Tearing up the social contract, piece by piece

Thanks to Cheney, kids now grow up thinking that torture is a "controversy" rather than plain wrong


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March 5, 2010 6:06PM (UTC)

The other day I wrote about having that sick feeling in my stomach over the latest attack on the social contract with respect to the unemployment benefits extension. I think we always find these attacks startling and somewhat paralyzing when they happen because they go against our instinctive belief in a certain national moral consensus. They are radical propositions that seem so outrageous that we can't believe we have to argue the point until it's too late.

I used the issue of torture as a previous assault on the social contract and I think it's been born out that as a nation we no longer believe in an absolute prohibition on torture. You'll recall that at one time President Bush very scrupulously insisted "the United States doesn't torture," an odd turn of phrase which was later adopted by President Obama as well. Aside from the legal exposure, I think it was the old tribute vice pays to virtue in that they at least paid lip service to the idea that torture was wrong (even if they winked and nodded to the bloodthirsty sadists while they did it.) Today what we hear are full-throated defenses of torture. They've successfully defined this deviancy down.

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Get ready for another one, which takes a slightly different approach although not one which is unprecedented:


As Glenn Greenwald says:

This new ad -- from Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol's group "Keep America Safe" -- might truly be the most repellent and vile political ad of the last decade.

It's another example of the patented "I know you are but what am I" routine which the Republicans have perfected over the years. This one is obviously designed to create some equivalency in the minds of citizens between the heinous torture advocates John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington etc., and defense lawyers who, by definition, very often defend guilty clients. Indeed, it's a cornerstone of our judicial system. I assume the right-wing radio talkers will spin the idea that these defense lawyers are terrorist sympathizers hard and before long, we'll have full fledged debates about whether or not they should be disbarred. At that point, most Americans will tune out and say "they're all scum" and that will be that.

But the larger point is that this kind of argument, however cynically designed to cover Dick Cheney's historical legacy, results in the same ripping of the social contract as the torture "controversy." Over time a fair number of people begin to believe that something we were all taught in grade school as an absolute -- a constitutional right to counsel -- is controversial. And another piece of our consensus about what the constitution means will have been destroyed (by some very creepy authoritarians, I might add).

And the greatest irony of all this is that for decades one of the most famous screeching critics of what they used to call moral relativism was none other than Lynne Cheney. Shamelessness and hypocrisy don't even begin to explain it.


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