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November 16, 2011 / Joshua

This is Torture

If there’s still any sense left on the American political right, Herman Cain is done and was never actually a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. But it’s hard to tell just how much sense there is these days. Andrew Sullivan might have described the rise of Cain best with this:

I regard Cain’s dominance as just the latest sign of the degeneracy on the American right. He’s the ultimate candidate for a Palinized party: based on talk radio, uninterested in government, ruled by unreason, propelled by resentment, fixated on power.

I’d merely elaborate on the part about unreason to say that Cain seems to represent the worst tendencies on the right toward a proud anti-intellectualism and unseriousness. Cain seems so intent on portraying himself as an authentic, outsider, non-politician, regular Joe businessman that he apparently hasn’t found it necessary to familiarize himself with some basic knowledge about governance, policy and world affairs. He’s demonstrated notable and willful ignorance particularly in response to foreign policy-related questions. Here’s a pretty unbelievable example of what I’m talking about:

As seen above, Cain tends to play off these questions by either changing the subject with folksy business-management talk or giving non-answers that basically amount to, “I’ll get all of that information when I need to” or “that’s what I’ll have expert advisors for”. He’s essentially like a procrastinating student who tries to get around the need to study but (unlike many other candidates) is remarkably bad at BSing (I guess that last part is something that makes him appealing to some).

Cain is getting a lot of flak now for a painful recent interview in which he seems to completely draw a long blank on what has gone on in Libya and how he feels about President Obama’s handling of the situation. He then gives a long, fairly meaningless answer to scrub over the fact that he just hasn’t really bothered to look into it at all.

That’s pretty bad. But what really got to me recently were his answers to questions regarding torture in the last Republican debate. Responding to an email question about his general stance on torture, Cain said:

I believe in following the procedures that have been established by our military. I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration.

Then the moderator followed up by asking Cain his position on whether waterboarding constituted torture or “an enhanced interrogation technique”. Cain simply responds:

I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique. …Yes. I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

So here we see a little glimpse of Cain’s odd decision-making methodology in action. He doesn’t agree with torture, but he will let the field experts decide for him what is or isn’t torture. But wait, when it comes to waterboarding, something that pretty much everyone outside of Republican hawks believes is torture, and the Obama administration has made unlawful, Cain conveniently clings to the orwellian term that the Bush administration invented to get away with torture.

I’m sure Cain made that determination after gathering up all the relevant information and hearing all informed opinions and didn’t just say that because he thinks it probably scores points with the Republican base. Right?

Anyway, here’s a video clip of the debate. It’s worth watching in full from the 6:36 mark (where the questioning about torture begins), in part to see that Michele Bachmann is really far more frightening than Cain; She’s seriously hawkish and just makes things up out of the thin air in her own alternate reality with relative ease. But also note the response from Ron Paul; I have my severe disagreements with Paul, but when it comes to this subject at least, I’m always thankful he is up there, demonstrating some semblance of moral clarity and reason. Jon Huntsman, too, has a fine response against torture to wrap up the segment; but of course those two latter candidates have far less of a chance at the nomination than even Cain or Bachmann…

Oh, and for what it’s worth, here is President Obama’s unequivocal response to Cain’s and Bachmann’s support of waterboarding:

They’re wrong. Waterboarding is torture. It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice.

If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example. And anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture. And that’s not something we do — period.


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