Torture Gets the 'Only In America' Treatment

Let it not be said anywhere, at any time, by anyone, that Joe Biden does not love America. Biden's love for America is high as a mountain, and deep as the sea. In fact, Biden's love for America is so great that he is convinced that all other countries fortunate enough to share this planet with America are populated by nothing but knaves and fools.

Or maybe it's just that his love gets the better of him sometimes, as it did in this discussion of the torture report issued yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee:

"No, I think it's a badge of honor," Biden said when asked at Politico's Women Rule Summit whether the sharply critical report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is a "black stain."

"Every country, every country, has engaged in activities somewhere along the line that it has not been proud of," he added.

"Think about it, name me another country that’s prepared to stand and say, 'This was a mistake, we should not have done what we’ve done and we will not do it again,'" Biden said to applause from the 400 people in attendance for the daylong event that featured a number of panels on promoting women in politics, business and other professions.

Name him another country that would say it made a mistake! Just try, 'cause I'll bet you can't! Or as MTV-veejay-turned-pundit Kennedy said on Fox News's Outnumbered in explaining why the release of the report was a good thing: "We can't imagine what they do in places like North Korea and China and Russia. Those are places that live in the dark. We live in the light, because we are awesome."

Indeed, Kennedy, we are awesome. But other countries can be awesome too. While dictatorships don't generally acknowledge their mistakes, democracies do so with regularity. And most of the world's countries are now democracies. (According to Freedom House, 122 of the world's nearly 200 countries are democracies, though obviously degrees of liberty and electoral representation vary.)

Some of those countries have quite publicly and loudly apologized for past wrongdoing. For example, here's the Canadian government apologizing to First Peoples for separating children from their families. Here's the Australian government apologizing for the treatment of Aboriginal people. Germany, which may have more to atone for than any country, has put quite a bit of energy into acknowledging its crimes in World War II. South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to fully document the crimes of apartheid.

The point is, it really isn't that unusual for a country to admit that it did something wrong. It usually happens when the particular government that committed the wrongdoing is gone, and the current government doesn't see its survival dependent on keeping that wrongdoing concealed or at least pushed out of public debate. That opens up the space for candor, which is what's happening here, even if we had to wait six years into the Obama administration and the Senate Intelligence Committee released this report without the administration exactly offering its enthusiastic support.

Biden may be the first to slap the "Only in America!" label on the torture report, but it's an unfortunately common rhetorical tic among politicians, to assert that every good thing about our country can be found here and nowhere else. Even Mitt Romney once tried to put an "Only in America" gloss on his own riches-to-even-greater-riches story. Politicians are constantly saying that things like economic opportunity or religious freedom or government transparency can only be found here.

Of course, there are some things that really are only possible in America. Would the limited imaginations found in the rest of the world have taken the humble pizza, stuffed its crust with cheese, and then covered it in Doritos? I think not. So maybe Biden is on to something.

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