Sometimes what the talking radio heads don't say is more important than what they do. There has been considerable buzz in the blogosphere and on NPR this week about "The Dark Side," Jane Mayer's new book about the war on terror became a war on our own ideals. But not a word -- zippo that I could hear -- on commercial talk radio.
O'Reilly, who is often quick to challenge government competence and integrity, seems to have no trouble swallowing the administration's three-pronged position on torture: We have never tortured; if we did torture, it wasn't illegal; and if we did torture and it was illegal, it was all done by low-ranking people acting as rogues.
Hannity, of course, rarely allows consideration of anything that might make Republicans look bad. And this mess unquestionably does make Republicans look bad (and, for that matter, most Democrats don't look like paragons of virtue on this topic either). People like Hannity do the most harm to America not when they relentlessly pound on the shortcomings of every member of the opposite party but when they ignore, for partisan reasons, things Americans ought to be talking about. Like it or not, talk radio has an agenda-setting power that helps determine the national conversation.
I've often speculated about the nonsensical distinctions we make between conservatives and liberals, but the most difficult of all for me to get is the way in which so many so-called conservatives have allowed themselves to line up on the side of torture. Conservatives are supposed to be about traditional values, and few values in this country are more traditional than that while other countries may torture people, and throw people in jail without charges, and deny them legal representation, we don't do that. We're too good for that.
I am a bit consoled by the prospect of a McCain-Obama campaign this fall. Of all the available candidates, these two seem to be, among the possible winners in their respective parties, the candidates who are most likely to:
1. Reject torture.
2. Reach across the aisle to break down partisan gridlock.
3. Rein in the runaway executive.
4. Annoy Hannity and his ilk.
That gives me hope. But I also bought Mayer's book yesterday, and that gives me fear.