What's more, I'm disconcerted to be in a position that someone could paint (wrongly) as anti-American. Throughout my life I've loved the States, been there many times, have a few very good American friends, some American relations. It grieves me to make such large criticisms of a good part of the country.
So something appears to have happened and I think I've worked out what. It's down to the issue of torture, an issue that is cross-border, implicating our own Government. Some of you - those with a taste for very lengthy jogs around houses - may have followed the debates on torture that have been conducted on this blog (most recently here). I've found them very useful in clarifying my thoughts, which I've had to do as the opposing viewpoints were put with thoughtfulness, ingenuity and persistence.
The nub of it for me doesn't rest on abstract reasoning about human rights or derivations from a moral calculus. There's a more self-interested and basic concern: what extra-legal torture (and I know that some might dispute the definition of each of those words) when placed in the hands of the state means for the safety of citizens. I can't put it better than Thomas More, in Robert Bolt's Man for all Seasons:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Accordingly, I have no wish to see any deforestation in this particular part of the legal wood, that concerned with the safety of the citizen before the state.
And this is what's rather peculiar about the wood-cutters, the soi disant conservatives such as Cheney. Respect for the rule of law - of all institutions and continuities surely the most majestic - must be a sine qua non of the conservative. Not for them it seems.
Even stranger is that these inveterate distrusters of central government (another shibboleth) acquiesce in government having within its power the ability to torture its citizens. Most irregular: these conservative axe-men appear to have chopped their way through the looking glass.
Boehner, Leader of House Republicans, said at a rally last Thursday that the health care bill is the "greatest threat to freedom that I have seen." If I were American and I truly believed this I would resort to any means necessary to oppose it and the Administration that introduced it. It's an extremely provocative statement in a country with a history of political assassination. And its a comment that isn't being made into a void: shoults of 'Nazis' from the crowd, pictures of Dachau and of Obama as Bin Laden.
And now, resorting to any means necessary must comfortably include torture: according to these Republicans it's a reasonable response to existential threat. Now I'm not saying these minatory dots are going to be joined up. But their existence and their association with the Republican party at such a high level, does it not set alarms bells ringing, evoke the sound of trees being felled?
This may explain why I feel right-of-centre in Britain but have found it impossible to feel any sympathy with the Republicans in recent years. Where they are conservative - gay rights, abortion - they seem to me to be talking to themselves. These issues, thankfully, sit outside of politics in the UK for most of the time; they're simply not party political issues.
On the economy and the budget deficit I don't see any difference between them and the Democrats, in spite of their claiming the trillion dollar-plus deficit is nothing to do with them, having been magicked up in the last ten months. And with regard to one issue that is really motivating me right now, that sets my alarm bells ringing not least because it touches us here in the UK, they're not conservative at all.
The Bush-Cheney use of torture was an outrage and it's now a scandal. It was a weapon aimed at America's enemies; not the least of its harm has been the damage done to relationships with America's friends, and the trust formerly felt.