Saturday, June 20, 2009

Conservative Incoherence at Virginia's Righty Blogs - UPDATED

I am still new at dealing with the Conservative blogs in Virginia, having spent my still young blogging career mostly immersed in Democratic primary battles. But my experience the last few weeks seeing the give and take between the Progressive and Conservative sides of the blogosphere has been illuminating.

For one thing, it has helped me better understand the crisis that seems to have overtaken the Republican Party and the Conservative movement. At one time, I thought this crisis was simply the result of the failed competence of the Bush presidency, but I am beginning to understand that the crisis, much like the failed Bush administration that precipitated it, results more from the intellectual incoherence of Republican policies than it does from incompetent implementation.

Take the recent contretemps over a post at Bearing Drift this past week by J.R. Hoeft stating that Congressman Tom Perriello “cast the deciding vote” to bring Guantanamo detainees to Virginia.

In truth, Rep. Perriello did nothing of the sort. He voted against an amendment that would have prohibited allocating funds to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The amendment was defeated by one vote, but it was less than clear whether any one Congressperson was “the” deciding vote. And as Rep. Perriello made clear, his vote was based on his moral, ethical, and religious principles, not arm-twisting or following the leadership.

But leave all that aside for the time being.

Because the post focused on “bringing detainees to Virginia,” Mr. Hoeft was clearly advancing an argument that Virginians should be afraid having the detainees in our midst because our prison system could not guarantee holding them securely, either because of lax security or a legal system that would defy all logic and reason by releasing them into society. Indeed, this has been the undercurrent of the whole “closing Guantanamo means bringing terrorists to America” argument, of which I assume Mr. Hoeft is aware.

Lest there be any mistake, Bearing Drift commenter Jessica Pruesser explained:
Several of the commenters here are missing the point about Gitmo. It is not just that they will be brought here, it is that when they are brought here they will be granted the rights of American citizens (which they are not) and then let go by some judge to roam around our streets and start new terrorist cells, because you know dang well that the fed will not be making sure they get sent back to wherever they came from. Which btw none of them want, because those people actually DO torture them.

There is, of course, a legitimate debate to be had about whether to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Unfortunately, this is not it. This is just silliness and fear mongering.

So, I wrote a post calling the Bearing Drift post “patently absurd” and explaining my reasoning. Anonymous is a Woman, one of Virginia’s better bloggers, wrote a stronger critique, attacking the implicit assumption in the Bearing Drift argument that America’s prison guards could not adequately guard the terrorists.

That put Mr. Hoeft and some other righty bloggers in high dungeon, channeling their best Capt. Renault -- they were shocked, shocked I tell you, to be accused of fear mongering. It was, on the one hand, kind of amusing watching them cast about when confronted with the logical implications of their own unserious arguments, and my first instinct was just to sit back and watch them flop around helplessly like a fish landed on the deck of a boat, angry, defiant and without any defense whatsoever, save their anger and defiance.

But, ultimately, the sheer disingenuousness of it got to me, and so I am responding.

Here is the comment Mr. Hoeft, the author of the post at Bearing Drift that started it all, left at AIAW’s blog:
This has nothing to do with prison guards or their ability to keep us safe.
It has everything to do with wasting taxpayer money when we have a perfectly good facility at GITMO already doing the job.
It has everything to do with creating unnecessary demands on our local populations when we have to move the prisoner to the courthouse.
It has everything to do with granting U.S. rights to people sworn to undermine the U.S. system of governance and law and order.
It has everything to do with putting these prisoners in general population, allowing them to sew their seeds of hatred amongst U.S. inmates.
It has everything to do with the POTENTIAL of making the area surrounding the prison a target for outside terrorist groups and extremists.

Now we’re talking. Here are some serious arguments. Lets take a look at them, shall we?

Does this have anything to do with prison guards?
I never said it did. I’ll leave Karen to deal with that. My sense of her post, though, was that she was trying to make a point about the absurdity of Mr. Hoeft’s argument more than anything else.

Is GITMO a perfectly good facility?
That depends on what Mr. Hoeft means by “perfectly good.” If all he means is that it is serving its function as a warehouse for human beings to be securely maintained as prisoners, I’d agree.

But Guantanamo Bay has become an unfortunate symbol of an American justice system gone awry, one in which many innocent people, apparently including minors, have been imprisoned for years without any legal rights or review whatsoever. Prisoners have been tortured and abused there, as well. Forget whether or not this makes Guantanamo a recruiting tool for our enemies, there is simply no doubt that the prison, as a symbol, is clearly corrosive to our credibility and moral authority in the world, and is therefore impairing our international power and influence over the behavior of other nations.

But even if you disagree with that assessment, you must acknowledge that the perception I describe is a reality, and that as a result Guantanamo Bay cannot be characterized as “a perfectly good facility.”

Will unnecessary demands be placed on local populations when moving prisoners to courthouses?
Perhaps, but I’d disagree those demands are “unnecessary.” People are inconvenienced all the time in the name of ensuring Constitutional rights for despised minorities. This, more than anything else, makes America a great country, and it is a source of strength for us.

Also, the pragmatic aspects of this can be minimized in any number of ways, for example, by housing prisoners on military bases or at prisons that are not near population centers. In short, Mr. Hoeft’s argument that this would place unnecessary demands on local populations hinges on his assumption that authorities would implement this policy in the stupidest, most inconvenient way possible. Mr. Hoeft, apparently, is under the impression that George Bush is still President.

Will granting “U.S. rights” (whatever they are – I presume Mr. Hoeft means certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution) to people sworn to undermine the U.S. system of law and governance create some unstated difficulty?
I have no direct response to this “argument.” I don’t profess to be a Constitutional expert, but is Mr. Hoeft seriously suggesting that obsequiousness to the U.S. system of justice and government is a criteria for entitlement to Constitutional rights? If he is, and if it turns out he is right, he’s got me, and he wins the argument!

Will putting prisoners in the general population radicalize our homegrown criminals?
Personally, I suspect that the terrorists would have more to fear from being placed in the general population than we have to fear from the risk of them radicalizing American prisoners -- I’d imagine in the jailhouse pecking order that al Queda terrorists would rank somewhere below child rapists, -- but whatever, if this is a real concern, the detainees can easily be housed outside the general population.

Will the area outside the U.S. prison where detainees are held become a terrorist target?
Maybe, but all that will mean is that when given the opportunity to strike, terrorists would simply strike there rather than someplace else. There are already plenty of targets in Virginia.

Look, here’s the problem for Mr. Hoeft and his fellow travelers on this issue: When we seriously debate the merits of closing down Guantanamo, we quickly reach an impasse and it comes down to a judgment call. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on my judgment or Mr. Hoeft’s judgment to resolve this issue. In America, we have elections to decide who will make the necessary judgments on questions like this, and we have, as a nation, elected Barack Obama as the President of the United States. And he has decided.

Which brings us full circle to Mr. Hoeft and his Republican cohorts resort to silly scare arguments rather than actual arguments on the merits, which they will lose. His position, as reflected in his initial and most revealing post on the matter, is not so much a brief against closing the prison as it is a wailing rage of frustration at the election of Barack Obama and the electoral losses of the Republican Party.

That explains why arguments advanced by an otherwise obviously intelligent individual like Mr. Hoeft are so draped in purported outrage, and so lacking in coherence.

UPDATE: Check out Drew's first rate research on this at his excellent blog, DemBones. As it turns out, all the fear-mongering had been specifically resolved in legislation passed a few days before the Guantanamo amendment that specifically prohibited the release of Detainees on U.S. soil, rendering the hysterics of the righty blogs even more disingenuous.


  1. I agree with everything you say except the deciding vote part. His vote could have changed the outcome- thus is was a deciding vote. Yes, others could have done the same thing, but the point is he had an option to decide the outcome, and decided it the way he did. (Which I agree with btw)


  2. Completely agree with you. In fact, maybe some bloggy conservatives will rethink their stance about Gitmo since you've pointed out that placing those prisoners in the general US prison population would probably eliminate them fairly quickly!

  3. Thank you, Aznew, for your very logical and well written deconstruction of Jim Hoeft's argument. Since my own post, I have noticed that the conservative defenders of Mr. Hoeft have backtracked and tried to make this about other issues, such as the Constitutional rights and the legal status of the prisoners, as well as about the costs to close Gitmo and relocate the prisoners. All those and other arguments they have since put forward are actually perfectly legitimate points for discussion. Those points are not demogoguing the issue.

    But Mr. Hoeft's original post - and I went back and reread it carefully to give him the benefit of the doubt - was simply an assertion that Tom Perriello cast a deciding vote to bring terrorists to Virginia.

    As other progressive bloggers have pointed out, nowhere in the bill or the amendment was Virginia ever mentioned. Nor is there any way to ascertain that Tom Perriello cast a deciding vote. His was one of many Democratic votes.

    It pains me to insult Mr. Hoeft, who actually was one of the more intelligent conservative bloggers in Virginia, and who, until now, was my friend. But his headline and his post were disengenuous to say the least. Actually, the headline and post that started this were dishonest in their claim. They also were sensationalistic and designed specifically to discredit a Democrat who is in the GOP's crosshairs.

    It's no secret that Tom's seat is considered one of the most vulnerable in 2012. So this was all about GOP talking points and following them blindly until caught and dressed down for it.

    As for the issue of guards, that came out of my personal experience as a relative of a prison guard. The GOP talking points have been implying that the Gitmo prisoners are so dangerous that no prison could hold them, no guard could contain them, and our judges are so hapless that they would release these prisoners into the general U.S. population. I find all those propositions insulting to the U.S. law enforcement community. I still stand by those words and my post in response to Jim Hoeft's original post.

    All the conservative bloggers' arguments, which came after the original BD post, are simply scurrying to put forth a more legitimate argument because their original attempts to discredit the Democrats by distortion and fear mongering blew up in their faces.