At Wednesday’s night debate for Republican presidential candidates, one of the more notable exchanges pitted Mitt Romney and John McCain on the issu
November 29, 2007

At Wednesday’s night debate for Republican presidential candidates, one of the more notable exchanges pitted Mitt Romney and John McCain on the issue of torture. Romney, flustered, struggled to explain his position on waterboarding. McCain, confident, claimed the high ground: “I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective."

The crowd in the auditorium applauded. The collection of undecided Republican voters GOP pollster Frank Luntz assembled for a focus group was far less pleased.

Now, for the uninitiated: dials are little hand-held machines that enable a focus group member to register instantaneous approval or disapproval as the watch a candidate on TV. There are limitations to the technology: all a candidate has to do is mention, say, Abraham Lincoln and the dials go off into the stratosphere. Film of soaring eagles will have the same effect. But the technology does have its uses. […]

When John McCain started talking about torture — specifically, about waterboarding — the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. “I don’t have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

Have I mentioned lately that the Republican base is a scary facet of American society?

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