Fighting for what's Right?
We've been talking about VP nominee Sarah Palin's convention speech here. But we haven't said much about the part of Palin's speech that bothered me most -- more than her dismissive reference to the responsibilities of a community organizer; more than her distortions regarding Obama's tax plan; more than her mischaracterization of her leadership on the "Bridge to Nowhere" proposal; more than her half-truths about having "stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies..."; more than her nonspecific (and perhaps unconvincing) promise of advocacy for the handicapped; more, even, than the fact that words like "haberdasher" and "nuclear" were spelled out phonetically in the prepared transcript, presumably so that she would not mispronounce them... The part that bothered me most was the predictable Democrats-are-soft-on-defense attack. Here's what Palin said about "the Democratic nominee for president" (per her prepared remarks):
Victory in Iraq is finally in sight... he wants to forfeit.
Terrorist states are seeking new-clear [sic] weapons without delay... he wants to meet them without preconditions.
Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?
It's that last line that really makes me wonder what, exactly, she's claiming, and what she's pledging. The intellectual dishonesty involved in conflating "actively plotting terrorists" and "anyone the U.S. might detain" is troubling, but not novel (see also sloganeering about "supporting the troops" and "loving America"). You don't energize the base -- any base -- with nuance. It's the values Palin (and, by extension, McCain) embraces in that statement, and the values she rejects, that truly alarm me. I haven't been able to identify what aspect of Obama's plans this line about "he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?" is meant to characterize -- can anyone point me toward what Obama has said on the subject? But Palin seems to be deriding the very notion of protecting human rights in national-defense situations. On its face, the statement suggests she doesn't think too highly of the Geneva Conventions. Is it also a pledge of continued support for torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques")?
Perhaps I'm being too sensitive -- but you know, I'd almost forgotten about the unpleasant issue of torture until the RNC brought it back to my attention. And sneering at concern for the basic rights of detainees seems a very odd posture to strike at a convention that placed so much emphasis on John McCain's history as a P.O.W. On Tuesday, Fred Thompson described, in excruciating (if not always accurate) detail, the torture McCain suffered during his years of imprisonment in Hanoi. He, and others, made sure we knew the pain McCain endured; they also made it plain that said torture didn't work. In fact, it strengthened McCain's love of his country, and his resolve to fight for what he believed. That's what they told us. In the darkness before John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we again heard Thompson's voice, declaring, "When you've lived in a box, your life is about keeping others from having to endure that box."
Which others? What, exactly, will a McCain/Palin administration be "about"? In his own speech on Thursday, McCain said, "I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do." In the past he's been more specific: the military should not torture. But what about now? Would a President McCain worry about detainees' rights? To cite another lesson McCain said he learned during his military service: "In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.