Kristof On McCain

by hilzoy

Nicholas Kristof is a smart guy. So why on earth did he write this?

"Consider torture. There was nary a vote in the Republican primary to be gained by opposing the waterboarding of swarthy Muslim men accused of terrorism. But Mr. McCain led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture, even though it cost him donations, votes and endorsements.

Even more than his time as a prisoner in Hanoi, that marked Mr. McCain’s most heroic moment. He risked his political career to protect Muslim terror suspects who constitute the most despised and voiceless people in America."

As Kristof notes later, it's only four days since McCain voted against a bill that would have prohibited any agency of the US government from using waterboarding or any other techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual. McCain says that while he thinks it is "incontestable that waterboarding is outlawed by the Military Commissions Act, and it was the clear intent of Congress to prohibit the practice", he doesn't want to ban the CIA from using all the interrogation techniques prohibited by the Army Filed Manual. Here I agree with Marty Lederman:

"If Senator McCain believes that there are particular "enhanced" techniques that are not in the Field Manual, but that are also not torture or cruel treatment, and wishes to allow the CIA to use them, he should identify what they are, and offer legislation that would authorize those, and those only, techniques, in addition to those listed in the Field Manual. Otherwise, despite all his worthy efforts in this area, Senator McCain is now facilitating the CIA's use of techniques that are unlawful, including some that are torture even by Senator McCain's own lights."

Nicholas Kristof thinks it's great that McCain is no good at pandering. Personally, I don't see why: not being good at a bad thing is no guarantee of being good at any good thing. I suppose Kristof thinks that McCain is so bad at pandering because his principles keep getting in the way. But I don't see much evidence of that. (Quite the contrary.) John McCain acts on principle some of the time. I'm glad: intermittent attacks of conscience are better than none at all. But I'm not prepared to call McCain "principled" absent some evidence that he acts on his principles consistently. Until I see that evidence, I'm sticking with my view that while McCain isn't much good at pandering, he's no great shakes at being principled either.

(Cross-posted to Obsidian Wings)