, his reliance on a strict interpretation of the literal meaning of the law over living interpretations of it, and his belief that government activity should be kept to a minimum so as to better respect the rights of the individual, were all fake. He was a phony the whole time, pretending to have values to justify what was rather transparently his belief that rich people just plain deserve to have more and live better than the rest of us.
His position against prosecutions should be read as the most anti-libertarian position he could have possibly taken at this time, as he's asking the government to throw out its rules to aggressively, violently, and severely violate people's rights, all in the name of making George Will feel safer.
History will probably be clearer on who George Will was than we are right now. We seem to think that there's some sort of principle or philosophy behind his defense of rich and powerful people, but history's going to remember him as nothing more than a war crimes apologist.
A few words about health care...
I wasn't going to respond to the health care part of Will's column, but I couldn't let this fly:
This is especially so because the administration and its allies, without being candid about what is afoot, are trying to put the nation on a glide path to a "single-payer" -- entirely government-run -- system. They would do this by creating a government health insurance plan to compete with private insurers. It would be able to -- indeed, would be intended to -- push private insurers out of business.
Wait, I thought that the main reason we shouldn't rely on government for solutions to problems like health care was because they provide lousy service and do so less efficiently than private enterprise.
If that's true, then private insurers should have nothing to worry about if the government creates a public health care option open to everybody. People would choose the cheaper and better private health care providers because the government program would be awful, right? And then private insurers wouldn't go out of business, right?
Oh, wait, he probably knows that a government option would be a lot cheaper and fairer and would provide more coverage with less hassle than private enterprise ever could. Without acknowledging that fact, his opposition to a public option makes no sense whatsoever.
A fake through and through.