Ad fortunam

As general election approaches, David Brooks, the man who called John Kerry a "coward with a manly bearing" (because he failed to see the war on terrorism as the "24"-inspired pornographic film that David Brooks insisted it was) has drawn a bead on Obama and Obama supporters: they're like insane drug-addicted cult freaks. Yes, all three, watch:

At first it seemed like a few random cases of lassitude among Mary Chapin Carpenter devotees in Berkeley, Cambridge and Chapel Hill. But then psychotherapists began to realize patients across the country were complaining of the same distress. They were experiencing the first hints of what’s bound to be a national phenomenon: Obama Comedown Syndrome.

The afflicted had already been through the phases of Obama-mania — fainting at rallies, weeping over their touch screens while watching Obama videos, spending hours making folk crafts featuring Michelle Obama’s face. These patients had experienced intense surges of hope-amine, the brain chemical that fuels euphoric sensations of historic change and personal salvation.

But they found that as the weeks went on, they needed more and purer hope-injections just to preserve the rush. They wound up craving more hope than even the Hope Pope could provide, and they began experiencing brooding moments of suboptimal hopefulness. Anxious posts began to appear on the Yes We Can! Facebook pages. A sense of ennui began to creep through the nation’s Ian McEwan-centered book clubs.

And on and on with such childishness.  Brooks means to claim, of course, that such a mythic picture he has drawn of Obama cannot withstand his critical scrutiny:

As the syndrome progresses, they begin to ask questions about The Presence himself:

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.

Let's say for the sake of argument that these and Brooks' other charges are absolutely true.  It hasn't occurred to Brooks that Obama's supporters are well aware of his positions and support him, even enthusiastically, anyway.  Doing so doesn't make them crazy, drug addicted, or cultish, it more likely means they've made a considered choice, given the options.  If Brooks thinks they don't know these sorts of facts about politicians, then perhaps he could produce some evidence to that effect.

All of this insistence on Obama's success amounts to a distraction technique: an argumentum ad fortunam.  We might refine our definition of this fallacy somewhat.  Legitimately questioning a politician running for office is our obligation as citizens in a democracy, sneering about his popularity simply in virtue of his popularity is another matter.  It's like the kid in high school who didn't like your band because it was popular.


It's hard to see what William Kristol brings to the discussion on anything.  Today he analogizes the Republican and Democratic parties to the ruling and opposition parties in Britain, via, get this, a George Orwell essay on Kipling.  Kristol writes:

“In a gifted writer,” Orwell remarks, “this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality.” Kipling “at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.” For, Orwell explains, “The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” Furthermore, “where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly.”

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

The "vulgarization" overlooks the entirely unavoidable fact that the US government is designed with three branches.  If a party controls one of them–say, Congress–then that party isn't an opposition party.  Alright, so the premise of this piece is strained.  But what about the main point, someone may wonder.

Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. Many Democrats, on the other hand, no long even try to imagine what action and responsibility are like. They do, however, enjoy the support of many refined people who snigger at the sometimes inept and ungraceful ways of the Republicans. (And, if I may say so, the quality of thought of the Democrats’ academic and media supporters — a permanent and, as it were, pensioned opposition — seems to me to have deteriorated as Orwell would have predicted.)

So this stuff Orwell–I can't believe he actually used Orwell–said about the opposition party was merely a means of saying the "quality of thought" of the "opposition" and its "academic and media supporters" has "deteriorated."  One would be curious to know how, in particular–or jeez even in general–the "quality of thought" of the academic and media supporters has "deteriorated."  Could Kristol at least give an example of this particular claim?

The freakish, yes freakish, thing about this article is that Kristol goes on to use this Orwellian premise to complain about the Democrats' obstruction of legislation aimed at protecting private companies from the legal consequences of their participation in   warrantless–and therefore illegal–surveillance:

But the Democratic House leadership balked — particularly at the notion of protecting from lawsuits companies that had cooperated with the government in surveillance efforts after Sept. 11. Director McConnell repeatedly explained that such private-sector cooperation is critical to antiterror efforts, in surveillance and other areas, and that it requires the assurance of immunity. “Your country is at risk if we can’t get the private sector to help us, and that is atrophying all the time,” he said. But for the House Democrats, sticking it to the phone companies — and to the Bush administration — seemed to outweigh erring on the side of safety in defending the country.

He should have worked Orwell into that paragraph.

. . . Or maybe you’ve changed

To be a pundit you have to be supremely confident that your views are somehow worth printing and worth reading.  Perhaps a consequence of that is that you see your opinions as also remarkably true.  This supreme confidence, however, may lead to your confusing your opinion of how reality is with, get this, how reality is.  Take a look today at David Ignatius, op-ed writer for the Washington Post.  I thought this morning it would be fun to go through the entire piece.  Follow along if you have the patience.  He writes (my intrusions in bold):

"Why is the press going so easy on Barack Obama?" asks a prominent Democratic Party strategist, echoing a criticism frequently made by the Clinton campaign. It's a fair question [it's actually a complex question–is the press easy on Barack Obama, and, if so, what would account for this?], and now that Obama appears to be the front-runner in terms of his delegate count, he deserves a closer look, especially from people like me [people like me–how are people like you?] who have written [I see, writers] positively about him.

The reason to look closely now, quite simply, is to avoid buyer's remorse later [Actually, you don't need to justify looking closely at any candidate's policy or record–that's what you should have been doing before, but apparently didn't, perhaps you should write an essay (for your supervisor) on why you weren't a more diligent and critical pundit].

Obama is a phenomenon in American politics — a candidate who has ignited an enthusiasm among young people that I haven't seen in decades. He promises a nation in which, as his supporters chant, "race doesn't matter." And for a world that is dangerously alienated from American leadership, he offers a new face that could dispel negative assumptions about America — and in that sense boost the nation's standing and security. [This is the set-up–get ready, wait for it]

But these are symbolic qualities. What Obama would actually do as president remains a mystery in too many areas. Before he completes what increasingly looks like a march to the Democratic nomination, Obama needs to clarify more clearly what lies behind the beguiling banner marked "change." [Perhaps again the author could do a little more research before he starts posing problems–Obama has made thousands of speeches during the course of the campaign, he has made numerous specific policy proposals, and he has made all of this available to anyone who bothers.  Ignatius gives the idea that he has decidedly avoided doing this–and that this is some kind of problem]

Let's start with Obama's economic policies. Like all the major candidates, he has a Web site brimming with plans and proposals [sounds boring, but Ignatius ought to read these first before he suggests their absence as the occasion for his op-ed]. But it has been hard to tell how these different strands come together. Is Obama a "New Democrat," in the tradition of Bill Clinton, who would look skeptically at traditional welfare programs? Is he a neopopulist, in the style of his former rival John Edwards, who would make job protection and tax equity his top domestic priorities? Or is he a technocrat, whose economic answers wouldn't be all that different from those of Hillary Clinton? [Does Ignatius mean it's hard to attach a loaded adjective to Obama?  Is it perhaps hard to do that because of the poverty of his categories?]

Time for a breather.  You have probably noticed that the subject of this article is not Obama, but Ignatius's attempts to understand Obama.  Of course, Ignatius presumes his puzzlement is somehow meaningful for Obama, for if David Ignatius, newspaper pundit, can't get it, then, well, you see where that's going.  He continues.

I'm still puzzled about where to locate Obama on this policy map. [Try harder, or reconsider your efforts]  Until the past few weeks, I would have put him somewhere between "New Democrat" and "technocrat." But as he reaches for votes in big industrial states, Obama has been sounding more like Edwards. He proposed a middle-class tax cut a few months ago that would provide a credit of up to $1,000 per family. That's a big policy change that deserves real debate. [More pundit adjectival failure.  But notice, the first part of the paragraph makes that point that Ignatius would have assigned one particular adjective, but then Obama says something different from what Ignatius thought, and Ignatius concludes the change was on Obama's part–not that he perhaps was wrong about Obama–a fact that he ought to consider, in light of the fact that he seems to have viewed him uncritically (and thus the premise of this piece)].

Obama added more Edwardsian flourishes in a speech Wednesday at an auto plant in Wisconsin. He called for a $150 billion program to develop "green collar" jobs and new energy sources. Meanwhile, to fix all the highways and bridges of our automotive society, he proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that would spend $60 billion over 10 years. Obama should be pressed on whether these big programs are affordable for an economy that appears to be in a tailspin. [Now Edwards gets his own adjective.  Again, however, we're left to wonder why these proposals can't be Obama's as well–he is, after all, a Democrat.  And again this rests on the silly premise of this article–that Obama is indeed just like Ignatius's shallow understanding of him, and as Ignatius's understanding or knowledge grows, so actually does the object of his knowledge–Obama.  It's not Ignatius learning, it's Obama changing!]

Foreign policy is the area on which Obama has been longest on rhetoric and shortest on details. I've always liked his line about Iraq, that "we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." And when I asked Obama last summer what this might mean in practice, he talked about the need for a residual force in and around Iraq and for a gradual, measured pace of troop withdrawals. But in recent months, his tone has suggested a speedier and more decisive departure from Iraq. I fear that Obama is creating public expectations for a quick solution in Iraq that cannot responsibly be achieved. [None of those things Ignatius mentions suggest Obama advocates the very strawmanny "quick solution"–he said Obama said speedier and more decisive–but this doesn't amount to precipitous and irresponsible abandonment.  But as I have read this piece of Ignatius', I'm left to wonder whether he really has much of a grip on what Obama is saying anyway.  His case rests (even the flattering parts he likes) on phrases and quips deprived of context].

Another breather.  I'm wondering at this point why this particularly ill informed individual fancies his ill informed opinions representative of the problem with Obama, rather than with his own lack of journalistic due diligence.  Let's bring this to a close.  

With any candidate, there's always a question about the quality of his advisers. Hillary comes prepackaged as Clinton II, with a retinue of aides-in-waiting that is at once her strength and disadvantage [I'm concerned about the passive voice there with "prepackaged"–I naturally wonder, "prepackaged" by whom?]. Obama's advisers are a mixed group, but I hear some complaints from policy analysts.  [OMG complaints from analysts!–which ones?  Why not say what their complaints are?  Some say only jerks make these kinds of unattributed accusations.]  One of his leading foreign policy gurus, Anthony Lake, was widely criticized as national security adviser in the first Clinton administration [more passive voice–and in the past tense, and vague, criticized by whom and for what?]. His role does not reassure people who wonder what substance lies behind the "change" mantra. [Why? Because he's not sufficiently changeworthy?  Because he's been there before?]

To understand why Obama needs tougher scrutiny now [it seems to me that everyone but Ignatius understands the need for scrutiny now without the specious analogies.  As a matter of fact, the absence of scrutiny is only all too apparent to most of us–he's sitting in the White House.  The object of an overabundance of nitpicking, dishonest  and uninformed scrutiny–Al Gore–isn't], we need only recall his political avatar, President John F. Kennedy. Like Obama, JFK had served a relatively short time in the Senate without compiling a significant legislative record. He was young and charismatic, but uncertain in his foreign and domestic policies, and during his first 18 months JFK was often rebuffed at home and abroad. The CIA suckered him into a half-baked invasion of Cuba. And Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev concluded after an initial meeting that Kennedy was so weak and uncertain that he could be pushed around — a judgment that led to the Cuban missile crisis. [That was more silly than I thought it would be–and more oblivious to the more obvious analogies].

Obama's inexperience is not a fatal flaw, but it's a real issue. He should use the rest of this campaign to give voters a clearer picture of how he would govern — not in style but in substance. [Perhaps Ignatius could pay more close attention to what Obama says rather than what Ignatius hears].

There you have it.  If anything, this demonstrates to me that pundits such as Ignatius have a particularly thin grasp on the subjects they write about–yet they take that thin grasp as representative not of their own ignorance, but of some kind of quality of the thing they're supposed to know.  You see, it's not that Ignatius doesn't pay attention to anything but context-free quips, it's that Obama offers nothing else. 

Water is free

New insights on capitalism from Charles Krauthammer:

There's no better path to success than getting people to buy a free commodity. Like the genius who figured out how to get people to pay for water: bottle it (Aquafina was revealed to be nothing more than reprocessed tap water) and charge more than they pay for gasoline. Or consider how Google found a way to sell dictionary nouns— boat, shoe, clock — by charging advertisers zillions to be listed whenever the word is searched.

None of those things are actually free commodities.  Water of any kind costs money to purify, bottle, and distribute; advertising placement on the internets is a highly desirable product that the Google is able to secure.  They're not selling the noun qua noun–if you want the noun, look it up in the dictionary. Everyone has seen those TV commercials anyway–this schtick is not original.  But where might Charles be going with this?

And now, in the most amazing trick of all, a silver-tongued freshman senator has found a way to sell hope. To get it, you need only give him your vote. Barack Obama is getting millions.

Millions of votes, he should say.  So Krauthammer starts with something you can sell and buy, says its free, and now moves to something that's free, and says you can buy it.     

This kind of sale is hardly new. Organized religion has been offering a similar commodity — salvation — for millennia. Which is why the Obama campaign has the feel of a religious revival with, as writer James Wolcott observed, a "salvational fervor" and "idealistic zeal divorced from any particular policy or cause and chariot-driven by pure euphoria."

Now I see.  You heard it here–and in many other more insightful, original, and accurate sites than this one–we have a new political meme: Obama is some kind of cultish snake oil salesman.  That's convenient in that it provides Krauthammer and everyone else with  ready-made explanation for Obama's success: it's a cult.

The weird thing about this particular ad hominem is that it grants that someone is success, nay a remarkable success, at what he does, but then they turn that success against him–claiming the only explanation is deceit.  No one can be that successful unless they have generated a kind of cultish following. 

I think this particular fallacy may deserve its own name.  Any suggestions?  


Argumentum ad angelum

The following startling piece of reasoning may put us into new fallacy territory.  Glenn Reynolds, also known as Instapundit, writes:

RANK ANTISEMITISM in the Democratic congressional primary in Memphis:

"Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the JEWS HATE Jesus," blares the flier, which Cohen himself received in the mail — inducing gasps — last week.

Circulated by an African-American minister from Murfreesboro Tenn., which isn't even in Cohen's district, the literature encourages other black leaders in Memphis to "see to it that one and ONLY one black Christian faces this opponent of Christ and Christianity in the 2008 election."

Well, that just makes everybody look good. Jeez. I like Steve Cohen a lot, and not just because he once gave me some absolutely amazing John Fogerty tickets (to the Mud Island show that was his first appearance after a decade of not touring). But even if I didn't, this would be absolutely disgraceful. Perhaps Barack Obama should make a point of condemning this.

UPDATE: Why should Obama weigh in? Because he promises an uplifting new kind of politics and this is an ugly old kind. Because Steve Cohen is one of Obama's supporters, and political loyalty is supposed to run both ways — unless you're Hillary, anyway, and Obama's supposed to be the anti-Hillary. Because otherwise Obama's big appeal — I'm a black candidate who's not like Al Sharpton! — will be a fraud. And, of course, because it's the right thing to do.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, the "fraud" bit was a bit strong. But it is the right thing to do, and it's the kind of thing that a guy promising a new uplifting kind of politics ought to do. Trust me, if the racial angle were pointing the other way, this would be getting a lot of attention, especially if it could be tied to a Republican. And I say this, remember, as a guy who went after Trent Lott for a lot less.

Let me get this straight.  First, an African-American minister having no relation to the Obama campaign sent around an antisemitic flier about a supporter of Barack Obama–and this not because he is a supporter of Obama; Reynolds therefore adduces that Obama needs to condemn this specific instance of antisemitism.  Why?

1.  Obama promises uplifting politics, and this is not uplifting;

2.  Cohen supports Obama;

3.  Otherwise Obama will be no different from Al Sharpton;  

4.  It's the right thing to do. 

How to understand this?  The second update merely softens the "fraud" allegation but it doesn't retreat on the basic argument.

 1.  The first reason is a curious kind of ad hominemad angelum–against the angel.  Because Obama claims to be against such politics, he will be held responsible for every instance of them, regardless of their relation to him.  His failure to act will be a sign of hypocrisy. 

2.  The second one suggests that Obama is rather not an angel, but some kind of horrible friend for not coming to the defense of his supporter. 

3.  The third resembles the first in that it holds Obama responsible for the dastardly deeds of others.  But this is more specific in that it stresses only the actions of other African-American people.  That's a very odd position to take, for no one expects Glenn Reynolds to denounce every instance of white people behaving badly.   

4.  The fourth only works on the theory that it's always right always and everywhere to do what is right.  Everyone knows that.  But why is it the right thing in this particular case?  I think the first three reasons were meant to establish this.  But they didn't.  

We saw this sort of argument a few weeks ago.  Richard Cohen had demanded Obama disagree more with someone's daughter's friend.  That failure, in Cohen's mind, results in Obama's embracing the ideas of someone who supports him.  We might have termed that argument an argumentum ad amici amicum–argument against the friend of a friend.

These arguments share the strained relevance of the ad hominem argument, but they carry one step further by replacing the attack the character of the arguer with an attack on the views of people in some (very distant) way associated with the initial arguer.  This loose association serves then as justification for the demand that the initial arguer vociferously condemn the actions or words of the loosely associated persons or risk confirming the initial suspicions.  When the pool of possibly associated individuals as large as Reynolds makes it, this becomes a rather difficult task.

via Crooked Timber and Sadly, No


Nicholas Kristof admits his own disqualifying gullibility about the Bush Administration's line on the prison at Guantanamo Bay:

Most Americans, including myself, originally gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the inmates truly were “the worst of the worst.” But evidence has grown that many are simply the unluckiest of the unluckiest.

The worst criminals in the United States have done something straightforwardly illegal.  It seems it would follow that the prisoners at Guantanamo, being the worst of the worst, will have done something even more obviously illegal.  As the worst get a trial in a regular US court, as a way of shining a light on their heinous crimes, wouldn't it follow that the worst of the worst ought to have at least an equally transparent trial?  

Of course, Kristof thinks the whole thing is a travesty–now.  But his employment of the superlative underscores the bewildering ontological specialness granted, sometimes, to our enemies.  

Primary race

Puzzling words from the New York Times political team:

Mr. Obama has resisted any effort to suggest that the presidential primaries were breaking along racial lines.

“There are not a lot of African-Americans in Nebraska the last time I checked, or in Utah or in Idaho, areas where I probably won some of my biggest margins,” he said Sunday in an NPR interview.

“There’s no doubt that I’m getting more African-American votes,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that the race is dividing along racial lines. You know, in places like Washington State we won across the board, from men, from women, from African-Americans, from whites and from Asians.”

A Rhetorical Tightrope

David Axelrod, the chief strategist of the Obama campaign, said in an interview that although he and Mr. Obama did not map out a detailed strategy for dealing with race when plotting a presidential run, they were well aware it would weigh on his campaign.

As a consultant to several black elected officials, Mr. Axelrod has been steeped in racially charged elections. And he said Mr. Obama had faced the challenges of racial politics in the campaign that propelled him to the Senate, where he is only the third black elected since Reconstruction.

Mr. Axelrod said he had learned there was “a certain physics” to winning votes across racial lines. Previous campaigns by African-Americans — the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton — had overwhelmingly relied on black support that wound up defining, and confining, their candidacies.

By contrast, from the moment Mr. Obama stepped onto the national political stage, he has paid as much attention — or more, some aides said — to a far broader audience. “He believes you can have the support of the black community, appealing to the pride they feel in his candidacy, and still win support among whites,” Mr. Axelrod said.

While Obama resists efforts "to suggest," he is powerless against the very suggestive authors of this article (notice later: "Mr. Axelrod has been steeped in racially charged elections"–oh so suspicious, isn't it?).  I would add that the more proper way of characterizing Obama's position would be this: "The facts do not bear out that this primary race is a racially charged one."  After all, that's basically what Obama said.

Perhaps instead of framing Obama's position as a strategic denial, they could do some investigating, you know, research, and see if perhaps the racial issue warrants very suggestive front page coverage. 

But by sensibility

I recently edited this.  When I wrote that, I was thinking of the clairvoyant insights of E.J.Dionne.  Today he writes:

Yet there is another world in Democratic politics, a practical, mostly middle-aged and middle-class world that is immune to fervor and electricity. It is made up of people with long memories who are skeptical of fads and like their candidates tough, detail-oriented and — to use a word Obama regularly mocks — seasoned.

At this point one might expect that such a generalization would be followed by tedious, but detailed and accurate, analysis of polling data from numerous sources.  Your expectations would be wrong.   

These are the Hillary people, and they gathered in Manassas last weekend in significant numbers at the Grace E. Metz Middle School, cozy schools being a preferred venue for a Clinton campaign aware that mammoth rallies are normally beyond its reach.

She does not lack for loyalists. Paulie Abeles of Derwood, Md., held aloft a hand-printed sign that did not mince words: "Talk Is Cheap. Mistakes Are Expensive."

Abeles explained that people who are being "swept along by the eloquence of Barack Obama's speeches" forget that at one time, George W. Bush was seen as "charming" and "inspirational." And electability was on her mind. If President Bush raised the terror alert level four days before the election ("I happen to be very cynical," she averred), the Democrats would want their most experienced candidate confronting McCain.

Well, that's one person.  Got any more?

As she speaks, Doug Hattaway, one of her aides, notes that her practical litany is precisely what appeals to working-class and middle-class voters who respond to "tangible issues." They also rebel against the idea that they are not part of the cool, privileged masses for Obama. One of the signs at the Manassas rally defiantly touted "Well Educated High Earners for Hillary." This is a party divided not by ideology but by sensibility. Things have gotten very personal.

Let me get this straight.  Dionne goes to a rally for Hilary Clinton.  A rally is a place where active, motivated supporters of a candidate go.  At that rally, he quotes one supporter and one of Clinton's aides as evidence of her appeal–and a tasteless sign as a sign of the divisiveness of the Democratic campaign as a whole.

I don't know what this kind of column is doing on the op-ed page.  It seems like reporting, albeit very bad reporting.  Dionne talks to exactly two people, consults no polling data, and goes to one place.  On the strength of this, he draws the conclusion that the party is separated by "sensibility" (which he doesn't define by the way), not by ideology. That may be the case, but  Dionne doesn't even come close to offering the kind of evidence that would establish that.   But it should be stressed that all of Dionne's wasted or half hearted effort is directed at establishing some kind of meta-political point–that is, a point about the politics of politics.  And so he looks for explanations of people's attitudes when they can just as easily offer justifications–here's one Dionne hasn't considered: People vote for Clinton because they think she will be a better President.

Clinton or Obama Rules

Paul Krugman today writes about the visceral hatred among some Democrats for Hillary Clinton:

Why, then, is there so much venom out there?

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

This characterization of Obama supporters seems rather loopy, in particular because Krugman doesn't even bother with evidence.  That's a shame.  For even if you think that Krugman is wrong, he generally tries to be right.

Nods head

Two comments on torture.  First, President Bush:

BUSH: First of all, whatever we have done, was legal. And whatever decision I will make, will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is is there. And the reason why…there’s a difference between what happened in the past and today is there’s new law. And um, and so to answer your question, whatever we will do will be legal. The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack and for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them which attack would they rather have not permitted…stopped? Which attack on America would they have said, you know, well, maybe that wasn’t all that important? That we stopped those attacks. I’ll do what’s necessary to protect America within the law. That’s what you gotta understand. And um, [nods head]

Not surprisingly, that doesn't make any sense.  What we did was legal, but the major difference between then and now is that there is a law, making what we will do legal–unlike before, when it was legal.  That's why there is a law.

Now from someone who has been waterboarded:

Waterboarding has, unfortunately, become a household word. Back then, we didn't call it waterboarding we called it "water torture." We recognized it as something the United States would never do, whatever the provocation. As a nation, we must ask our leaders, elected and appointed, to be aware of such horrors; we must ask them to stop the narrow and superficial thinking that hinges upon "legal" definitions and to use common sense. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is clearly a crime against humanity.

I guess they used to call it "torture."  Glad we don't call it torture anymore.