Matthew Yglesias's Bravura Takedown

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The takedown is a form proudly used by all pundits. (See Jon Stewart on Keith Olbermann, Joe Klein on Bill O'Reilly, John Carney on Matt Taibbi.) But this art is most highly practiced among bloggers, who spar to sharpen their rhetorical skills, boost their egos, and occasionally accomplish something more.

If takedowns are a craft, then liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias's assault on former Bush speecherwriter Marc Thiessen is one of the most skilfully executed in years. In the midst of a long back-and-forth over Bush-era waterboarding practices, in which the two debate whether it is equivalent to torture techniques of the Spanish Inquisition, Yglesias has enough of Thiessen:

I suppose the natural question to ask, though, is why these kind of comparisons to the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge and the Korean War-era People’s Liberal Army seem to bother torture advocates so much. The basic point made by torture advocates (when they’re not quibbling about whether or not you should call techniques poached from a torture resistance manual “torture”) is that the problem with liberals is that we’re not sufficiently willing to engage in brutal treatment of prisoners in order to compel their cooperation. But do you know who really didn’t shy away from brutal treatment of prisoners? The Spanish Inquisition! The Khmer Rouge! These are people who knew how to get the job done and it strikes me as deeply hypocritical of torture fans to turn around and get all squeamish and liberal when they hear that the inquisitors added a garrote or two into the torturing fun. The core element of the water torture is the same, even though different iterations of it are conducted in somewhat different ways—that’s the point of the Inquisition comparison.

I’m the kind of weak-kneed liberal who thinks that the government of a free people neither must nor should seek security through torture, so I’ll concede that I’m not nearly as well-versed in the precise ins-and-outs of different ways of torturing as a sicko like Thiessen is. But what’s the point. If torture in the name of a good cause is as awesome as Thiessen says it is, then why is it such a point of pride to try to maintain that what he advocates isn’t quite as brutal as what was done in the Inquisition? Could it be that somewhere lurking beneath the defensiveness, the partisanship, the blinkered worldview, and the immorality is a little nub of a conscience?

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