As I said earlier today
, I don't think I can remember a more shameful spectacle in the United States Congress, in my living memory, than the comments today
of James Inhofe
, the junior senator from Oklahoma. Clearly, it is part of the RNC talking points now to shift the brunt of the media storm from the abuses themselves to the political storm they've created. But no one that I saw at least rose more naturally to the effort than this man. No one else's heart seemed so matched to the deed, with his snarls at "humanitarian do-gooders" (i.e., the Red Cross) trying to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
America's greatest moments in the last century came when she tempered power with right and toughened, or sharpened, the edges of right with power -- World War II, then the post-war settlement that framed the Cold War are the clearest, though certainly not the only, examples.
But here you have Jim Inhofe lumbering out of his cave and on to the stage, arguing that we can do whatever we want because we're America
. Inhofe's America is one that is glutted on pretension, cut free from all its moral ballast, and hungry to sit atop a world run only by violence. Lady Liberty gets left with fifty bucks, a sneer, a black eye, and the room to herself for the couple hours left before check out.
Yet there was a much brighter side to these hearings on Tuesday. For all the dishonor Inhofe brought on them, I was struck by how much of this is being carried by Republicans -- in particular, John McCain, John Warner
and, perhaps most strikingly, Lindsey Graham
Graham has become some mix of the star and the conscience of these proceedings because of his specialized knowledge
as an Air Force JAG and his ability to see that this goes beyond partisan politics, threatening as it does not only America's honor, but (in a way someone like Inhofe could probably never understand) also her power.
Graham got it exactly right today when he said
: "When you are the good guys, you've got to act like the good guys."
Another way to put this might be to say that being the good guys is about what you do
, not who you are
. That's a truth that the architects of this war, in subtler but I suspect more damaging ways, frequently failed to understand.