“But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures. And where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.” ~ Ross Douthat in his debut column for The New York Times
I enjoyed Ross’s column. It was good – much better than anything Kristol ever churned out for the Times, and better than most of what I’ve read from Brooks. I wonder about this paragraph however. The column was moving right along for me until I read, in regards to the torture debate: “Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its sense….”
So Ross wants prosecution off the table so that we can instead “learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus” … ? Isn’t that exactly what he warns against in the preceding sentence, when he claims that we’ve “heard too much to just ‘look forward'”? What is the difference between struggling toward consensus and just looking forward? In the end, what’s the difference between Douthat’s analysis and Peggy Noonan’s call to just keep walking, aside from rather more readable prose of the former?
Indeed we can learn, pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus all we like for all the good it will do this nation. We can pat each other on the back and dance and hold hands and make nice and it’s all essentially just looking forward. Without a truth commission, as Sullivan suggests, we can’t expect anything but consensus, and consensus – however appealing – is not the same thing as the truth. Learning is not knowing. Judgment is not justice.
There is a lot I agree with in this column. Cheney would have been a perfect candidate to torpedo the conservative movement – far better than the “feckless” John McCain. But where Ross swings and misses is his dismissal of torture critics as having left their senses simply by keeping the option of prosecution on the table.
Andre Trocme wrote, “All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rather they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.”
In the end, that’s all that Ross is doing with this piece – denying history, denying the need for justice, and replacing it with the inevitably hollow call for consensus. The rational, amicable nature of his piece is a welcome relief from much of the shrill denialism emenating from the right these days, but it is still a dodge, still a denial, still not enough.
Read Jim Manzi’s Noah Millman’s critique (damn these group blogs!!!) of other elements of Ross’s piece:
It seems to me that the way to defeat a faction is not to let it win so it can lose a general election but to defeat it in an intra-party contest. I supported McCain in the primaries (knowing I’d probably vote Obama in the general) in significant part because he was not the candidate of supply-side economics and stress positions. I saw the GOP seriously considering making support for torture a litmus test, and I thought: that’s got to be stopped. If McCain had represented some specific vision of the GOP future – if he hadn’t become a faction of one by that point – then a McCain primary victory would itself have proved that the Cheney faction was no longer dominant – would itself have represented a repudiation by the party of that tendency. Right? And that would have been good. Right?