Watching the waning days of a troubled presidency is like being at a movie that you can’t stand to keep watching but you can’t leave the theater, either. In the last week President Bush has said some truly head-scratching things — like his quizzical response to a reporter’s question about the rising price of gasoline; the president had not apparently heard what every commentator has been saying for a while, that we’re likely to see $4-a-gallon gas this summer. Here is the exact transcript of this part of his February 28 news conference:
QUESTION: What’s your advice to the average American who is hurting now — facing the prospect of $4 a gallon gasoline, a lot of people facing…
BUSH: Wait a minute. What did you just say? You’re predicting $4 a gallon gas?
QUESTION: A number of analysts are predicting $4 a gallon gasoline this spring when they reformulate.
BUSH: That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that.
Yesterday, in the face of the news of the worst unemployment report in five years, the president was more forthcoming than usual in admitting the economy is in trouble, but he continues to assert that his tax stimulus plan will make everything better. It’s really hard to see how a tax rebate of even $1200 will help unemployed parents with housing and food and transportation needs of their families in these increasingly worrisome economic times. The theory is that consumers will go spend these rebates on consumer stuff; but who needs a big screen TV when you have no rec room because your home is foreclosed, and you can’t drive your car to Circuit City because of the price of gas?
But while seeming a bit foggy on the economy, today President Bush showed that he is clear as crystal when it comes to accepting torture as official U.S. policy: today he vetoed legislation that would have outlawed the interrogation practice called waterboarding — a form of torture. His position is that the C.I.A. cannot be limited in its ability to extract the truth from suspects. Congress said there must be moral limits on what this nation will do to human beings even in the name of national defense.
Fogginess clouds the administration’s rhetoric around waterboarding akin to the fog around $4 gasoline, but with far more serious consequences. The president’s statement says that Congress is trying to interfere with the ability of the C.I.A. to detain and question suspected terrorists; that’s not quite right.
“Detain and question” is not the issue. Torture is the issue. No other word is accurate; no other explanation is moral. Americans must insist that torture must never again be part of the official security strategy of this nation.