Nobody's having more fun watching Nancy Pelosi squirm than the ants in her pants. The dowager queen of Capitol Hill was shocked - shocked! - by what's been going on at Guantanamo, and reveled in telling everyone so.
Now it turns out that maybe she wasn't so shocked after all. When she was told soon after 9/11 that some of the prisoners there had been deprived of sleep and "waterboarded" she did not object. Like everyone else back in the day, she was terrified that 9/11 was merely a prelude to something really, really bad.
Torture as a surefire issue looked irresistible to congressional Democrats only the day before yesterday. Who but Republicans would fancy driving burning splinters under the fingernails of the innocent? Torture bad, Democrats good.
Barack Obama made decrying harsh questioning of the Islamic terrorists the centerpiece of his campaign, promising to treat terrorist suspects with love, understanding and apologies. Now that he's actually the man in charge he still gives with the apologies, but he doesn't want to talk about torture because he, too, will probably have to resort to it eventually. Maybe he already has.
The president's friends in Congress, on the other hand, have continued to parade their good intentions with pride and pomposity in the familiar liberal's game of "you show me yours, and I'll show you mine." Who knew so many of our congresspersons were such stainless exemplars of rigid virtue? But rigid virtue, alas, sometimes dissolves under heat.
The speaker has told so many versions of what she knew about what was going on at Guantanamo, and when she knew it, that all we know now is that she can't keep her stories straight. Flustered to the point of panic, she insisted Monday that the CIA lied to her: "My statement is clear, and let me read it again. Uh, I'm sorry. I have to find the page … When, um, when, when my staff person - I'm sorry, the page is out of order …"
None of the members who served with her on the House Intelligence Committee support Miz Pelosi's remarkable claim of brainwashing. Other congressional colleagues, trying to defend her, have had to clarify their clarifications about what they said about her imaginative stories. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic majority leader, first said that maybe Congress should look into who knew what, and when, and get a straight story: "The facts need to come out."
Even from the speaker. But then the nanny of the House, embarrassed by what "the facts" said about her, called Mr. Hoyer in for a spanking. The pain in the seat of his pants was harder on him than it was on the ants. He had quit preachin' and gone to meddlin'; he dispatched aides to do his 'splainin'. When he said "the facts need to come out," he didn't mean all the facts, just the facts that could be spun against the Republicans - "not about what leading Democrats were told about the legal justification and use of controversial interrogation techniques."
Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, attempted to defend the speaker with the argument that what someone said seven years ago must be measured against the temperature of the times in the wake of 9/11, when nearly everyone was terrified of a "second wave" of attacks. But Democrats have to be careful with this line of argument, lest they arouse speculation about just why there has been no "second wave." Could it be because someone named George did what was necessary, even introducing vicious terrorists to good bathing hygiene, to prevent that "second wave"?
Even the most partisan of Democrats are sometimes capable of lapsing into good sense.
Here's Chuck Schumer, the highly partisan senator from New York, talking about "torture" at a Senate hearing: "I'd like to interject a note of balance here … I think there are probably very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake. Take the hypothetical: If we knew there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is that most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say: 'Do what you have to do.' "
But that was in 2004, before common sense in the party of FDR, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy suffered grievous wounds.