Here in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb that borders Chicago's West Side and is known for its progressive ways, there are Obama yard signs everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Oak Park has a healthy mix of racial groups (my high school was 60% white, 30% black) but Obama's support transcends those boundaries. This is not particularly unusual for Oak Park, but as was seen in the Illinois primary race, this was an unusually positive development for Illinois as a whole. Obama earned support from some of the collar counties of Chicago that traditionally would not vote for an African-American candidate. Obama has torn down those walls of prejudice and, I think, will win convincingly this November.
Obama is something special. He will quickly become a leader in the U.S. Senate and we will all be better off because of it.
A new Rasmussen poll in Illinois suggests that both the presidential race and the U.S. senate race may be closer than previously thought. I have my doubts that the race really is this close, considering that most other polls indicate a solid margin for Obama over Ryan and a stable lead for Kerry over Bush, but nevertheless, here are the results from "likely voters":
(MoE = 4.5%)
Kerry - 48% Bush - 43%
Obama - 48% Ryan - 40%
Previous polls in the senate race have shown Ryan getting pounded by the progressive Obama. Likewise, Illinois hasn't been targeted as a battleground state because it is seen as safe for Kerry. I suspect that this Rasmussen poll is an outlier, but I present it here anyway. Make what you will of it.
"For example, Justice Department officials recently announced that they were awarding $47 million to scores of local law enforcement agencies for the hiring of police officers. Mr. Bush had just proposed cutting the budget for the program, known as Community Oriented Policing Services, by 87 percent, to $97 million next year, from $756 million.
"The administration has been particularly energetic in publicizing health programs, even ones that had been scheduled for cuts or elimination.
"Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, announced recently that the administration was awarding $11.7 million in grants to help 30 states plan and provide coverage for people without health insurance. Mr. Bush had proposed ending the program in each of the last three years.
"The administration also announced recently that it was providing $11.6 million to the states so they could buy defibrillators to save the lives of heart attack victims. But Mr. Bush had proposed cutting the budget for such devices by 82 percent, to $2 million from $10.9 million."
So to recap: the Bush administration would like to cut funding for the hiring of police officers, for providing health insurance for those not covered, and for supplying defibrillators to states in order to save lives.
So that's what they mean by "Compassionate Conservativism."
I've stayed away from the prisoner abuse story out of Abu Ghraib largely because it has been talked about everywhere in such detail that I really have nothing to add. It certainly will have an important effect on the American effort in Iraq, but I believe it to be an isolated incident that does not represent the American military or American policy more generally.
But then we find out that some in the White House may believe that such behavior, or at least some similar treatment, may be warrented since the War on Terror is a "new kind of war." In a January 2002 memo by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to Bush, the president's top lawyer called for a drastic change in American prisoner treatment policy:
"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Troubling, no? The Geneva Convention has been rendered obsolete? This question of when to torture prisoners in order to get information that may save X amount of lives has been around forever. It's a moral question that often comes up in times of conflict and one that has consistently been answered with moderation - since 1949 with the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
"Gonzales' reasoning is appealing but misguided, I think. After all, every generation believes at one time or another that the enemies they face are so savage, so fundamentally different from any that have come before that old rules of conduct no longer apply. Every generation also turns out to be wrong. The reality is that the Taliban is not more dangerous than the Cold War Soviets, who in turn were not more dangerous than the Nazis. If we were willing to treat prisoners decently in those conflicts, why not now?
"The ability to "quickly obtain information" from captured prisoners has been a critical part of every war, but we nonetheless agreed half a century ago to place this under strict limits. This was not because we felt the wars of that era were unimportant, or because we deluded ourselves into believing that our enemies would always follow suit, but because we wanted to set a standard of simple human decency for ourselves and others.
We always think our enemy is the worst of all time, unlike none other, and therefore beyond the reach of the rules of past conflicts. Torture though, should never be a solution, no matter how dire the circumstances. It oftentimes doesn't even produce the desired results and is furthermore against American values.