A Logical Tilt-a-Whirl

Tilt-A-Whirl carnival ride
There are few things in politics so constant as the principle that Republicans are never, ever wrong. Even when they're proven wrong, they aren't wrong. The proof is just the result of a big conspiracy to make them look wrong, because Republican perfection is beyond question. If reality doesn't agree with a Republican argument, then reality is wrong. This is the case with Nancy Pelosi, the CIA, and what I've come to think of as the "secret scandal."

A few months ago, Speaker Pelosi said that the CIA hadn't been extremely honest in briefing congress on the Bush White House's program of "harsh interrogation techniques."

"The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002 in my capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee," she said in May. "I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed."

Of course, this was the worst thing anyone ever said in the long history of people saying stuff. "It's outrageous that a member of Congress should call a terror-fighter a liar," said Sen. Kit Bond, the Republican vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It seems the playbook is, blame terror-fighters. We ought to be supporting them." Imagine, someone accusing the CIA of dishonesty. That's really going out on a limb. What would Nancy Pelosi do next, accuse the Pentagon of being loose with money?

Despite Republican efforts to turn this into a big scandal for Nancy Pelosi, they failed to get Americans to believe that saying bad things about the agency was tantamount to treason. Among the federal agencies out there, the CIA probably ranks somewhere around the IRS in terms of popularity. Rushing to the agency's defense wasn't the surefire political winner they seemed to think it would be and the whole thing blew over -- the story lasted about a week, then everyone moved on and forgot about it. The news cycle rolled on and the "Nancy Pelosi hates the CIA and, therefore, America" story cycled out pretty quickly. The Republican strategy of complaining about everything failed, once again, to create a scandal out of thin air.

And then came the secret scandal. It turns out that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to keep a program from congress and they complied. I call this the secret scandal because we have no idea what the hell this program was, what was kept from congress, or what the program was supposed to accomplish. All we know is that members of congress say the CIA misled them about it -- i.e., they lied.

And this is where the big conspiracy comes in. You must always remember that Republicans are never wrong, so any explanation of why they may seem to have been wrong -- no matter how wild or inane -- must be credible. Nancy Pelosi's statement that the CIA lied to her is still the worst thing ever, so it must be that the CIA is lying now to cover for her. In an appearance on a Sunday morning talking head show, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein said that the program was probably illegal and that the CIA and the Bush administration were wrong to keep congress out of the loop on the matter. "We were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again," she said.

On the same show, however, John Cornyn had a different take.

[Associated Press:]

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he agreed with Feinstein that the CIA should keep Congress informed. But Cornyn said the new assertion "looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover" to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Pelosi has accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about its use of waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

Yes, that must be it. When CIA director Leon Panetta revealed the program to congress, he was trying to draw fire away from Pelosi. Never mind that the whole Pelosi-CIA story blew over about two months ago and no one's talking about it anymore, it's clear that the CIA is now lying to cover for her horrible, irresponsible statement that the CIA lied.

Now follow the reasoning here. Pelosi says the CIA lied to her about torture. The GOP climbs the walls, freaking out that she'd do that. Then the CIA says they lied to congress -- including Pelosi -- about something (remember, it's not clear what). Since the CIA is invariably honest and Republicans are never wrong, the CIA must be lying.

OK, so that's not exactly reasoning. But that seems to be the argument here, internal contradictions and all; the CIA is unfairly attacking the CIA, in an attempt to provide political cover to Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi needs that cover to protect her from criticism of her nearly-forgotten attack on the CIA.

Got a headache yet?

To make matters worse, there's no evidence that this whole secret scandal is about torture at all. More likely, it's about something like wiretaps or intercepting emails -- many wonder if it isn't about Dick Cheney's hit squad. Cornyn would know what it's about and he'd know whether or not it has anything to do with what Nancy Pelosi was talking about back in May. If it's not about torture, then Cornyn's argument gets even worse -- and, believe me, we'll find out what this is all about eventually. Investigative journalists aren't likely to just leave it at "undetermined program." Scandal sells papers and journalists need to sell papers right now.

But you're thinking that Cornyn isn't explicitly saying that the CIA is lying. That's true enough, but how does that make the argument any better? If he's not, then the argument is that the CIA has proved it lies in order to provide cover for Pelosi, who got into a "scandal" by saying the CIA lied. I'm sorry, but that doesn't make any sense either. That's not covering for her, that's vindicating her. Either way, this line of reasoning doesn't exactly qualify as a line of reasoning.

But the important thing is that Republicans are never wrong. Pelosi's statement, mostly forgotten as it was, is still the worst thing ever. And if Republicans have to turn logic on its head to keep that argument afloat, then on its head it goes.


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