This latest "torture" flap concerning Judge Michael Mukasey's attorney-general nomination raises an important question. Why do Republicans always let liberals co-opt the moral high ground and back them into a corner where their only escape is to prove they are as "compassionate" as liberals?
If Republicans are serious about reestablishing themselves as the dominant party, they should recapture their moral courage and start defending principles they claim to believe in.
The Republicans' timidity shows up on a wide array of issues, from Social Security to torture, where they're on the defensive and apologetic, and they allow the liberals' revisionist "facts" to become "conventional wisdom."
Republicans should have owned the Social Security issue. President Bush is the only political leader in modern history to take on the "third rail of politics" after years of both parties warning about its imminent insolvency.
Instead, Democrats stole the narrative as quickly as you can say "demagogue" and scared seniors into believing Bush was trying to destroy the system.
It's been even worse with the tax issue. Never mind that Bush's tax cuts were skewed slightly in favor of lower- and middle-income earners and that following the cuts, the top 1 percent of income earners pay more than 39 percent of federal income taxes, the top 5 percent pay 60 percent and the top half pay 97 percent. Never mind that the cuts stimulated economic growth, increased federal revenues and greatly reduced the deficit. The conventional wisdom is nevertheless that the cuts were only for the wealthy and are bankrupting the government.
Ditto for environmental issues. Republicans are competing shamelessly for inclusion in the "Inconvenient Truth Club," dutifully reciting the passwords, "man-made global warming is destroying Mother Earth."
Forget that much of the so-called science is highly debatable, that the data it relies on is sometimes fraudulent and that "consensus" is an unscientific way to establish scientific theories. What apparently matters to these green-with-envy Republicans is that the compassion train does not leave them at the station.
But the most recent example of Republican fecklessness is the torture issue. Here, Republicans should seize the moral high ground and put Democrats on the defensive.
We are, after all, at war. We ought to be focused on how to win the war and fortify our national security. But Democrats can't shake their obsession with finding fault with how we are conducting this war and how cruel we are allegedly being to the enemy.
They painted a few instances of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib as systematic torture at the hands of the Bush administration, though they were unauthorized and against administration policy. The mainstream media repeated the Democratic narrative so passionately and so often that it has become "conventional wisdom," as well.
Why didn't Republicans indignantly challenge the assertion that underwear on enemy heads at the hands of renegade soldiers constituted torture -- authorized by the administration, no less? Words matter, especially in a war for "hearts and minds." Were Republicans that fuzzy about the definition of "torture"? Or were they afraid to risk being depicted as defenders of torture -- even though, in the process, they allowed their entire party to be saddled with that baggage?
How about Guantanamo prison? With some admirable exceptions, Republicans have permitted Democrats to adopt the al-Qaeda spin that we routinely abuse prisoners there. Even when the truth emerged that al-Qaeda was playing the Democrats and the mainstream media for "useful idiots" in their propaganda push against the prison, Republicans allowed Democrats to escape accountability for their distortions. Sadly, even President Bush has assured us he wants to close down Gitmo. Why are Republicans afraid of fighting back with the truth, which happens to be on their side?
Now Democrats are threatening not to confirm attorney-general nominee Mukasey over waterboarding and are castigating him for refusing to concede it is torture when that is far from clear and he shouldn't be taking a position on it anyway.
Where are the courageous Republicans to shame Democrats for carrying al-Qaeda's water? They could point out that it is probably not torture and that it has rarely been used, and that when it has been used, it has actually worked and perhaps saved lives, contrary to liberal propaganda that it hasn't.
With all of these war-related issues, from terrorist surveillance to Gitmo to tough interrogation techniques, Republicans could do a much better job demonstrating that Democrats are on the wrong side -- literally -- and are doing far more to harm our national image with their lies against the administration than they claim Bush is doing with his policies.
Republicans would have more success convincing voters of the "rightness" of their policies if they started acting like they believe in them themselves.