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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Torture and the Pelosi Obsession

Sometimes in politics people choose a tactical maneuver that makes a lot of short-term sense, and then get so obsessed with executing it that they forget long-range strategic objectives altogether. This could be the case with the current conservative focus on what Speaker Nancy Pelosi was told back in 2002 about the Bush administration’s torture policies, and what she’s saying about it all today.
You can certainly understand why the initial focus on Pelosi developed: it helped reinforce the idea that contemporary demands for a full accounting of torture policies and practices represent an ex post facto scrutiny of administration behavior that was less controversial–or at least more bipartisan–at the time of adoption, while shifting attention from Bush, Cheney, Yoo and company to a leading Democrat. But lord-a-mercy, to read conservative blogs during the last couple of weeks, you’d think Pelosi was the central figure in the whole torture scandal, not a marginal figure who didn’t much have any power to influence administration policy back in 2002. One leading conservative site, Redstate.com, published seven posts on the subject on a single day last week.
So where’s it all going, assuming that conservatives haven’t deluded themselves into thinking that Pelosi’s actually going to be forced to resign?
Matt Yglesias poses this question in a Daily Beast column today, and concludes that conservative torture-fans may be defeating their own purpose here:

[I]n their zeal to score a tactical win, the right has made a truth commission more likely not less likely. Obama wanted to avoid a backward-looking focus on torture in part because it distracted from his legislative agenda. But if we’re going to be looking backward anyway, thanks to conservatives’ insistence on complaining about Pelosi, then the move forward strategy lacks a rationale. And far from forcing a standoff in which Pelosi will abandon her support for an investigation, the right has forced her into a corner from which she can’t give in to moderate Democrats’ opposition to such a move without looking like she’s cravenly attempting to save her own skin.
There’s no sign that Pelosi or anyone else is backing off the truth-commission idea. And, indeed, by suggesting that Pelosi could be a target of an investigation, conservatives have helped cleanse the idea of the odor of victor’s justice.

Sounds about right to me. I know these media frenzies tend to assume a life of their own, but still, you have to wonder if conservatives are really thinking through where a continuing obsession with the Bush torture policies–regardless of their specific target–will take them.

One comment on “Torture and the Pelosi Obsession

  1. David in Nashville on

    Of course, maybe they *have*–which could be ominous. I think it’s clear that Republicans think that whenever they steer the issue to which party has the [insert male body-part term here] to keep America safe, they benefit. By and large, the majority of Americans view torture situationally [much as they do abortion, as you point out], and are open to arguments that occasional use of it, at least against some ill-understood Other, is necessary to Keep Us Safe. There’s also this lingering Mommie Party vs. Daddy Party silliness, which because it plays to deeply ingrained stereotypes continues to have potency among those who don’t base their politics on close observation of what’s actually going on. That being the case, it’s far from clear to me that a Truth Commission would boomerang on the GOP. At the very least they’re diverting attention from their utter irrelevance on the economy and throwing Obama seriously off his stride.


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