Thursday, February 14, 2008

Washington drift

Yesterday’s senate vote on the Intelligence Authorizaion bill, which would make the Army Field Manual the standard for interrogations for intelligence organizations — essentially banning torture by any U.S. personnel, produced some interesting results.

To its credit, the senate passed the bill, 51-45. Naturally Bush will veto the bill because he doesn’t want torture to be outlawed.

What was interesting was how the presidential candidates handled the issue. Ex-maverick John McCain, he of the famous anti-torture amendment, voted against the measure to sure up his conservative bona fides and show The Base that he shares their craven bloodlust.

Meanwhile, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama cast a vote on this measure. This is what they call “drifting toward the center,” a time-honored practice of trying to attract the votes of moderates, fence sitters and maybe even some supporters of the other party. Both candidates apparently want to avoid looking soft on terrorism. For Clinton, this is another in a series of actions that she’s had to mold talking points to explain away—the first being her vote in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, the next being her September vote in favor of a resolution designating part of Iran’s military as a terrorist organization.

Clinton might argue that she didn’t vote because she is in Texas fighting to save her foundering campaign, but that hardly justifies missing votes on issues as important as torture being carried out by the United States government and immunity for companies acting as accomplices in warrantless spying on American citizens being carried out by the United States government.

For his part, Obama voted in favor of stripping immunity language out of the FISA bill, but he didn’t participate in the torture vote. And, like Clinton, he can’t cite the importance of the Wisconsin primary as a reason for skipping his day job, especially when an issue as significant as torture is on the table. Sure Bush is going to veto the bill, asshole that he is. However, if Obama is really looking past Clinton to McCain, he had a golden opportunity to distinguish himself from the likely GOP nominee. But instead of distinguishing himself from McCain, it appears that Obama was looking to siphon some voters from McCain by not casting a vote that could be make him look weak on terror — an issue that McCain supporters perceive as one of their man’s strengths.

That’s the thing about candidates who take a firm stand squarely in the middle: It’s hard to distinguish one from the other.

If there’s a vote to override the veto, let’s hope that Obama and Clinton show up and do their jobs. And it would be nice if McCain stopped the pandering and voted to override as well. It would be nice to see a little action behind their rhetoric.

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