27 February 2006

swarthmore republicans then and now

at the gym this morning, i finally finished the last few pages of jane mayer's article on alberto mora, who was until very recently the general counsel of the united states navy. here is a man who served as a political appointee under several republicans and is a staunch conservative, but who nevertheless understood that bush administration directives for guantanamo (and detainee centers in iraq) amounted to a license to torture and were consequently (a) illegal and (b) wrong.

mora's memoranda, the most thoroughgoing of which the new yorker has posted here, narrate chronologically the instances of abuses at guantanamo and argue, according to mayer's account, "that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse."

none of this is surprising to me. this isn't the most ground-breaking of mora's stories for the new yorker on iraq, on torture, on any of the war on terror bullshit. what i suppose made the article stand out was the extent to which mora acted with both courage and naivete. it is somehow less surprising that the son of a refugee hungarian and a refugee cuban would become a conservative with a distaste for government abuses than that this particular conservative believed that by authoring memos and confronting his bosses, he could change the way this administration conducted its affairs. in most senses, though--despite his position--he was simply a rock in a river. they sent memos around him. they double-tracked the torture discussions. so on and so forth and, again, none of it should be surprising.

but then this: "Mora had never met anyone who opposed the Vietnam War until he enrolled at Swarthmore College, a school that he chose after reading an S.A.T.-preparation booklet that described it as small and especially rigorous. He also had never met a feminist before going to hear Kate Millett speak at Bryn Mawr, during his freshman year; her talk infuriated him. After growing up in the South among friends who played sports, drank beer, and had a good time, he found the Northeastern liberal √©lite curiously “nerdish.” The girls had thrown away their skirts—if they’d ever had them, he joked—and there were no parties. Yet he loved the intellectual environment. “You just had these intense discussions,” he recalled. “I revelled in it.” Mora said that he was the only person among his friends who wasn’t a conscientious objector to the war."

AHA! a conservative who went to school with quakers!

but what would the college republicans of the current era do with mora, i wondered. by the time i left swarthmore, about thirty years after mora graduated in 1974, the republicans there had decided that they were embattled and/or otherwise disadvantaged. they *were* a tiny minority on a vocally lefty campus. but i was appalled by the way that only the wingnuttiest of them gave voice. i was appalled by their largely (though not entirely) self-imposed social isolation, by their weird, inflammatory rhetoric, and most of all by their anti-anti-war, anti-anti-bush cant. i often doubted, given the dailyjoltification of their public speech, whether any would have the courage to make friends with the lefties.

perhaps that is neither here nor there. what i'm getting at, i suppose, is just my wish for a conservatism less wedded to party lines. or at least, less wedded to this party and its lines (and hooks and sinkers). i will continue to disagree with them and find many of their ideas morally implausible, but i can at least speak with (well, write coherently about) a mora, or a chuck hagel, or a john mccain. indeed, many of the most conservative people i know, in the sense of being wedded to the fundamental propriety of individual action for social betterment, are now ex-republicans. but the swarthmore republicans of 2002 and 2003? i bet none of them will be "ex" any time soon -- like most supporters of this administration, they're too wedded to their triumphalist culture war (on "terror" and gays and the women of south dakota, for example) to question individual policies or individual people.

the end of the mora story? he left the pentagon and is now working for wal-mart international. so, i guess he's batting about .500 on ethical intelligence.

last thing: did you know that john conyers has called for impeachment proceedings? yeah, i didn't either, until i read the overstated but well-argued impeachment polemic in this month's harper's. the report on which conyers' request is based is 182 pages, 1022 footnotes, all public record.