John McCain

John McCain's Lessons About Torture

The senator was wrong about plenty, but not about the immorality of inflicting cruelty on prostrate detainees.


Oh well. ||| John McCain's twitter feed
John McCain's twitter feed

As laid out in this snippet of a Friday-night tweetstorm, there aren't a lot of libertarian-friendly policy recommendations or achievements one can associate with the late John McCain. He was for lowering tariffs, reforming entitlements, and, well, the list peters out pretty quick from there (although I did my level best with a September 2008 "Libertarian Case for McCain").

On the other side of the ledger lies his disregard for constitutional liberties, his distrust of individualism, his open hostility toward "libertarian orthodoxy," and arguably the most interventionist foreign policy of any post-Cold War politician. You know the drill.

But there is one issue where McCain was active with which I wholeheartedly agree with him: torture. As I write in today's New York Times, the P.O.W. turned senator spent more than a half-century trying to teach Americans that torture is both immoral and unproductive, that "every man has a breaking point," and that military personnel derive a motivational pride from America having higher moral standards than its debased adversaries. Excerpt:

That lesson is fading from view in 2018, disregarded both by a president who believes that torture "absolutely works," and by a #resistance cadre of ex-national security officials whose own brazen lies about the practice have yet to put a noticeable dent in either book sales or cable-TV contracts.

When Osama bin Laden "finally met the fate he deserved, the apologists for torture appeared in numbers on cable news shows and in the newspapers claiming bin Laden wouldn't have been found without intelligence gained through the use of EITs" — enhanced interrogation techniques, Mr. McCain snarls in "The Restless Wave." "In truth, most of the C.I.A.'s claims that abusive interrogations of detainees had produced vital leads to help locate Bin Laden were exaggerated, misleading, and in some cases, complete bullshit."

Whole thing here.

McCain's example demonstrated that you need not choose a side between Team #MAGA and the Deep State #Resistance Grifters. What will get mostly lost in this week's outpouring of D.C. grief is that the McCain/establishmentarian Third Way is itself not the only path out of our rancid political thicket. After all, McCain's old antagonist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is plenty anti-torture and pro-trade, too.

If anything, as long as those high-minded, centrist-sounding political-class lamentations about bipartisan civility this week come unencumbered by even a hint of critical self-examination, they will almost surely repel swaths not just of Trump voters, but Americans of all stripes who haven't exactly fallen back in love with the establishment. As I wrote in a piece about the shrinking tent of McCainite conservatism back in May,

[I]t's hard to escape the conclusion that McCain and his Republican cohort—Sen. Bob Corker, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsay Graham—helped midwife the conservative politics they now so clearly loathe. The twin follies of promiscuous war and unbridled GOP growth of government, lashed to sporadic and transparently insincere nods toward populism, has turned a generation of voters against the Republican establishment. It remains to be seen if the rejection will be permanent.

My obit of McCain here.