The issue arose when the debate moderator, Fox News' Brit Hume, laid out a scenario in which suspects had been caught attempting to carry out a terrorist attack. The question was tailor-made for a response on the importance of being tough on terrorists, but McCain laid out a more nuanced reply colored by personal experience....The article supplements material from the debate with descriptions of Giuliani's conference call with the bloggers yesterday:
Giuliani and Romney both said they opposed torture. But when Hume raised the idea of water-boarding, in which a suspect is made to feel like he is drowning, Giuliani appeared to support it, and Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques." Both offered tough-sounding answers that drew enthusiastic applause from the Republican audience.
Giuliani in his campaign has emphasized embracing Bush's aggressive anti-terrorism tactics and attacking civil liberties advocates as promoting a pre-Sept. 11 mind-set. He elaborated on his debate remarks during a Wednesday conference call with bloggers. He said he would leave the distinction between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture to "the people who do it," according to a report on the National Review's Web site. He described water-boarding simply as "aggressive," the report said.The LAT reporter -- Peter Wallsten -- called me to check my story. It's interesting to see this interaction between the candidates and the bloggers and then between the bloggers and mainstream reporters. But I wonder if the candidates will continue to want to play this way. Here I am collecting quotations and presenting them my way, able to insert opinion and ridicule and digressive material at will and then becoming a source that injects bloggerly material into the traditional news media.
Another blogger on the call, University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse, said that Giuliani stressed his differences on the issue with McCain. "His view is that we should figure out exactly where the line is and go right up to it," Althouse wrote, describing Giuliani's Wednesday comments. "He specified that was more than McCain was willing to do."
The candidate is giving up some control and creating risks. On the upside, he is getting some publicity, perhaps looking savvy, and creating some good will. Maybe we'll think twice before criticizing him, either because the feeling of personal contact mellows our attitude or because we fret about getting excluded from the next phone call.
I wonder if it's only a coincidence that a blogger conference call with John McCain that was planned for today got canceled. Seeing how bloggers homed in on the torture discussion, he may not be up for it. From the L.A. Times article:
McCain aides acknowledged that there is a difference between the senator and his rivals for the nomination, particularly on the question of torture."Nuance." There's an evocative word! I got mightily sick of hearing it used to patch over Kerry's exasperating waffling in 2004. Salter's wrong in saying that McCain's statement at the debate was "full and sophisticated, nuanced." It may have suggested that McCain has a sophisticated, nuanced view of the problem, but, being wholly abstract, it wasn't "full."
"There are enhanced techniques that I don't think bother him, but water-boarding certainly does," said McCain's longtime adviser, Mark Salter.
Salter said he watched Tuesday night as the audience remained silent throughout McCain's "full and sophisticated, nuanced" answer. But he noted that the audience applauded after McCain said that most military leaders oppose torture.
"If you polled it, the Rudy-Romney position would be more popular with Republican primary voters," Salter said. "But I think McCain can hold that position and get that respect. I don't think anybody thinks he would be weak in the war on terror. We don't have that problem."
Does McCain really know what he wants to say when pushed on the details? If not, the way the bloggers bore in on the torture question with Giuliani may have made McCain's handlers cautious about putting the candidate in this strange new environment. Or maybe he really does have "a sudden conflict with official business." I understand the caution, but I thought McCain really was good on the blogger conference call we did on April 27th.
So, we shall see how eagerly the campaigns continue with this blogger conference call approach. I rather like it, because I like to observe and write about the process. If things go awry, that's just more to observe and write about. The campaign must be careful, but being too careful won't work, and the bloggers will write about you whether you talk to them or not.
And we shall also see how the candidates deal with the torture issue. Are we going to get down to the specific techniques and try to draw that line Giuliani was talking about? As I wrote yesterday, he said some of the techniques are "too gory even to discuss," so perhaps we won't. Are we to be satisfied with the vague sense that Giuliani would go farther than McCain or that McCain has more feeling about the individual subjected to the technique (because of his personal experience), while Giuliani has more feeling about protecting American citizens from harm (because of his personal experience)?
CLARIFICATION: That last question -- "Are we to be satisfied..." -- doesn't mean that the "vague sense" might be a good enough reason to prefer Giuliani over McCain. It is intended only to ask whether we will be satisfied with that level of specificity about the difference between the two candidates as we decide whether to support either of them.