As I once argued, one of Bush's legacies will be how he undermined the credibility of conservative evangelicals. This new poll suggests some early indications with young people avoiding church in record numbers--partially, at least, because they associate going to church with being politically conservative. Chickens roosting, in other words. As I have expressed many times and many places, growing up evangelical, I understand the concern about a believer's witness, and remember it being invoked to suggest that people should not drink beer or do other things that might lead another person astray. Much of that, I always thought, was over the top, but I still wonder where that sentiment is when the most visible evangelical authorizes the torture of other human beings, and the evangelical church supports that torture in the highest numbers?
On torture, btw, I am more inclined to accept the argument that prosecutions would result in a very messy result. I am still a bit annoyed that conservatives seem perfectly willing to proceed with a clearly partisan prosecution (Clinton, for example) but invoke the horror of partisan prosecution to protect torturers.
But the real problem for conservatives right now is that they are not clearly opposed to torture. As I see it, conservatives are divided into roughly three groups. The first says that torture is wrong and always wrong, but can't quite stop themselves from asking the ticking time bomb question. The second group says that torture is wrong, but what if it works? And the third group just openly embraces our torture because they believe the enemy is so evil that it doesn't matter. Think Rush Limbaugh in that spot, but many at the NRO have openly defended waterboarding.
Republicans and conservatives don't know what to do with all of these different groups, and until they do, they will struggle with this issue of torture. They need someone to stand up to the Rush Limbaugh wing and denounce their open embrace of torture. Call it their Sister Souljah moment, if you will. But unlike Clinton's rather theatrical and artificial denunciation of the good Sister, the problem with conservatives is that their movement has been so identified around loyalty to conservatives, that anyone who speaks out against other conservatives is, by definition, no longer conservative, and therefore lacks the credibility to critique the movement.