Republicans Must Be Held Accountable

Republicans Are BratsJonathan Bernstein wrote a really interesting article earlier this week, If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First. His argument is that the Republican foreign policy establishment has never been able to repair itself because the Republican Party has never be required to come to terms with the fact that it was taken over by ideologues during the Bush years. As a result, the ideologues have never been purged from the party. To this day, cable news is filled with stories about what Dick Cheney thinks about the situation in Syria. But it isn’t just him and other media celebrities. Throughout the Republican foreign policy “establishment,” the ideologues are still in control.

And this brings us to the torture issue. It’s funny that everywhere you look, people condemn the idea of allowing bad actors from going without punishment. But when Obama decided that no one in the Bush administration would be held accountable for their torture program, everyone in the mainstream press was on board. We had to look forward not back. But there are a number of problems here. First, just from a political standpoint, does anyone doubt that if the positions were reversed that the Republicans would just “look forward not back”? These are people who impeached a president for lying about an extramarital affair! The only time they’ve decided to “look forward not back” was when Ford pardoned Nixon—one of their own.

But on a much more fundamental level, Obama’s forward looking policy didn’t actually allow us to move forward. The county did a bad thing. And all Obama’s policy did was sweep it under the rug. What we needed was some kind of truth and reconciliation committee. We still need it! Bernstein’s idea is that we pardon everyone so we can get at the truth. That way, no one has to worry about going to jail at the same time that the country can admit error and move on. But of course, that will never happen. It would put pressure on places like UC Berkeley to fire terrible people like John Yoo. And it would require that the Republican Party look in the mirror. That might have happened in 2009, but it ain’t happening now.

As a result of this, what we get from the Republicans on international affairs is the same thing we get on domestic affairs: knee jerk opposition to everything that the Democrats want to do. Of course, in the case of Syria, I think they happen to be right and I’ll accept any ally for any issue, regardless of how screwed up their thinking is. But this was a case when they shouldn’t have been on my side and there is no doubt that if the president were a Republican, they would have been all for it.

I think this all goes a good deal deeper than Bernstein suggests. If the Bush administration had been held accountable for its torture policies, I think it would have removed much of the support for all of their policies. Republicans would have been forced to rethink everything. That doesn’t mean that they would have become liberals, but they might, for example, have supported their very own healthcare reform idea. They might have accepted that it was a good idea even if the Democrats supported it.

American governance is like a dysfunctional family. Everyone knows that something is really wrong with the Republican Party, but we keep pretending that it is just the loyal opposition. If they say that their own healthcare law is socialism, well that must be a reasonable opinion. If they want to cut off food stamps for the poor and give even more money to millionaire farmers, that must be a reasonable position. If they want to force the government to default on its debt, that’s just a reasonable political ploy, even if no one has ever used it before.

As long as the Republicans are not held to account for what they’ve done, they will continue to act badly.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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