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Stress Positions 

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Conservative gloaters love to see liberals wring their hands over the Democratic Party’s failure to learn the game of one-upmanship.

Many liberals, meanwhile, are only too happy to oblige. Just read their editorials about the legacy of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, or about how the Democratic Party powerful—if such people still exist, that is—should read more political strategy “playbooks” by Mario Cuomo. Far be it from anyone to discourage the open exploration for new ideas in a political party that desperately needs them. But amid all the Republican power-plays of sowing fear and division, liberals have forgotten the old-fashioned strategy of making a point.

Right now, we can take our pick. We have a president hell-bent on bringing Western-style democracy to a Middle East country with little in the way of past traditions to support any such form of government. Yet this same president turns a blind eye to Vladimir Putin’s elimination of provincial gubernatorial and parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation, of which he was elected president. “Vladimir Putin and I have got a good personal relationship,” Bush boasts.

Despite the dismissal of four executives and Dan Rather’s decision to step down as CBS Evening News anchor, conservatives continue the battle cry against that network for its ill-considered story about President Bush’s military record. You can bet there will be no such outcry over conservative commentator Armstrong Williams’ accepting $240,000 in taxpayers’ money—let’s repeat that again, $240,000 in taxpayers’ money—from the Department of Education to tout the glories of No Child Left Behind. It’s not enough that the Republicans control every arm of government as of late. Uh-uh. Their next target is buying off the press because, apparently, the old-fashioned strategy of making a good argument is lost on them as well. What’s the price of changing your mind, dear reader?

But of all the ethical gimcrackery and cul-de-sacs set forth by this administration, none is more laughable or troubling than its pathetic attempt to distance itself from torture and what one commentator called “The Iraqi Horror Picture Show” of Abu Ghraib. Remember Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s righteous indignation at Arab news stations that dared broadcast interviews of captured American POWs during the early days of the Iraq invasion? “The Geneva Convention indicates that it’s not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war,” Rumsfeld huffed in March 2003.

But when Abu Ghraib photographs surfaced showing naked Iraqi prisoners piled into a pyramid or, worse, forced to masturbate in front of their U.S. captors, Rumsfeld, unlike certain CBS executives, gets to keep his job. As for the Geneva Convention itself, screw that. President Bush condemned the abuses of Abu Ghraib, even as he nominated White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who called the Convention “quaint” and “obsolete,” to the office of Attorney General.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and our nation’s military services never liked Gonzales’ legal handiwork. They reasoned that if we as a civilized nation can pull those kinds of stunts, just imagine what will happen to our soldiers when they’re captured. It’s a scary thought, but only if you’re a liberal hand-wringer with a point to make.

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