Every four years, during the election cycles, the term ‘exceptionalism’ re-enters our cultural lexicon. Rick Perry recently stated that we currently have tenants in the White House who do not believe in this American exceptionalism. “American exceptionalism is the product of unlimited freedom,” he recently quipped. Mitt Romney is going around saying that we have a president who doesn’t believe America is a nation better than any other and that we should conduct foreign policy “with American strength.”
But what kind of strength is Romney talking about? On Nov. 12, during a GOP foreign policy debate, the issue of torture came up. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain both said they would support waterboarding, while saying that it does not constitute torture, and Rick Perry seemed to be leaning in that direction as well. Due to Romney not getting an opportunity to speak on the topic during the debate, his senior aide had to say on Twitter that Romney does not believe it is torture.
The only two candidates that came out completely against this form of torture were Ron Paul and Jon Hunstman, who, unlike Romney, specified what he thought American strength meant. On torture, he said, “we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for.”
It is a question of whether the means or the end is more important. The Republicans seem to believe that the means are irrelevant if we succeed in the end. But if we truly want America to be exceptional, in our minds, and in those of the international community, we must not engage in morally reprehensible acts, including torture.
Those who said they would favor these “enhanced forms of interrogation” would have you believe that waterboarding certainly is not torture, which is exactly what it has been classified as since the time of the Spanish Inquisition. John McCain, an authority figure on the issue of torture, said on Twitter that “waterboarding is torture,” and also that he was “very disappointed by the statements at S.C. GOP debate” regarding waterboarding.
Michele Bachmann received some humorous backlash after she said that waterboarding is not torture since she is in no way an authority figure on the issue. In a Des Moines interview she mentioned that she thinks waterboarding is merely “uncomfortable,” but isn’t torturous at all. Her rationale seems to be that since waterboarding does not kill anyone, it’s merely uncomfortable.
She was then asked if she would submit herself to waterboarding to see what it actually feels like. Of course, she thinks that would be ridiculous. She, somewhat presumptuously, said that “it would be absurd to have the president of the United States submit themselves to waterboarding.” Perhaps Bachmann can turn her attention to what former Gov. Jesse Ventura has said about waterboarding, who, along with McCain, is knowledgeable in this subject. He said, “it’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning.” He went on to say that he could get anyone to confess to any crime with a little bit of waterboarding, even if that person were innocent.
Waterboarding is torture and unethical. Republicans at the GOP foreign policy debate displayed an incredible level of hubris, declaring their intent to undermine the exceptionalism they love to preach. Exceptionalism does not mean America waterboards everyone in our way, but rather that we exhibit strong moral values and standards that our leaders should possess.