Every now and then, a public official says something so brain-meltingly ridiculous that I wish I had a traditional blog and could write, “What an idiot!” and leave it at that. This is one of those times.
Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball must represent the troglodyte section of New York—you know, that famous district heavily populated with prehistoric cave-dwellers who were discovered frozen in 1989, thawed out alive, and became politically active?—based on his unapologetic,nail-spitting, un-American tweet regarding the younger, surviving terrorist brother who engineered the Boston Marathon bombing:
What an idiot.
No, no, I can’t say that.
This is an unethical tweet. It’s an irresponsible tweet. Supporting torture “to save more lives” explicitly rejects the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional requirements of Due Process and the Bill of Rights prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and compelled testimony against self-interest. The “anything to save more lives” illogic, though recently adopted, to his shame and disgrace, by the presumably less idiotic President Obama in his quest for more gun regulations, is, of course, the open door to martial law and the permanent trade of liberty for security. I wrote about this at some length in the wake of the Abu Ghraib fiasco; reading “The Ethics of American Torture” again now, I would hold the same today, as would, I hope, most of you. (Don’t bother to read this, Senator Ball; it’s more than 140 characters, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.) I wrote in part,
“…the United States is not supposed to be like other nations. It was uniquely founded on an ideal of innate human rights and aspirations, and there is no question that the language of the Declaration of Independence cannot be reconciled with the use of torture on human beings. The great experiment that is the United States of America, thanks to Mr. Jefferson, painted itself into an ethical corner at its inception. If it must use tactics to survive that violate the very reasons for its existence, then the nation’s ideals are more illusory than real. But if it doesn’t survive at all because of its refusal to do what is necessary to survive, then the experiment is a failure….In the real world, outside of essays about Immanuel Kant, there are no absolutes. Absolutes always have exceptions. Nonetheless, the nation’s official stance against torture is an important one, because it states a genuine commitment to the ideal of human dignity in accordance with the country’s core values. This is why the gratuitous abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib was so unforgivable; the ideal was betrayed wantonly and for the basest reasons: disrespect, vengeance, cruelty, and ignorance. But no one should pretend that our commitment to that ideal has ever included a willingness to perish rather than violate it. The ideal of rejecting torture is important; torture is inhuman, horrible, despicable. The ideal is stated as an absolute; we aim for it, so that we are not tempted to give it up too easily. But we will give it up temporarily if necessary, and for better or worse, all of us, in our hearts, know that we will.
“Interrogating suspected or confirmed terrorists to acquire information about possible plots and potential threats cannot be among the circumstances. That is the most slippery of slippery slopes: torturing to acquire information that might prevent a catastrophe. “Might” is not certain enough or valuable enough to tip the scales, not when the moral, ethical, and human objections to torture are on the other side, not when the practice of torture represents a direct contradiction to our nation’s core values. Approve this, and there is no real logical impediment to torturing U.S. murder suspects to determine if they might be serial killers. There is a legal impediment, for the U.S. Constitution prohibits this because they are U.S. citizens, but the Declaration of Independence focuses on humanity, not Americans. The offense to the spirit of our founding document is the same whether the tortured are American murderers or prisoners of war. (Or non-combatant terrorists. Legalistic nit-picking over whether the Geneva Convention should apply to terrorists ignores the obvious point that by declaring that nations must be humane to prisoners of war the Convention was not suggesting that inhumane treatment was acceptable if some other kinds of captured individuals were involved.) And because it is an offense to the spirit of those declarations, torture in all its forms must always be an exceptional option, when the alternative is not speculative or theoretical and is unacceptable beyond debate.
“Does that put the country at a disadvantage when confronting other nations and cultures willing to do routinely what we are not? Certainly. Yet that disadvantage need not be a threat to our survival, but a challenge to our strength, resolve and ingenuity. While admitting to ourselves that we could be forced to resort to torture, we must also commit ourselves to making every possible effort to ensure that such a violation of American values never becomes necessary.”
No legislator from any party in any legislative body in any jurisdiction in the United States should be willing to discard the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution with a casual, “Hell, let’s torture the scumbag, and see if we can save some lives.” No such legislator should be so ignorant and dismissive of core American ideals that he or she would be willing to violate them for anything less than a looming cataclysm. No responsible citizen should vote for such a legislator. No responsible troglodyte citizen should vote for such a legislator, either.
Pressed for an explanation for his tweet by none other than Piers Morgan, who rigs all of his debates by ensuring that his adversaries are cognitively disabled, Ball answered, trenchantly, “Dude you’re talking to a guy that supports death penalty for cop killers, terrorists…If you met this scumbag before he killed these people, turned people into amputees, what would you do? Play cards? Maybe I should have said it in a British accent.”
I give up.
What an idiot.
19 thoughts on “Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: New York State Senator Greg Ball (R)”
Unfortunately, Jack, you’re coming at it from a scholarly viewpoint. That tweet was coming at it from a visceral viewpoint, where you don’t stop to think but just go with what you’re feeling.
I’m sure you’d say, if you haven’t already said (not sure you touched upon this specific issue above), that giving in to anger to the point where you throw out all the values you claim to stand for, or throw out just plain good sense, in a moment of rage or vengefulness is extremely poor (but not the poorest) ethics (the poorest is knowing damn well what’s ethical and consciously discarding it). I can’t know which it was in Ball’s case when he wrote the tweet, but if he consciously did it to stoke visceral rage, then he IS on the lowest rung of ethics.
Piers Morgan has, justifiably or unjustifiably, become hated by pro-gun Americans for his opinions expressed in the wake of Sandy Hook and his dismissive attitude. There are a LOT of angry Americans who cheered Ball for what he said because a lot of them wanted to say it themselves, because they were angry and the consequences be damned. A lot of Americans were angry enough in the wake of this bombing to lash out, and the consequences be damned. A lot of Americans were still angry enough to cheer this blunt, visceral tweet, and the consequences be damned.
He’s a high elected official, Steve. If he can’t control his viscera, then he’s unfit for office. If President Bush responded to 9-11 by saying, Damn it! I hate these fucking Muslims! I say, kill ’em all!”, would you really excuse that with a “There are a LOT of angry Americans who cheered Ball for what he said because a lot of them wanted to say it themselves”? So what? That’s why they aren’t elected officials and leaders. That’s no excuse at all. If Ball wants to act like the visceral public, then he should step down and join them. He sure doesn’t have the brains, self-control or professionalism to lead them.
You’ll get no argument from me. It’s not ethical to just lash out, and that applies to everyone. We have the right to expect better from high officials, but this also gets back to your other posts on the coarsening culture. Why, after all, properly call anyone, even a high official out, on behaving like a jerk when everyone else is cheering right along?
There is actually a connection.
The aftermath of Sandy Hook showed that there were people willing to sacrifice the nation’s values for the illusion of security.
Perhaps every elected official should take publicly a simple citizen test before they take office? Even avoiding ones currently on debate.
With that public debate on whether arming for defense warrants the ability to kill many people at once (like bombs or poison). But torture should be right out. Didn’t these people ever hear for the false results and horror of the Inquisition or the Salem Witch trials? The best things we can do with history is try to not repeat the errors of our forefathers.
The idiots are determined to repeat those errors.
The real idiots are not even aware of those errors.
I realize that it’s probably wrong on my part, but I discovered long ago that it’s next to impossible to reason with this crowd, so I’ve come up with a stock sarcastic response to the pro-torture crowd: “Nothing says ‘I love America’ like the advocacy of Soviet-style interrogation techniques.”
I feel sorry for the next Richard Jewell. And there will be another Richard Jewell.
Torture should be illegal, and subject to severe punishment.
If it’s necessary, (the hypothetical H-bomb in the city scenario) then the torturers should consider a guilty plea and a life sentence without parole to be a small price to pay for saving millions of lives.
If they’re not willing to take that punishment, obviously it’s not necessary.
Such a punishment is mandatory to make sure that torture is not used unless needed, for the good of society.
Of course, if torturers did do the “the hypothetical H-bomb in the city scenario”, there are a few things the police and prosecutors would do, such as “forgetting” to read Miranda rights, “forgetting” to obtain a warrant to search the torturer’s belongings, “forgetting” to cease questioning when the torturer asks for a lawyer…
Now now…you have to secretly admire his cowboy style. Violence is never the answer but tell that to the rest of the world. Politicians should have a higher standard. No doubt. But hey, hey, hey, when you are in the mix with peers like Feinstein and Pelosi it tends to drag you down a couple of levels. This taxpayer would like to “interrogate” just to find out how in the heck did they qualify for welfare benefits. They came & drained mamma cow then high tailed it right back to where they had declared it was too evil to live. Leaving behind the kids to destroy what they now say is evil. There’s a lot that has disappointed me in the last 20 years but Senator Ball, nah.
Let’s see…was that four invalid rationalizations you employed here, or five?
For the life of me, I’ve never understood the whole, “You can’t really blame politician on my side for his poor behavior; after all, these example politicians from the other party are the ones to blame.” argument; it’s like the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys saying, “Of course we have a lousy defense this season! You can’t really blame us, considering the Green Bay Packers’ miserable offense.”
It’s almost a given (okay… it is a given) that politicians on both sides of the aisle will engage in unethical, unseemly behavior. I would think that people would hold the politicians of their preferred party to a higher standard instead of deflecting blame on to their opponents. It’s a sad state of affairs that my position comes off as incredibly naive.
“f you met this scumbag before he killed these people…”
How far ‘before?’ Like, RIGHT before? Or, before he even built the bombs? Because THEN, he’d be regular old innocent.
What on earth is he trying to get at here?
I wouldn’t waste much time trying to find logic in Ball’s statements. Idiot, you know…
Hit idiot nail on idiot head…thx!
I wondered when you’d tackle a sentiment like this- “Oh, but those silly rights are to protect people from being abused by the law, this person is REALLY BAD so he deserves whatever he gets.” Just fired off a letter to the editor about a cartoon in the local paper with sketches of the Aurora and Tucson shooters and surviving bomber, and a quiz: “Which of these men deserved Miranda Rights? Answer: None of them.”
Nobody deserves rights.
It is the state that has the burden of showing it deserves to take away people’s rights.
True. I thought of that, but at least colloquially “He doesn’t deserve to have this” = “He is deserving of not having this.” If the cartoon was making your point, that they don’t have to earn their rights, it was doing a TERRIBLE job.