Something to Cheer About at the Democratic Convention

I’ve been trying to ignore the political soap opera going on. I don’t much care for it, or American Idol or any of ’em. But this morning my inbox was full of friends gushing about Obama’s performance last night. One asked, “Am I the only big baby who cried through all of Obama’s acceptance speech?” Others assured her she was not. One added: “Does anyone else find Biden completely adorable?”

Makes me feel like I’m hooked up to the Stepford Wives chat room by mistake.

But I remembered that last time this circus was in town I took a little time to see whether the U.S. torture policy was considered remarkable by the participants. It was not. You wouldn’t find the word “torture” by searching John Kerry’s campaign site, and you wouldn’t find any mention of it in the prime-time convention speeches, and Kerry didn’t think to bring up the subject when he had a chance to debate Dubya. This, though the Abu Ghraib photos were still fresh in the news. What I concluded at the time:

How is it that in America, after the shame of Abu Ghraib and the many legal memos that set the stage for it, the person challenging the Dungeonmaster-in-Chief doesn’t feel like it’s worthwhile to say “I don’t need a team of lawyers to tell me whether or not torture is wrong — in my administration, America will have a zero tolerance policy toward torture, no ifs, ands or buts”?

Kerry’d say it even if he didn’t mean it, if he thought it was a position he could use to distinguish himself from Bush and that would get him votes. Clearly, his team has determined that as an issue, it’s a loser. To distinguish himself from Bush as the one less likely to countenance torture just isn’t going to help him at the polls. Which tells me that there’s a frighteningly large chunk of the electorate that’s told themselves “so, the United States is having people tortured, eh? I guess I can live with that.”

I’m happy to report that things are a little different this time around. Yesterday I searched some of the transcripts of the convention speeches to see if anything had changed. Torture now has at least a bit part in the play, though no role in the star’s own performance:

And I’m very proud to say that we reject torture.
Patricia Madrid (co-chair of the platform committee)
Barack Obama knows… that torture is not only morally repugnant, it’s militarily ineffective. It doesn’t work. It puts our troops at risk. It endangers our national security.
Claudia Kennedy (former Army general)
…What about the assault on science and the defense of torture?… My fellow Democrats, America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will do better than that.
Bill Clinton
In less than a decade we have gone from being perceived as the beacon for democracy and justice all over the globe, to a country whose government has little respect for even the most basic tenets of human rights. We know that’s not us. We’re better than that.
Tom Daschle
After they abandoned the principle first laid down by Gen. George Washington, when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, ‘shame, disgrace and ruin’ to our nation, it’s time for a change.
Al Gore
President Obama and Vice President Biden will shut down Guantánamo, respect the Constitution, and make clear once and for all, the United States of America does not torture, not now, not ever.
even John Kerry

It would be a mistake to look at this campaign rhetoric and to decide that the Democratic Party or these individual politicians in it had a change of heart and decided to oppose torture. This is all just carefully-crafted campaign rhetoric and there’s no reason to expect honest revelations of any sort to come directly out of it. But, going back to my analysis of torture’s complete absence from the last campaign — that it went to show that Democratic strategists didn’t think the voters they were trying to reach gave a good goddamn whether America was torturing people or not — I think this time around the strategists have changed their minds about that, and that’s encouraging.