Even I — quintessentially cynical when it comes to politics and politicians — was shocked (shocked!) by the ease with which the Democratic talking heads and their blogger auxiliary took up the defense of Nancy Pelosi. Her obvious culpability in the unfolding story of how torture was legitimized in the eyes of seemingly reasonable people is such a challenge to supposedly anti-torture Democrats that one’s response to it represents a veritable litmus test of one’s honesty, integrity, and ideological consistency. It’s sad, but true, that not many alleged progressives with a public platform are earning a passing grade.
As might be expected, the worst is MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann, who used to be a reasonable person — long ago and far away — but has, since the election, turned into the worst sort of party-lining hack and all-around hatchet-man, a kind of Bizarro World version of Sean Hannity. He led on Friday with the news of Pelosi’s growing vulnerability on this issue, repeating all of her talking points, which were no more convincing coming out of his mouth than they were coming out of hers. Indeed, Pelosi, after accusing the CIA of "misleading" Congress, i.e., lying to her, backtracked, but not Olbermann. He tried to get frequent guest Jonathan Turley, a noted legal expert, to agree with his pro-Pelosi spin, but Turley wasn’t biting: he pointed out that even if what Pelosi is now saying is true — that she didn’t know anybody had been waterboarded, that this was going to be a future scenario — there is no record that she had any objections. She avers it was her job just to be notified, but, as Turley says, the point of notification is to act.
The speaker of the House is in an increasingly tenuous position. Nothing less than her credibility is at stake. To have Leon Panetta directly contradict her, by issuing a statement declaring that the CIA briefed her "truthfully" and appending to that a general statement addressed to CIA agents who might have been demoralized, even angered, by Pelosi’s charges, is a real slap in the face.
One amusing side aspect of all this is gauging the reaction from Democratic Party loyalists. Speaking of which, we hear not a peep from the bloggers over at the Huffington Post. Arianna herself is too busy calling for the legalization of drugs to bother with such mundane matters as whether prominent figures in both parties went along with the Bush administration’s torture agenda, and her Hollywood-celebrity fellow airheads are similarly preoccupied with such pressing matters as the evil of Dick Cheney. Yet no drug ever invented is going to anesthetize them and their partisan comrades against the pain they’ll experience if they continue to press on the torture issue, as it becomes increasingly clear that no one in D.C. is going to emerge from this with clean hands.
That isn’t stopping them from pushing back, however. And what a truly pathetic sight it is! HuffPuffer Sam Stein’s "coverage" of the Pelosi brouhaha is titled "Bush Critics Frustrated as Torture Debate Shifts to Pelosi." Therein, a gaggle of anonymous Democratic strategists the author met at Hollywood cocktail parties bemoans the fact that the speaker is receiving any scrutiny at all. This is "changing the subject."
But what is the subject, anyway? Isn’t it finding out how the freest country on earth began taking lessons from the KGB, the North Koreans, and the Gestapo on how to extract information from recalcitrant prisoners? If so, then the complicity of our most powerful politicians — and the failure of the "oversight process," as they call it — is an integral part of the story.
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.