In general, I am averse to litmus tests in politics. I am generally inclined towards an expansive view of both the first and second amendments, but I have been known to vote for supporters of campaign finance reform and of gun control. I think Roe v. Wade was a poorly thought-out decision and that abortion rights more generally are not very coherently grounded, but I have been known to vote for pro-choice as well as pro-life candidates. I think the pledge is foolish as a matter of policy and has become somewhat counterproductive as a matter of politics. I consider myself to be a member (in some fashion) of the “pro-Israel community” but I’ve been known to vote for candidates who are less “solid” on Israel against candidates who are more “solid” if the totality of circumstances warrant it. At some level, I don’t believe in voting on issues at all; what matters most about a candidate – certainly for executive office, but to some extent also for the legislature – is how that person will handle circumstances that cannot be predicted in advance; that is to say, what matters most is character.
But I am slowly – perhaps too slowly – coming to the conclusion that the question of legalizing torture is an exception. I laid out my opposition to the last legislative effort to legalize torture here and my position has, if anything, hardened since that time. This is partly a matter of the degree to which legalizing torture feels like a profound betrayal of founding principles, and the degree to which this feels like a matter of national honor. It is substantially due to the fact that I don’t believe the genie is quite out of the bottle; there has been little action legislatively to enshrine torture as acceptable under American law, and what has been done by the executive has all been the work of a single administration. And, no doubt, my views have been shaped in part by the example of Andrew Sullivan, with whom I disagree about numerous matters and whose judgement I basically trust not at all, but who has done the Republic a singular service by refusing to shut up about this topic and, indeed, changing his political stripes because of this issue more than any other (and yes, that includes same-sex marriage).
I am always pleased to see fellow self-identified conservatives repudiating the case for torture, but I’m afraid in my own assessment what is required at this point is more than sorrow. At this point in time, I find it hard to see how I could support a candidate for national office who I believe would acquiesce in, much less seek, efforts to legalize the use of torture by organs of the United States government. I am sorry to say that, as a registered Republican, this narrows the field considerably.