Monday, February 27, 2006

Exploring Our Options

(This post originally appeared on January 10, 2005.)

Current discussions of the "Salvador option" seem to me like another example of the Right's ongoing demand for public approval of every crime and injustice it's ever perpetrated. From pseudoscientific apologies for racism by the likes of D'Souza and Thernstrom, to Ann Coulter's typically addled defense of Joe McCarthy, to all the commentators who recently pretended that Vietnam War protestors were some tiny lunatic fringe, to the repackaging of Oliver North as a legitimate policy analyst, the Right has for years been demanding new debates - on its own terms - on all its biggest failures. Every humiliation and insult the Right ever brought upon itself must apparently be recast as triumph in the public mind, while every act of flint-hearted evil is to be viewed as the respectable exercise of an "option."

The point of the "Salvador option" is that, legally speaking, it was never an option. On the contrary, it was an extremely serious crime. That's why it was kept secret from Congress, and from the public. That's also why, when I protested these actions at the time, I was accused of being a conspiracy theorist or a liar. Now, however, we're learning that the illegal and immoral things that were done in El Salvador comprise an "option": one mere thing amongst other things, all of which can and should be discussed dispassionately by civilized people.

This is one of the Right's favorite strategies: They select arguments that traditionally carry a risk of social sanction, and absolutely revel in discussing them publicly. The goal, I believe, is to overthrow social norms, and make it emotionally and socially easier for people to say things like:

"I'm not a racist, but..."

"I don't support torture, but..."

"I believe in freedom of speech, but..."

"Sure, slavery was bad, but..."

The Right is eager to promote conversations like these, because it understands that every time a person can be led to compromise basic moral principles - every time a person defends the indefensible, or justifies the unjustifiable - that person becomes weaker and more malleable. It's a funny thing, but once I've gotten you to discuss the possible merits of doing something evil, I'm more than halfway to convincing you that it's worth doing.

The proper response to discussions about the "Salvador option" isn't a debate on effectiveness or morality or constitutionality or possible blowback; the proper response is horror and outrage. If a man offers to buy your six-year-old daughter for the international sex trade, you're not going to haggle over the price; you're going to see to it that this predatory monster is stopped dead in his tracks. That's precisely the emotional response that's appropriate when right-wing ghouls take to the airwaves to defend torture and terrorism and racism; the situation calls not for debate - not even heated debate - but for deep-seated spiritual revulsion, and immediate and effective preventative action.

If we refuse to rise to that occasion as a nation - if we can't say "enough is enough," and cast these intolerably arrogant moral lepers back into the outer darkness where they belong - it seems to me that we're just as despicable and dangerous as they are.


Anonymous said...

This was worth reposting, as I also am tired of the Right's hypocrisy and moral debasement. Sometimes I think that the only thing that consoles my Republican relatives is the fact that "their team" is winning (elections, supposedly, though this open to debate). They don't see that they have been betrayed far more than any of us that never trusted these bastards in the first place.

I also have to say that I reject the notion that Democrats are blameless in this. I wouldn't call them complicit, except in the sense that they perpetuate a system that offers little choice other than Tweedledum and Tweedledee: when it comes to actual policy, they go along with the dominant flow (as in authorizing the Iraq war), or they build upon and extend the policies of a Republican predecessor (as Bill Clinton did when taking over from Bush 41 - see Robert Pollin's "Contours of Descent" for a very cogent discussion of this).

Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Kurt L.
Portland, OR

Phila said...


Thanks. I agree...they've managed to turn government into something more like a sports event. Pro wrestling, maybe?

As for rejecting the notion that Democrats are "blameless"...well, I'd go a step further and say that none of us is blameless. I'm as disgusted by the Democrats as anyone, but sometimes I worry that concentrating on their ineptitude or corruption is just a way of avoiding our own share of the blame. Because really, things never should've gotten to this point. Maybe some of us did all they could to stop these lunatics from seizing power. I know I didn't, though.