Unenhanced Interrogation Techniques

Confirmation hearings usually go like this: Members of the administration's party praise the nominee's experience, acumen, and fine-looking family, then ask him a few questions about just how terrific a guy he is. Then members of the opposition party pull out something the nominee said years ago, take it out of context, and ask him to defend it. The smart nominee, heeding the advice he has been given by his administration handlers, answers all hostile questions with, "I look forward to working with you on that, Senator."

But at today's confirmation hearing for John Brennan to be the next CIA director, it wasn't always easy to tell which was the president's party and which was the opposition. The only real way to know was that the Republicans asked Brennan pointed questions about small matters, in the hopes of catching him in a contradiction or exposing something embarrassing, while the Democrats asked him pointed questions about the broader issues of torture, the militarization of the CIA, and drone strikes. The latter was of particular interest in the wake of this week's leak of an administration memo outlining how it believes that not just the president but other "informed, high-level" officials can order the killing of American citizens, something that has gotten more criticism from the President's supporters than his opponents.

The highlight of the hearing may have been when the senior fireplug from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski, said that she had been "jerked around" by every CIA director she had faced, with the exception of Leon Panetta, since she had been on the committee, and asked whether Brennan would be any different. Brennan responded by bringing up his home state of New Jersey for the second time in the hearing, not the last time the Garden State would come up. In other words, the hearing wasn't particularly enlightening for anyone who wanted to know more about what the CIA is doing and has done in the recent past. But given the fact that even the agency's budget and number of employees are classified information, perhaps we shouldn't have expected much. 


So They Say

"You're a baldist! Just because he's bald and I’m bald doesn't mean we’re the same person!"

Representative Brad Sherman, after a reporter mistook him for Representative Pete DeFazio


Daily Meme: GOP's Beauty, Skin Deep

  • The GOP has made no secret of its New Year's resolutions: losing weight from its rightward side and exercising those old moderate muscles. Karl Rove's makeover attempt is pretty much DOA, as we pointed out in yesterday's Daily Meme
  • And it hasn't gotten any better in the last 24 hours.
  • Eric Cantor's got his own thoughts about the Republicans' detox diet. The basic gist is to take the party from looking like this to looking like this.   
  • Or as Dana Milbank puts it, "In other words, Republicans will win elections if only they can stop being so dour, dammit."
  • Cantor's big speech, although applauded on the conservative front, was, as Ed Kilgore describes it, "the policy equivalent of a side order of chicken nuggets: small, greasy, and not very nourishing."
  • Rob Fournier points out the fatal flaw in Cantor's master plan: "One thing he won't do is moderate Republican policies. Cantor is talking about a change in tone, not ideology, which begs the question: With a demographic tide threatening to crush the modern GOP, is it enough to just tweak talking points?"
  • The answer is no
  • Michael Tomasky sums up the problem: "They have all these fancy ideas about how to rebrand. But they can have all the fancy ideas they want. They still have an electoral base that sees politics basically as an arena to exact revenge for a series of resentments and grudges. Until they change that, they are stuck—and it isn’t happening anytime soon."
  • On the other hand, it's not like the GOP can help it. As the Prospect's Jamelle Bouie notes, "The broader problem with these attempts to rebrand the Republican Party is that it’s hard to craft a governing agenda when your ideology is based in hostility to government."
  • But Republicans haven't finished Rickrolling their grand reinvention ideas. We're still in party leader try-outs, and although Cantor and Rove look ready to strike-out, there's still a few people warming up in the dugout ...
  • ... Namely, Marco Rubio! Problem is, the senator from Florida exemplifies the rebranding problem better than most. Sure, he gives the party a different face. But underneath, you find the same unpopular policies.

What We're Writing

  • The NRA has been leading the charge in further stigmatizing the mentally ill in order to deflect responsibility for gun massacres. Abby Rapoport points out why it exacerbates the problem we already have with mental health treatment. 
  • Jamelle Bouie finds that at least half the folks in America aren't just holding onto guns and religion, but bald-faced bigotry too. 

What We're Reading

  • Dexter Filkins details what we don't know about drones. The short answer: a lot.
  • William Howard Taft's weight-loss tips for Chris Christie: Play golf, travel without mobile diners, and tell pithy jokes. 
  • Rand Paul has struck out on the bold path of believing exactly what his father believes while alleging that he's up to something new and different. Imagine your favorite 'chip off the old whatever' father-and-son cliché now.
  • Jonathan Chait explains how Marco Rubio took over the GOP. 
  • BREAKING: It Wouldn't Surprise You If This Headline Was About 318 People Being Shot In 12 Different Public Places.
  • Erika Eichelberger wonders whatever happened to the "most transparent administration ever." 
  • The Kansas City Royals. C. Everett Koop. Jack Nicholson. The United Methodist Church. Seemingly random list of people and organizations? Yes. But, also a glimpse of the NRA's quite lengthy shit list. 

Poll of the Day

Gallup reports that as of today, Americans are more optimistic about their future quality of life than at any time since 2008, when the agency started tracking the question. Fifty-seven percent of us think things are looking up, with 27 percent afraid of the future and the final 15 hedging bets. The optimism breaks down along party lines, with Democrats much more excited about where we're headed than Republicans.

Prospect intern Jon Coumes contributed to today's Ringside Seat.