I’ve already blogged about one example of moral relativity from the Right … an ideology that condemns all moral relativity as repugnant, but which engages in it nonetheless. There is another example of this hypocritical phenomenon, however, which is playing out not in the world of beauty pageants, but in Washington DC.

The issue is “harsh interrogation” (aka “torture,” “waterboarding,” “enhanced interrogation,” whatever you choose to call it; I’ll refer to it hereafter as simply “torture”). Democrats (rank and file) and the Left generally have complained for years against the Bush 43 administration’s use of torture. The Right, however, staunchly refused to concede there could have been anything wrong with it … in spite of the fact that public distaste for it may well have played a role in Democratic electoral victories last year. Unable to admit the possibility of error, even out of office, Rightists like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are trumpeting how successful their torture program was. Cheney, for example, declared that his administration’s use of torture had saved “perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives” (see this AFP story).

The Right has also begun claiming that the former administration’s use of torture was actually morally acceptable, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — among other Democrats in Washington — had been briefed on it at the time, as long ago as 2002 or 2003. This story has been all over the Right-wing news outlets, such as Drudge Report, Fox News, etc. (Here’s a sample Wall Street Journal story on it by none other than Karl Rove.)

The Right’s position appears to be that Democrats in Congress were told about the torture, but said nothing, which makes it morally acceptable. In other words, the administration’s opposition consented, so it was OK to torture.

This is a specious argument, however, and exhibits shades of moral relativity. That one’s opponents do nothing to stop one from doing something immoral, does not somehow make it moral; it just means that something immoral was done without interference. The real moral issue here is not whether Congressional Democrats consented to the use of torture. It is, instead, whether or not it’s moral to torture people. That Democrats may or may not have known about it, does not make it moral. This matter is, in fact, quite irrelevant. This notion reduces morality to a matter of consent between opposing parties.

This is a gross violation of the Right’s underlying philosophical assumption that morals are always absolute and non-negotiable in all cases. Quite the contrary to this “absolute” philosophy, they have decided that the morality of torture is negotiable, in spite of this.

This, of course, makes them hypocrites — brazenly and obviously violating their own claimed principles in order to justify their own actions. Nice, huh?

One last consideration: The idea that Pelosi, or any other Democrat, could have raised Cain over the torture, had they been upset about it after having been briefed on it, is invalid by itself. CIA briefings are frequently confidential; those briefed cannot disclose the information gained. For her to have shared this information with others, then rallied others against it, would have violated that confidentiality. Congressional Democrats’ ability to do anything about the torture was extremely limited. In many ways, they could not “consent” to it, since their legal power to approve or disapprove of the administration’s actions, was almost non-existent.

The bottom line here is that the Right has engaged in a practice that may or may not have been morally acceptable … but rather than justify it morally, based on the principles of morality itself, they’re claiming it was acceptable because their opponents didn’t stop them. That position, all by itself, is morally repugnant. The Right, once again, is as hypocritical as it could be. (Not that this is unexpected.)

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