Pretenders To The Throne

May 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is an author, in the most sluttish sense of that word (that is, its loosest and most non-discriminatory application). So are Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They’ve all published (and, to some extent, written) books. “Books” is another loosely and generously applied word, but it’s true all their books share some commonality: they’re double-spaced, published in large font, and don’t include any words requiring a dictionary. These guys know their audience, and it’s not the Harvard political science department. Rush himself has less than a year’s worth of Southeast Missouri State University under his belt.

William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote real books. The single-spaced kind, with no pictures. He graduated from Yale University and published his first, God & Man at Yale, shortly thereafter. It was revolutionary for its time, and he followed up with over 50 more; some political discourse, others spy novels, travel journals, or biographies. He also served briefly in the Central Intelligence Agency, as a field officer in Mexico, and hosted the talk show Firing Line. He wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, On The Right, ran for mayor of New York, and founded a magazine, National Review. NR is still a bastion of conservative thought… not just of party line conservatism, but of conservative thought. Through it, he mentored young thinkers like Dinesh D’Souza and Richard Brookhiser.

Rush & co. are noisy, arrogant pretenders to Buckley’s throne. Buckley earned the title Lion of The Right; today’s pundits are hyenas cackling over the lion’s leavings. None enjoy his intellect or joi de vivre; Buckley was playmaker, coach, and commissioner of a game in which the rest are Monday morning quarterbacks. They abstain from play, whereas Buckley launched a movement and defined conservative thought. Limbaugh and the others define only conservative rhetoric, and trust their audience not to spot the difference.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

When to Fold ‘Em

May 22, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declined to comment further on what the CIA did, or did not, tell her with regard to its interrogations of suspected terrorists, a noteworthy softening of her previous accusations. Ms. Pelosihas accused the agency of concealing harsh interrogation methods from her, while the agency has produced briefing documents indicating Ms. Pelosi did, in fact, have knowledge of those methods. The Speaker’s recent decision not to push her accusations further seems finally an act of reason; she knows a losing hand, and she knows when to lay the cards down, that point at which keeping up the game is only an exhibition of futile pride.

Commentator Ken Spain explains: “Her obsession with the previous administration, and her disdain for America’s intelligence officials, has reduced her to… a distraction to the substantive debate.”

"Briefing documents?"

"Briefing documents?"

He Said, She Said

May 18, 2009

New Rasmussen polls show as many as 62% of Democrat voters believe the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t disclose its interrogation techniques to House Speaker, and Village of The Damned understudy, Nancy Pelosi. The same percentage of Republican voters believe they did.

Among voters not identified with either party, the numbers split pretty evenly down the line: 42% believe Ms. Pelosi was unaware of CIA techniques, and 42% believe she had some knowledge, but kept quiet.

Ms. Pelosi has escalated things by accusing the CIA of actually misleading her with respect to interrogation techniques, a charge CIA Director Leon Panetta denies flatly.

Ms. Pelosi has since back-tracked and tried to water-down her accusations, in light of CIA briefing documents she received in 2002 – strong evidence she knew, or should’ve known, what was going on. As Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, concluded: “If someone is going to schedule hearings [about potential prisoner abuses]… the first witness should be Nancy Pelosi.”

Given the situation, it’s unsurprising that a vast majority of American voters – whether or not they believe Ms. Pelosi was perfectly aware of the techniques used against suspected terrorists and is only now raising criticism because it’s safe to do so under President Obama – view the CIA favorably (63% of voters surveyed). In contrast, only about half that number (35%) view Ms. Pelosi favorably.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Double-Secret (Enhanced) Probation

May 1, 2009

With the advent of law school exam season, a word on uncomfortable interrogations:

President Obama has drawn ire of late for declassifying CIA interrogation histories. Proponents hail the “transparency,” while opponents fear we’ve shown too much of our hand. The later camp includes former CIA director George Tenet who, along with four other former intelligence chiefs, opposed publishing the interrogation methodology.

But published it was, and now we know terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “ill-treated” five times (not 183 times, as previously reported), for whatever good that knowledge does us. In defending his decision, the President explained, “I am absolutely certain it was the right thing to do… we could have gotten this information in other ways.”

Which leaves us asking of this transparency: why does the President, so eager to declassify interrogation methods, refuse to declassify other memoranda citing the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation” techniques? We’ve been allowed to peek at what was done; now can’t we see whether or not it worked?

Explains the President: “[Those memoranda] haven’t been officially declassified and released, and so I don’t want to go into the details.” 

In the same speech,  the President praised former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for refusing to torture German prisoners while Nazi pilots bombed England during World War II. He failed to note that President Bush relied on England’s intense physical interrogations, 30 years later, of Irish Republican Army detainees in defending his own sanctioned interrogations (a 1978 European Court of Human Rights decision declared those English interrogations legal, and not torture).

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been a vocal proponent of strong interrogations; the President has been an opponent. Why then, in the name of disclosure, won’t the President declassify the results of those interrogations and rebut Mr. Cheney’s assertions that such methods are effective?

An administration’s refusal to release a full picture lends credence to Abe Greenwald’s criticism of the majority’s ability to selectively filter information:

“George W. Bush’s critics spent eight years feverishly accusing the administration of crimes. They had it easy because there was no serious burden of proof. But the prospect of an actual investigation means they can no longer play fast and loose with the facts… . The charges have to jibe with reality, for a change.”

With half the story still locked up, it’s hard to do anything but guess if the charges do, in fact, jibe with reality.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: 1925 – 2008

April 24, 2009

In appreciative, if belated, memory of Mr. Right, William F. Buckley, Jr., for his commentary, writing, and personal example. It was my pleasure to meet him once, briefly, which meeting I took note of much more than he. But we’ve spoken since in his articles and books, and he’s almost always right.