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I’m not particularly impressed with the recent debates in YouTube format hosted by CNN. The cable network’s management of the process has involved too many serious errors in judgment for that to go unnoticed. But in the end it’s the candidates’ responses which mark the low point. Even so, these debates have their moments, and I find on occasion there are passages that are truly inspirational. Last night, John McCain’s response to a question about waterboarding was just that. He found the right pitch and the right moral voice on the question, and his words lifted the debate up for a few minutes on what continues to emerge, just as John McCain says, as the defining issue in the 2008 campaign. This is the not-to-be-missed exchange from the debate.
The moral clarity and vision of McCain’s answer was perfectly balanced by the bankruptcy of Romney’s. In the end, the former Massachusetts governor ducks by saying that he would turn to his ultimate guru for guidance: Cofer Black, the Vice Chair of Blackwater USA. Mr. Black is known for his bravado, including a pledge to the White House that he would send them Osama bin Laden’s head in a box packed with dry ice. But of course it was Mr. Black who failed in efforts to catch bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders as they disappeared into the caves and ravines of Tora Bora. He moved from that high accomplishment to Blackwater, which is now engulfed in a series of scandals reflecting questionable management practices. Moreover, CIA officers complain that Black’s move to Blackwater entailed the privatization of vital national security relationships for personal profit, another hallmark of abuse in the Bush Administration.
McCain is turning for guidance to American military tradition and ethics. Romey on the other hand draws on Hollywood cartoons and adventurists. It’s quite a difference. And at the moment, it looks like the Republican base will take Chuck Norris over George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower any day.
Among the other candidates in the Republican field, Huckabee is clearly in the process of transforming his position on the torture question. He’s drawing closer to John McCain’s view with each passing debate. I’ll go out on a limb and say we’ll soon see three Republican candidates taking a clear-cut anti-torture position: John McCain, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Not coincidentally, the first two are the Republican candidates who consistently draw the most support from the active-duty military. Huckabee is clearly intent on pitching more effectively to the same community.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly’s Gifts in Anchorage, Alaska:
An Alaskan brown bear was reported to have scratched its face with barnacled rocks, making it the first bear seen using tools since 1972, when a Svalbardian polar bear is alleged to have clubbed a seal in the head with a block of ice.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”