Friday, April 24, 2009

Double Standard Watch:
Forgiveness and "Looking Forward, Not Back" on (a) Consensual Sex, (b) Torture

I've squawked about the general point many times, but it's become fashionable now because of Torturegate, so I'll say it again: the conservative double standard becomes clearest when questions about investigating Bush are on the table. Torturegate is just the latest installment.

In the case of Clinton, it was crucial that we enforce the letter of the law, no matter the relative triviality of the case, no matter that (as a lawyer friend of mine informed me) everybody lies about sex under oath, and nobody is ever prosecuted. I was no big defender of Clinton in that matter. I thought the guy showed himself to be a cad at best, a scumbag at worst. But to be honest, I never thought that it was--in the abstract--crazy to impeach him for lying. What I thought was crazy was: falsely accusing him of everything from murder to drug-running, repeatedly fabricating scandals, finally entrapping him into lying about a private sexual matter, and then dragging the president and the country through the muck instead of just moving on after he'd humiliated himself.

But no. According to our friends across the aisle, it was crucial that justice be served. This was a country of laws and not men. People are responsible for their actions, and justice demands that we hold them accountable. To do anything less would be to succumb to...insert your favorite jumble of philosophical terms you don't understand here...relativism...nihilism...situation!...hedonism!....God knows what...

Funny how that's all changed now that Bush and Cheney and war crimes are on the table. Now it's time to move on, time to look forward, not back (as even Obama has said). Questions of justice and responsibility and desert are suddently draconian, passe, vindictive. Only someone driven by partisanship could even suggest that the country needs to know what it did.

This is the most unmitigated of bullshit.

There may, of course, be reasons not to investigate or prosecute. That's not my topic here. But what's clear is that "we should look forward, not back" is not a sound reason--and remains unsound even should Obama say it, or even believe it.

In the case of a minor infraction such as Clinton's, it would have made sense to say "let's just move on." But the GOP established the threshold by saying nyet in that case. If that relatively trivial transgression was one that demanded investigation and prosecution, then certainly Torturegate--a transgression of, perhaps, world-historical importance, demands investigation. One probably ought to say "let's move on" in Blowjobgate, but not in Torturegate. However, stretching credulity a bit, one might say "let's move on" in neither. Stretching it very far, one might say "let's move on" in both.

The one thing it's absolutely clear that we absolutely cannot do is: demand scrupulous investigation and trial in Blowjobgate but not Torturegate.

We might forgive traffic tickets but not murders. We might forgive neither. If we're not too bright, we might forgive both. But it's simply not possible to rationally forgive murders but not traffic tickets.

It's tedious and deplorable how often political discussion degenerates into tu quoque and other charges of inconsistency. But since it's so often unclear which standards are appropriate, and since judgments of importance and relevance so often vary across individuals and parties, comparing the judgments of a single individual earlier and later, or of a single party on Monday and again on Tuesday, can give us a clear touchstone. It can tell us when someone is bullshitting, setting standards and accepting arguments not on their merits, but in order to protect a favored conclusion or person.

And that, of course, is what Bush's defenders are doing now. Their double standard in this case absolutely cannot be defended. Their judgments are driven by politics and not by reason, and that is as clear as it could be. This "party of personal responsibility" that insisted on getting its pound of flesh from Clinton, and that seems to want every casual pot smoker in the country doing hard time, is suddenly the party of forgiveness. Lex Talionis is a thing of the past; they have suddenly become Swedish criminologists, or particularly sappy social workers. The intellectual dishonesty and moral corruption here is sickening. They have so subordinated justice to politics that the tangled masses of words they spew on their nightly assault on the talk shows barely even make any sense.

But this is par for the course. They live and breathe double standards. To pick just one example, imagine that a President Gore had ignored "bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." and gone on vacation; would Republicans have argued that it was time to rally 'round the president? Would they think that "hey, we were only attacked the one time!" was an argument that proved Gore's success at fighting terrorism? Would they ignore the fact that OBL was allowed to escape?

Gore, of course, would have been impeached, if not shot.

The actions that make a Republican president a hero would have made a Democratic one a villain.

The ability to be minimally objective is a necessary condition for rationality, and the ability to be consistent is a minimal condition for objectivity. Bush's GOP defenders have shown themselves incapable of being even vaguely consistent about these issues. The drawing of the salient conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winston, you throw much down the memory hole. Clinton lied on the witness stand (his deposition) about molesting a subordinate in his tax-payer provided office in his tax-paid job as Prez. If he was on trial for murder, that would not be relevant, but he was on trial for molesting a subordinate in his tax paid job as gov. Repeat: he, an officer of the court and sworn protector of the laws of the nation, lied under oath on the witness stand. He was not a 'cad or scumbag' rather an on the job sexual harasser. He should have resigned, he was impeached.

So apples and oranges. In this case, apples cost him a $25K fine and his law license and his bar.

9:18 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

One of my recent house trolls has commented with great confirming obtuseness about this brilliant post.

10:22 PM  
Blogger globeisatrocious said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Man, you're right. That guy really *is* obtuse...

11:01 PM  

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