Thursday, February 14, 2008

McCain, torture, and those people in the little room turning dials

As Kevin Drum aptly puts it:

It's one thing to be against torture in a primary debate where you're trying to appeal to independents and crossover voters, but it's quite another thing to be against torture after you've won the nomination and need to appease a conservative base that's righteously pissed off and not afraid to let you know it.

America's most famous ex-POW has switched sides on torture since last fall. Drum links the Straight Talker's change of heart with a Joe Klein story about watching one of Frank Luntz's real-time focus groups reacting to a McCain-Romney debate exchange on torture by turning the knob on individual response boxes to register their approval or disapproval as they watched the debate from a viewing room. McCain's insistence that the United States would not join the ranks of terror regimes (it was last fall, remember) virtually flat-lined the group's responses.

Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. "I don't have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

The image is pretty unsettling--it's as if the classic Milgram experiment were being used to select the GOP presidential candidate. At least the torture was only simulated in the Milgram experiment.

Speaking of the GOP and its love for the "what if you had one hour to stop terrorists from detonating an atomic bomb?" scenario: Joel Surnow has resigned as executive producer of "24," the weekly paean to frequent if ineffective resort to torture, government agents routinely trampling the law, and daily invocation of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment that he helped create.

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