James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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John McCain, torture MIA

Posted by James McPherson on April 17, 2009

John McCain’s campaign manager told fellow Republicans today that conservatives should support gay marriage, and that the party had been co-opted by the Religious Right. McCain himself recently insulted Sarah Palin, his own vice presidential choice, on national television.

No wonder his boss had trouble winning over conservatives, and these incidents remind me that I once was a McCain fan. Then I became so disgusted with McCain’s presidential campaign, which seemed to be mostly a series of  desperate “Hail Mary” passes that sent him lurching farther and farther to the right, that frankly I recently wished I’d never have to hear from him again.

And yet, today I do. A day after the Obama administration released proof that the Bush administration had indeed endorsed torture–and at the same time announced that it would not punish the torturers–I want to hear the views of torture victim John McCain on this issue.

Does McCain agree with Rush Limbaugh that torture, at least to the extent we know so far was done by Americans (my bet is there will be more and worse to report) was justified, and that a worse crime was in fact Obama’s release of the torture memos?

“My God, we’ve just shown our enemies what we do! We’ve just given away the effective elements of our techniques here,” said Limbaugh. “What he’s done now is, if we’re hit again, he owns it.  If we’re hit again, President Obama owns it.”

Limbaugh also implied that even McCain supported his view–even if the former torture victim himself might not be smart enough to know it: “The idea that torture doesn’t work, that’s been put out from John McCain on down.  McCain for the longest time said torture didn’t work, and then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by the North Vietnamese, so what are we to think here?”

That’s a good question, actually. Once we thought we knew the answer, as demonstrated by the three clips below (I appreciate the part of the second when McCain had no way of knowingly that he was comparing the Bush administration to Pol Pot).

There is no issue on which McCain should have more credibility than that of torture. As he reminded us thousands of time during the campaign, he has seen it, felt it, and lives daily with its effects. So here’s my plea to McCain:

Senator, the presidential campaign left us as confused about where you stand as it seemed to leave you. So please–and God knows, I can’t imagine asking again–let us hear from you now, before the nutballs can froth at the mouth for another day.

If your resounding defeat has restored your principles and your soul, let us know, so we can all start the process of rebuilding your reputation. And if you remain tortured by an inability to recognize the American values you once heralded, please, again, just go away.

Next day update: ThinkProgress and Huffington Post demonstrate how Limbaugh distorted McCain’s words, and offer video of Limbaugh’s quotes. We’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update: In a headline that surely wasn’t accidental, the CNN Wire offers this: “Former CIA head slams Obama.” Get it? Head slams? The released memos show that slamming a suspect’s head against a wall was considered an appropriate means of interrogation. And we’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update #2: What I didn’t know, and can barely believe considering how his admitted cluelessness about technology may have hurt him in the campaign, is that John McCain is now on Twitter.

If McCain really writing and sending the tweets (and I have doubts), that means there’s even less excuse for his silence about the torture memos. The most recent tweet, as of now, from 23 hours ago: “Chavez’s book–best cure for insomnia!!” Yes, with two exclamation points. Cute, but of course irrelevant.

Monday update: We now know that the CIA waterboarded suspects–in one case, apparently 183 times–and that the agency lied about it. You might want to check out this “tortured history” of the practice from NPR.

In the meantime, four minutes ago John McCain Twittered, “Turn on FOX News now! – Joe Lieberman and I are doing an interview with Jane Skinner.” He remains silent on the latest torture revelations, however. Maybe Skinner will ask him about it.

Tuesday update: Americans are split on torture, meaning they don’t know what to think, while paragon of evil Dick Cheney–who for most of us didn’t have any credibility even before he started his years-old campaign of lying about the Iraq War that would make him richer–continues to spew garbage. We seem to be hearing more from him now than when he was in office.

So, could McCain help? Maybe a little, if people listened closely enough. He finally did speak yesterday to Fox–somewhat contradicting himself with his own statement (basically saying, “Torture is bad; talking about torture is bad) and refusing to clarify it later. But clearly did say that the fact that America has tortured prisoners has helped our enemies, serving “as a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” Thanks, John.

Wednesday update: Today we find that Condi Rice and probably Dick Cheney approved the waterboarding. I wrote more than a month ago that Cheney should be tortured; now it appears that Rice should be, too. We’ve probably had presidential administrations that were as inept as the Bush people, but I wonder if we’ve ever had a group that was as evil.

7 Responses to “John McCain, torture MIA”

  1. Luis Lopez said

    Jim-

    I, too, for a time was a fan of John McCain. I said to many people during the course of the 2008 election, that if McCain was the McCain of the year 2000, and he did not choose Sarah Palin as his running mate, I would have maybe considered voting him. Just maybe.

    It would be a plain shame if McCain continued to advocate for the far right wing of the Republican Party just so that he can be “hip.”

    As you said Jim, there is no other person than McCain who can clearly speak on issues of torture. Will he eventually wise up and realize that he can be moral arbiter? Or, will he choose to lurk in the shadows and be silent on the issue? Only time will tell.

    Oh, and by the way, stop taking Rush Limbaugh so seriously. Anyone who equivocates torture with slapping oneself should be roundly ignored post haste. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/17/rush-limbaugh-begins-slap_n_188388.html

  2. James McPherson said

    Thanks, Luis. And I’d love to be able to stop taking Rush seriously–if only there weren’t so many people who listen to and apparently believe him. Of course more than one in 10 Americans apparently still think Obama is a Muslim, so perhaps we should just assume that we’ll probably always have to try to ignore that pitiful segment of the population–or at least as long as they remain both relatively calm and capable of feeding themselves.

  3. It’s interesting that James McPherson condemns Rush Limbaugh for supporting the Bush aministration’s use of water-boarding– when McPherson himself endorses and praises the Lincoln administration, which arbitrarily seized people and literally exploded them like water-balloons in order to conquer the sovereign states, and bury the facts of their national sovereignty under victor-written history– much of it written by McPherson himself. Methinks the man is simply jealous that Rush is the better shill.

  4. James McPherson said

    Brian, in a hurried web search, I notice that there’s a Brian McCandliss who regularly contributes a somewhat distorted view of history to History Channel discussions and various right-wing websites, and one who is reported by a former date as being a sexual freak, but I don’t assume you’re either of those guys.

    Likewise, I’m not the James M. McPherson who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, the James A. McPherson who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer, or the James B. McPherson who was the highest-ranking officer killed in the Civil War. I am a bit jealous of James M. and James A., though definitely not of Limbaugh.

  5. “I am a bit jealous of James M., though definitely not of Limbaugh.”

    It’s also interesting that you’re jeaous of one shill, but not another who’s far more successful– and the point stands that your jealousy tells that you supported the Lincoln administration.

    However it tells much that you’re into defamatory personal attacks– likewise I’ve never distorted history, though doubtless it might seem that way to those who cling to myth against proven fact.

  6. James McPherson said

    “your jealousy tells that you supported the Lincoln administration”

    Actually I was a child in the 1960s, not around in the 1860s, and consider Lincoln’s record to be mixed, at best.

    “…you’re into defamatory personal attacks…”

    Whom have I defamed, pray tell? Not you, as I know nothing about you other than that you’re apparently a bit presumptive and somewhat careless with facts and research.

  7. [...] Sadly, considering his legacy, we can’t even be sure whether McCain is for trusting the military or not, or how he feels about torture. [...]

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