Winning through political theatre

So the Senate has now passed the detainee treatment bill that will essentially let the president do whatever he wants to anyone at anytime for any reason. Via Andrew Sullivan we have these photographs and description of waterboarding, the most infamous method of torture known to have been used by the US government in the “war on terror.” While there was 10 hours of debate over the legislation, including this speech by Senator Clinton, in the end it passed with a very wide margin of 65-34, most likely due to the fears of Democrats too spineless to stand up for anything due to fears that it would allow them to be portrayed as soft on terror.

How did this pass? Why was there so little public outrage over practices such as waterboarding in the first place?

I personally believe that this is because so few people really understand what these torturous practices look like. Even images graphically depicting the reality of waterboarding, such as the those linked to above have rarely, if ever, appeared in newspapers or on television in the US over the course of this debate.

Hillary Clinton may have made a decent speech about treating prisoners humanely, but it was too little and too late.This is why I think the only way for the Democrats to defeat the administrations torture plans once and for all would be to hold their own demonstration.What she (or some other opponent of government approved torture) should have done is this:

volunteer to be waterboarded on national television. Hold a press conference in a place of appropriate sentimental value. Someplace like the Vietnam memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, or the Holocaust Musem. She does not tell reporters in advance about the stunt, keeping the waterboard behind a curtain for the opening of the speech. Then after an introduction, pulls the cloth back, revealing the object in all its horrific glory (ideally, it should be one actually used to torture in the past, perhaps by the Khymer Rouge, borrowed from a museum). She then introduces the board, explains its history, and repeats the point that this is the same practice that the US has admitted to engaging in. There is a mild stir among the press corp, who are thinking that she has already reached the climax of her presentation and that it was a good try but not enough to swing the issue.

She then announces that there is now going to be a live demonstration of how exactly it works. The audience is quite surprised at this announcement, a murmering going through the crowd-but a shocked silence falls a moment later as the Senator herself lays down on the board and waits to be strapped in by the former CIA employees that have been recruited for this gruesome display.

“The [senator] is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the [senator]’s face and water is poured over [her]. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.”

The cellophane is torn off quickly, and her pained gasping for air is clearly audible. The former-CIA interogator lets loose the straps and helps her rise. Too weak to do so unassisted, she unsteadily stands, tears still running down her face, as she gripsthe man’s arm.

Having completed the demonstration, she makes a brief statement challenging the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, or any other member of the administration to submit to the same act, and is then rushed to the waiting ambulance for a medical exam without taking questions.

6 thoughts on “Winning through political theatre”

  1. I’m afraid that having a liberal, democrat or Clinton do it would be too much like grandstanding, and their suffering would be dismissed as playacting or wimpishness by the “hang ’em high” crew. No, we need some just-dumb-enough-liberals-are-wimps-lgf-freak to take the dare, and the torturer has to be a heartless bastard who won’t stop until the “volunteer” breaks.

    I’ll do it.

  2. I’m afraid this falls afoul of the core problem in American politics: people are too blinded by ideology to give anyone on the other side of the aisle the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rationality.

    I mean, you have already made up your mind about Hillary and would love to see this, as would the rest of your half of America. Curzon has already made up his mind about Hillary and would think she was “friggin’ nuts,” as would the rest of his half of America.

    Unfortunately, people have fallen so deeply into the dichotomy that it’s going to take a dredging crew to get them out.

  3. Joe: let’s face it, ideology or not, you have to have your speech written by a professional drafter and double checked by 18 political consultants before its read if you want to get elected in this country, so you don’t say a set of words that affect the civil rights/abortion/gun/teachers/plumbers/teamsters/taxpayers/animal lovers/whatever interest group — because if you do offend them, they’ll concentrate all their resources on defeating you, and they will.

    Witness Governor Jim Florio of NJ. He raised taxes — unpopular — and outlawed assault weapons — popular — and was then defeated by just 1% in the election when an absurdly-well funded “Concerned Taxpayer” group ran more ads in the campaign than either Florio or Whitman, his opponent, combined. Turns out this taxpayer group was funded by the NRA. Because that’s what interest groups do in US politics. Even if you attack an issue in which the public agrees with you, they can still target you using stealth methods.

    This stunt would orient a hundred interest groups against it, regardless of who did it — so-called “family” groups, decency in media groups, etc. And that’s just the half of it — more importantly, the average American would not be convinced by the weight of the demonstration — the demonstrator would look crazy. It would be dismissed as a stunt, no matter how revolting it was. People would say, “yeah, but they’re TERRORISTS.” That’s the center of the issue, not the actual method being used.

  4. ideology or not, you have to have your speech written by a professional drafter and double checked by 18 political consultants before its read if you want to get elected in this country

    Conventional wisdom, with which I disagree. The sterility of political speech these days is why people don’t listen to it. And you place way too much weight on isolated statements: interest groups are still far more interested in general policy positions than they are in maintaining the perfection of politicians’ speech.

    People would say, “yeah, but they’re TERRORISTS.” That’s the center of the issue, not the actual method being used.

    Um, that’s the center of the issue for the people on Bush’s side. The actual methods are the center of the issue for the people on the other side.

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