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Daily Kos appears to be in a state of uproar once again to the tune of three recommended diaries, and a number of front-page stories.  By voicing their displeasure with the potential appointment of Leon Panetta, Senators Feinstein and Rockefeller have become, according to the headliners, Bush-enablers, pro-torture and anti-Constitution, and whiners.

At the risk of being obtuse, I'd thought I present a counter explanation, that seems, at least to me, to be rather compelling.  From day one of the transition, the Obama Administration has made every effort to build political capital for upcoming legislation battles.  We saw this most recently in the Rick Warren hubbub.  Other examples were Nancy Pelosi, the figurehead for liberalism on conservative talk radio, actively picking a media fight with the President-Elect, and the large number of Blue Dogs selected as potential appointments.

Even the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State spoke to the Administration moving towards inclusive political ground.  The way New York Senator was somehow able to turn herself from liberal punching bag to the working class candidate during the extended primary.

Which brings us to the topic du jour, torture.  It's hard to consensus on this issue, but most polls suggest that Americans are relatively strongly opposed to the use of torture:

CNN, 11/16/07:

Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.

Pew, 10/24/05

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?

Often  15%
Sometimes  31%
Rarely  17%
Never  32%
Don’t know/refused  5%

ACLU, 10/4/07

# End torture: "make it clear that the policy of the United States is to oppose torture and follow the Geneva Conventions" (Democrats 80 percent, Independents 87 percent, Republicans 74 percent)

The ACLU's agenda must be taken into account when interpreting their numbers.  But their statistics are particularly interesting, suggesting that there may be a division on this issue between voters (the people politicians care about) and non voters (the ones left behind).  Furthermore, I'm willing to believe that there is relatively strong public opposition to torture given that both Presidential candidates, the Republican and the Democrat, campaigned on the platform of eliminating torture.

So, while it's certainly fun to target Feinstein and Rockefeller with all the energy we can muster, this is probably just more of the same: political theater.  Feinstein and Rockefeller's oppositions creates a mini-controversy that raises the profile of the torture issue, allowing President-Elect Obama to earn political capital that he can cash in once legislating begins.  

Originally posted to such sweet thunder on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 09:12 AM PST.

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