It’s been more than a little disturbing to see the conservative reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture released yesterday.
There was a time within recent memory when the right wing’s argument was “what we do is not torture”. Clearly, THAT argument has now flown the coop. Now, the argument seems to be “I don’t care” with shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code. And among the other things that the right wing doesn’t care about is the behavior of the CIA. Officials in the CIA lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.
But here’s what really got me. The people on the right who “don’t care” about their government’s torture — or worse, those on the right who embrace and defend it — are the same people who deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant. Just what kind of libertarianism is going on here?The right wing will cry and deride “big government tyranny” when a subpoena is served on a rancher who is violating federal law, but when their guy is in power, it is high praise for the Dear Leader’s administration who commits war crimes.
I suppose you could dismiss this logical inconsistency as conventional partisanship (“cognitive dissonance”). But there has to be something more at stake. The incongruence is simply too stark. What it is, I think, is identity politics. For conservative populism, the real issue isn’t what big government is doing, it’s who’s running big government. Specifically, big government — defense of torture, domestic surveillance, support for cop brutality — is perfectly fine if “real Americans” are at the helm. The right wing seems obsessed with “real Americans” (how many times has Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann used that phrase), and a lot of their hot button issues (immigration, voting suppression, etc.) seems directed in a various blatant manner at what they consider to be non-real-Americans.
So the inconsistency lies in identity. And identity is inextricably tied to race (and to a lesser extent, gender). So, to paraphrase a Billmon tweet, right wing politics is now essentially indistinguishable from white heterosexual male panic — but with liberals as “enemy within.”
Historically, we’ve seen this mindset before. In the country, pre-Civil War.
And in the 1930s. In Germany. Hitler and company derided big government. Until they came into power. Then the identity politics became clear.