An invitation arrived for lunch last week at the Union League with John Yoo, a man noted in recent years for his torture memos, but also a graduate of Episcopal Academy. (A shimmering scarlet letter of the satanic, if there ever was one. Long live El Mallochio!)
It was billed as a “lunch discussion” with “patriot John Yoo” who “authored legal opinions… including memorandum (sic) concerning enhanced interrogation techniques” which were “keen and objective legal opinions.” Naively earnest, grammatically incorrect, typically vacuous corporate speak – a delicious and savory come-hither call.
Yet I almost skipped it.
If the Bush Administration taught the American people anything, it is this: Reasoning with rabid conservatives is like beating on a kid in a wheelchair – they’re obviously handicapped, and edifying them is more often than not an exercise in egotistical assertion, like battling a knight in Monty Python’s forest. It was also an opportunity to debate one of the more vexing policy makers of our time, a key cog in the denigration of our international reputation, and an alleged war criminal. So off like a prom dress I went.
Of the twenty men in the room, I was the only liberal. The man beside me introduced himself, and said he worked for the David Horowitz Freedom Center. When I asked what kind of work they did, he said something about “saving the country from Obama’s jihad” and I just didn’t hear a goddamn thing he said after that. When the poor kid in the wheelchair starts gnawing on his own fists, you just gotta let ‘em take off the helmet and bang their own head against the wall.
While much of the crowd was like that (when admitting to a triumvirate of attendees that I was of a lefty disposition, they pirouetted like prom queens and ran to the other side of the room), I have to say that John Yoo was a pleasure. When I first approached him, we exchanged pleasantries about the superior nature of Philadelphia’s attributes vis-a-vis the rest of the country, particularly San Francisco (his dislike for which, unfortunately, betrayed a certain resentful bitterness about the hand that feeds him.) We joked about the fate of the Inquirer, and how the two of us had some stake in the matter, in our own individual ways.
He then gave a presentation on his latest work, Crisis and Command, which detailed the historical tendency of presidents to violate the law in times of crisis (such as Lincoln and Posse Comitatus) as a justification for his advocacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on behalf of the Bush Administration. Afterwards, I asked him whether he had ever taken pause, or been humbled by, any critique of his work. He then replied, tellingly, “Torture, or…?” When I said “sure,” he replied, “You know, nobody on the left could ever give me a definition of torture.”
And there it was: The architect of the most famous policy of the Dubya era, confessing that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were justified because, well, previous presidents broke the law, therefore we could too, and nobody could articulate for me a decent definition of torture. I can’t cope with that kind of logic, so he signed my book, and I hopped in my own little wheelchair, helmet off, and spun myself down the marble staircase as fast as possible.
An insightful afternoon, for sure, but….*shrug*. It’s all been said by sanctimonious lefty rags before. I didn’t think much more about it – until this idiot got himself good and tasered at the Phillies game.
Last week’s taser incident at Citizens Bank Park was exactly like the War on Terror: The police officer was John Yoo, too thick in a number of vital ways to grasp the issue at hand, and therefore a little too anxious to exercise the easy, grotesquely swift, electrifying authority on his hip; the kid was your average Gitmo or Bagram detainee, deserving of detention as much as due process; and the fans were the American people, some righteously indignant and devoid of nuance (“He deserved it!”), others horrified at the excessive force (even our dear Ed Rendell).
The moral of the story is this: The arc of justice is long and lubricious. You should argue with the powers that be, but sometimes you just can’t beat City Hall. That’s okay. The endeavor of insight and conversion, though inefficacious on occasion, nonetheless admits itself of rewards along the way. They accumulate slowly, through the benefit of hindsight, amidst the passage of time, to produce an improved city, a better society, and a greater Union. So bend an elbow with Beezlebub, and take a ride with your own philosophical wheelchair. Take it from me – I may be at the bottom of the stairs, but at least I’ve got stars in my eyes.
A little gimp but never limp, I remain:
J. Conor Corcoran, Esquire
Here at Philebrity, we are no strangers to reaching for the telephone in a cold sweat, fingers trembling in fear, punching in a few numbers and asking as soon as someone answers, asking “Fuck! Are we gonna get sued for this?” Always, on the end of the other line is one Conor Corcoran, Esq., our resident go-to guy for all things scary and legal. Read more of his missives to Philebrity here.