Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mark responds

First of all, how I even found this blog: Your basic followed links from a friend, followed those links and etc, somehow ended up here a while back and again recently.

Didn't mean to hit quite that hard of a nerve, still not sure why you have reacted so strongly. I didn't make the point I was hoping to make very well, here is what I really meant...

Based upon what I'd read in your blog, it seemed clear, to me at least, that you would never vote for McCain, quite the contrary, I'd expected you to be a rather enthusiastic Obama supporter. So, to read that something caused McCain to lose your vote seemed out of place, given that I never believed he had your vote in the first place. What you wrote seemed more like an excuse to not vote for him versus a reason. In some sense it seemed like you weren't being honest with yourself, when it seems so clear to me that you'd never really vote for McCain anyway.

The point had nothing, in substance, to do with comparing abortion to torture (but not possible to tell from my short comment) and the paradox that seems obvious; given that you embrace abortion, at least to some extent, but have zero tolerance for torture.

If I am mistaken and McCain truly did lose your vote, let me recommend looking to a third party candidate. I haven't voted for a major party Presidential candidate in many elections. There is a profound psychological barrier that causes us to want to vote for a winner, that if more people could overcome, the tight grip of the major two parties could be freed, I can only dream that could ever happen!

First, thank you, Mark, for giving me a second try. I do have strong feelings on these subjects, but you bit the bullet and wrote some more. Between watching Obama speak tonight and your comments, I've had a few more thoughts.

It is true that I have been a Democrat for a while now. A perusal of the posts tagged "politics" on this blog makes that clear. And it's true that I probably would have voted against another Republican administration even before having any specific beefs with their Presidential candidate. If the Democrats had put out a real dog, maybe I would have reconsidered. (Was Edwards a dog for cheating on his wife and lying about it to the press? I don't know.)

I have been listening to the Denver convention speeches off and on. One thing that really surprised me was hearing the critiques of the Bush Administration. They started to really move me, even bring tears to my eyes. It wasn't because I am enthralled by fully funding Headstart (which is nevertheless a good idea). It's because I started to realize that the Bush Administration will really be over. I feel profoundly tired of Bush, not just because he had terrorists in prisons tortured (and whoops, some of those terrorists turned out to be innocent nobodies caught up in random sweeps). My brain gets fried just thinking about the endless list... * Okay, that's totally derailing my train of thought.

I've been positive about Obama since I read this blog post. I preferred him to Clinton in the primaries, certainly. So it's true John McCain would have had an uphill struggle for my vote from the start.

But there's a difference between failing to win my vote and flushing it down the toilet, and that's what John McCain did with his position on torture.

A few months ago I went over McCain's cynical flip-flop on torture. The comparison of his position today (google [mccain torture] for an endless series of articles) and his editorial of 2005, neatly interwoven with lessons from his POW experience, should convince any disinterested observer that he has abandoned his principles on torture.

Why did I care so much? Here's one answer, an old editorial from 2005 that sums it up well, I think. Not torturing people should be a no-brainer for all of us. It's cruel and unusual. It victimizes both the torturer and the tortured. It turns human dignity inside out. And in the case of our prisoners, it's done to people who are completely helpless to harm us.

Not institutionalizing the torture of people should be even more obvious. Not normalizing torture in the public discourse as one option among many for dealing with foreign POWs... how did we even get to this point? It's like waking up one morning to find that the city government has reinstituted human sacrifices to Moloch, or that they're serving human brains at the diner. Every time I write about this, I feel crazy that we are even discussing it.

All that said, why react so strongly when Mark called partial-birth abortion torture and said I would probably find it in my heart to forgive Obama for holding pro-choice positions, even though I couldn't for John McCain? I think it's because I read an accusation that I was being inconsistent into Mark's comment. That is, I care about torture issues when it suits me and ignore them when it doesn't. It's OK If You're A Democrat. I take that personally because I have integrity and I want to be consistent, especially on the thoughts and issues that actually mean something to me.

I will say that I think the issues are different in kind. Torture is a black-and-white moral issue that cuts across political party, moral upbringing, geography. Before George W Bush practically everyone held very strong feelings against it. It is basically a crime against our common humanity. Now something like half hold the same feelings and the other half concoct excuses, but the same moral revulsion is hanging around.

Abortion, on the other hand, pits the life and dignity of the mother against the life and dignity of the fetus. There is a grey area here that is not going to go away (until we can switch on and off our fertility at will, or bring babies to term in artificial womb machines; see Lois McMaster Bujold's sf for more of this bewildering future). People disagree honestly and in good faith about what should be legal and illegal when it comes to it.

Here's Obama's position on partial-birth abortion, close to my own. It's a legitimate compromise in circumstances where people disagree.
On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that.

Part of the reason they didn't have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.

As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don't think that's any Republican out there who I've worked with who would say that I don't listen to them, I don't respect their ideas, I don't understand their perspective. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we're always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.
Source: Fox News Sunday: 2008 presidential race interview Apr 27, 2008 (link)

When I read something like that, I understand that it's a messy compromise that has to be struck in our pluralist society. Partial-birth abortion restrictions without exceptions for the life of the mother amount to demanding that other people immolate themselves on the altar of our principles. I don't think it's clear that we can or should make that demand, much less enshrine it in law. I would hardly call this an embrace of abortion, but I'll let it stand. I am not a fan of abortion, but I am a fan of leaving abortions legal.

When I compare issues like the normalization of torture and the legalization of abortion, I see a large difference of kind. If you don't, maybe we'll agree to disagree. Anyhow, that's my take on whether or not Obama would lose my vote for his partial-birth abortion stance, owing to my strong objections to torture: No. But no hard feelings, I was glad to articulate that and think about it.

There's also a question here about whether I am a one-issue voter. Have I lost my objectivity? Am I being narrow-minded? Well, if it comes to that, I feel happy with an Obama vote for many reasons, and unhappy with a McCain vote for other reasons. Mark is right, though, that I might be rationalizing here... maybe I think McCain's age is the real issue, which prejudice might reflect badly on me, but this torture thing provides a good cover for my real motives. Maybe that is less plausible now that you've got an idea of what I think about this.

Instead, I think the torture flipflop provides a window onto his character. It is located in a constellation of similar panders and locksteps by McCain, which make me all the more sure that he has abandoned his principles here. It is simply a catastrophe of misjudgment, magnified by his own experience at the hands of his torturers.

The way I see it, if you need more examples, they exist... but that one is enough for me.

As for voting for a third-party candidate...
From the sky comes a scream, as Homer is crashing right into the Capitol. A few footsteps later, he comes running down the stairs.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them]
[audience gasps in terror]
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
Man1: He's right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.
[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]
[Ross Perot smashes his "Perot 96" hat]

The next day, Kodos announces the result: "All hail, President Kang."

The field in front of the Capitol has now become a working ground where humans are whipped by aliens and used to carry materials.

The Simpsons family is working too, with Homer and the kids carrying wood, and Marge pushing a wheelbarrow of cinderblocks -- with Maggie on top.

Marge: I don't understand why we have to build a ray gun to aim at a planet I never even heard of.
Homer: Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

I think the best way to fix this is to fix the system so third parties have an easier time getting a foothold, for instance by lowering the vote threshold (5%, as this article on Nader mentions in passing) for parties to qualify for federal public funding of their campaigns. But being in the swing state of Colorado, I just can't afford to risk my vote on electing the Republican by default, not this time around... and besides, I think Obama will do a good job.

Hopefully that is not too much bloviating... we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog. And thanks again to Mark for raising the level of the discourse.

* US attorneys getting fired for political reasons (even during active investigations of the people they were getting fired by!?), refusing clearances to OPM lawyers investigating the executive branch, burning a CIA agent working on nuclear nonproliferation issues, and that to get revenge against someone who called BS on their case for going to war, aides stonewalling in contempt of Congress, the unitary theory of executive power, signing statements defying the rule of law, not to mention the shifting and ultimately groundless arguments for invading and occupying a country preemptively, the Katrina debacle, committing multiple felonies by illegally wiretapping internet and phone traffic in contravention of FISA... and those are just the lowlights that come immediately to mind. Wasn't there some stuff about illegal propaganda from the Pentagon? Illegal hiring practices at DOE? Missing emails not turned over? Abramoff? Using off-the-reservation email accounts... it just doesn't stop...


Travis L. said...

Hey Dan, thanks for the honest thoughts. As usual, you are about 5 planes over my thinking, but I found your thoughts engaging nonetheless. Reading your blog came at a very opportune time for me, as I just (with fear and trembling) posted something political on our blog. I too just watched the Obama speach and came away pretty excited. I've grappled with how to reconcile abortion to other forms of social justice so I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. I wouldn't call myself a Democrat, nor a Republican...but I agree with you that I am leaning towards Obama this time (not that it matters - I live in Utah. Just wait until McCain announces that Romney will be his running mate - it'll be over here for sure),
Please keep the discussion open. I think it's totally healthy for us to dialogue about these things.

travis l said...

Looks like I spoke too soon on the Romney VP choice. I'm interested to learn more about Gov. Palin.

A said...

In reaction to your comment about age. I seriously am tired of voting for old men and wonder if we just need some fresh blood. I think it was a huge political move that he just named a young woman as VP. It brings to mind the Camelot era. Would she be able to run the country if he dies? She has a new baby . . .

My brain hurts. Enough for today.