The other day I was perusing Nathan Newman's blog when I came across an entry entitled "Why the Liberal Focus on Torture?" that piqued my interest. The central argument of this post is that liberals are taking the easy way out by focusing on torture (which he calls a "simple, limited moral problem") rather than the more important issue of the war in Iraq. "The almost exclusive obsession with torture in the present [Alberto Gonzales] nomination fight," he says, "betrays a misguided set of moral priorities by liberals."
While I understand where Newman is coming from, I think his post actually betrays a misguided set of moral priorities across the entire political landscape. Why should opposing torture be a liberal value? Reasonable people may disagree on the war in Iraq, but torture is a different matter altogether. Like it or not, association with the Iraq war does not disqualify anyone from access to the levers of power in the Bush administration (in fact, it seems to be a prerequisite). The same is emphatically not true for torture—or at least it shouldn't be—and it is not merely a liberal position to argue that support for prisoner abuse does disqualify a candidate from becoming the Attorney General. Why the liberals, in Newman's opinion, should reject this common-cause issue in favor of one they're guaranteed to lose and in doing so reinforce the notion that they travel outside of the mainstream is beyond me.
In ending his post, Newman is so wrapped up in the politics of the confirmation hearings that it causes him to gloss over (unintentionally, I hope) the issue of torture:
If liberals don't continually concentrate on fighting over the core issue, like the justice of the war and its consequences such as mass civilian deaths, they won't win on subsidiary issues like torture.
Gail Davis had the good sense to take Newman to task for characterizing torture as a "subsidiary issue." She recognizes that it "is almost the last straw and symbolizes America's failure." This is a failure that all Americans can and should be alarmed about and, as such, it is nothing to turn into a political football.