Election update: The Torture Caucus

Less than two months ago, Congress approved the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which among other things made the Geneva Conventions prohibition against torture practically unenforceable, eliminated the idea of rape as torture, and denied habeas corpus rights to detainees held in U.S. prisons as “enemy combatants.” I consider this issue to be critically important in its own right as well as a symptom of much of the degradation of our political process over the last few decades, and especially under George W. Bush. So I decided to see how the Torture Caucus fared in last week’s elections.

I made a couple of spreadsheets and crunched a few numbers. Sixty-five senators voted for the act. Of those 65, 19 were up for re-election. Thirteen won their races. Thirty-four senators voted against it. Thirteen faced re-election, eight won.

Two-hundred and fifty-three members of the House voted for the act, of whom 207 were re-elected. (Not all of them stood for re-election, of course, and several House races remain undecided.) One-hundred and sixty-eight voted against, of whom all but nine were returned to office.

Victory smiled about equally on senators on either side of this issue — 68% of the aye-voters facing re-election were returned (including, most disappointingly, the despicable Joe Lieberman) and 61% of the nay-voters. It’s a different story in the House, where 82% of the ayes were returned compared to 95% of the nays. The MCA was just one of many issues in this campaign; it was probably unknown to most voters (and certainly to most swing voters, who tend to pay less attention to what’s going on). But it did help motivate the Democratic base, and if the election is seen as a referendum on W.’s way of running the country, the MCA is a prime example of how W. has been doing things for the last six years — and one of the first things that should be corrected.

Via Unfogged, it looks like Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who is set to become the new Judiciary Committee chairman, wants to “try and do something to reverse the damage” done by the MCA.

The new Senate will have 59 senators who voted for the act, 29 who voted against, and one who abstained. On the other hand, there will now be less than a majority in the House with a history of voting for the MCA. And both houses have some new blood, including my favorite new Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter (D-New Hampshire), who lists “Civil Liberties” first among the issues on her website, and writes, “We also must not give in to fear. . . . America must be vigilant, but not bullying, alert, but not fearful, careful, but not liberty-trampling.” (Link via Yglesias.)

Some number of those who voted for the MCA did so purely because they feared being attacked as weak or soft. Last week’s election has changed the rhetorical environment. For now, at least, it has become acceptable for “moderate” figures to call for a phased pullout from Iraq or a real investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses. If this continues, it’s possible that enough Torture Caucus Democrats could borrow a backbone long enough to pass Senator Leahy’s “reverse the damage” initiative. Not that Bush would sign such a thing, not as long as Dick “Brown Cloud” Cheney is around, anyway. But suddenly this week it at least seems possible to think that our democracy isn’t quite finished.

5 responses to “Election update: The Torture Caucus”

  1. Lisa Parrish says:

    It is indeed a new political dawn when Dave B offers up what is, for him, the wildly optimistic observation that “it at least seems possible to think that our democracy isn’t quite finished.” I’ve known Dave since the Clinton years, and lemme tell you, this is the equivalent of his dancing emotionally naked in the streets. Bust it open, Dave!

  2. WW says:

    Are you sure Carol Shea-Porter isn’t a Godfrey web creation? She’s just so…. good.

  3. Dave says:

    You’re right, Lisa, I got a little carried away there. Our democracy probably is finished, Carol Shea-Porter notwithstanding.

  4. Lisa Parrish says:

    Agh, when will I learn? You can’t point out a person’s emotional nakedness in public without them getting all embarrassed.

  5. Mark says:

    I hope you’re right about this Dave and they can do something to turn it around.