Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Public necessity?

President Bush gave seven minutes (live rather than his usual taped Saturday radio broadcast) to the NSA and the secret wirtapping issue. I heard it on the radio (although some TV carried it) and noted that he was tough and unrepentant. That is, as far as he is concerned he has done nothing wrong, and he has done it, i.e., re-authorized the program--as he said--"more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks". I think this surprised the CNN talking head, and, I am betting a few other folks. I also heard Senator Fiengold say something like "he is a president, not a king," and accused Bush of "playing politics" with national security. That’s helpful, isn’t it?
Here is ther Washington Post story on the speech.

Look, some of my friends are going nuts over this. One is already talking about this "Caesar," that being ever so much worse than Feingold’s "king," I guess. I say to all, calm down. You are not the only lover of liberty in the room, nor the only Constitutionalist, nor the only one who has thought about why politics isn’t as clear as mathematics. The President of the United States is saying that he knows what he did, he thought it both necessary and legal, and made sure that others knew about it, and also says that the actions were continually reviewed. That’s not bad, considering the war we are in. Even before we learn more details--and by the way we do not have to discuss all this as if we were lawyers (I know there are many in the room), let’s just pretend we are citizens having a conversation in which any citizen can participate--I want to respond to a point already raised: Would my response be the same (already leaning toward the President’s decision) if Clinton were the president? The answer is no, of course not. Why? Because I trust Clinton less than I do Bush. Would I trust Buchanan or Lincoln on a similar issue? You see my point, I think. Anyway, for now let’s leave it at that. Keep paying attention to this. Calmly.

Discussions - 19 Comments

Look, some of my friends are going nuts over this. One is already talking about this "Caesar," that being ever so much worse than Feingold’s "king," I guess.

Look for more of this sort of grandstanding "shock and awe" stories from inside the beltway to emerge. I think we’re on a parallel course with the 1960s, as aging baby boomer leftists seek to finally crush the great satan, the U.S. and it’s #1 postion of, as Bill Clinton put it, "the biggest power on the block."

If you doubt me, recall that this band of "radical youth," Clinton, Kerry, Gore et al, were empowered during a time of war when America was not the biggest power on the block. How much more so, then, are they now willing to see cut America down to size? I strongly suspect that no means will be left untried, no lie too big to tell, no amount of shrill, fearmongering will be deemed out-of-bounds so long as the end of America’s present dominance remains in sight.

These people are going to go to their graves fighting 1968, even as their fathers did fighting the cold war.

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Which side are you on?

I like that thought. Powerful.

Just a thot:

Are you talking about Bush or his opponents? Honestly, I can’t tell.

I liked the touch abaout Buchanan and Lincoln

I think Peter’s point about Clinton comes in response to something I said in a comment I posted hurriedly, and which I removed just a few minutes later. I concluded that I was being rash, and at least wanted to hear the other side before I started denouncing the administration (and I pulled it, I might add, before I saw Peter’s post).

At this point I can’t say whether any law was broken, but I’m skeptical of the Lincoln precedent, simply because no act, no matter how extreme, is logically prohibited under it. Moreover, the Civil War was an acute crisis, against a readily identifiable enemy. There was a fairly clear definition of what victory would entail, thus one could tell when the war was over, and therefore one had a reasonable idea of when the wartime exceptions to the Constitution would end. My concern is that the "War on Terror," ill-defined as it has been, will go on not for years but for generations, and that by the time it is finished (it indeed it ever is finished) the country will have become so used to this sort of executive power that it will not be removed.

This is hardly a hypothetical concern, of course--Franklin Roosevelt’s executive authority set all sorts of precedents that would haunt the remainder of the 20th century.

I would also add that, even if we assume Bush is another Lincoln (a dubious assumption, but one that I’m willing to grant for the sake of argument), the War on Terror is likely to go on long enough that sooner or later it will be waged by a non-Lincoln (perhaps a Hillary Clinton). Weapons forged for use by someone we trust are therefore likely to wind up in the hands of someone whom we do not.


You wrote:

Weapons forged for use by someone we trust are therefore likely to wind up in the hands of someone whom we do not.

That is why civil liberties cannot be trifled with, even by someone that we may "trust". I wonder how anyone who trifle’s with civil liberties can be trusted to begin with, but that’s a thought for another day. Lincoln gets a pass because of the Civil War (during which, it could be argued, the government had been "overthrown").

I think, in regards to the legality of it, that eavesdropping on foreign nationals is OK, but he would need a warrant for American citizens (Katz v. United State). Caveat Emptor: I’m not a lawyer!

To argue that it is acceptable for Bush to spy on Americans when it would be unacceptable for Clinton to do so seems to be a dangerous, and rather liberal, argument. It is an argument based solely on feelings of trust and loyalty to the President rather than an argument rooted in logic and in the core Conservative values of personal freedom and a right to privacy.

In the days when I attended Ashbrook, pre-9/11, such a feelings-based argument would have been repudiated by all, but it seems times have certainly changed.

I posted the below comment on another link but I think, it belongs here as well:

I agree that the legalty of the wiretaps is shaky and unknown at this point but the situation makes me think of a great sign that I saw when I was watching footage of the Cindy Jihad protests in our nations capitol this summer. The sign really made me stop and think. It said Freedom Isn’t Free. Yes exactly, my friends. We may have to GIVE UP some things in order to keep the freedomes that we hold to be so dear. Now I supose Fung will come on here and try to give me a lesson about what Freedom really means but this what I believe.

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t think I can comment with authority on the wiretaps issue, but my opinion on the situation right now is that I’m happy that our President is watching over us to protect us. We must stop those people. I’m terribly afraid of another 9/11-type attack, and so anything that can prevent this is worth doing in my book.

Exactly right Stephanie. We are all afraid and that is why we have to put faith in our Leaders to do the right thing. IT is not like President Bush is interested in listening to the average citizens phone conversations now is it? He is only interested in lisetning to the conversations of the bad guys, ie. terrorists.

We are all afraid and that is why we have to put faith in our Leaders to do the right thing.

That’s the kind of reasoning I’d expect from people accustomed to living under a totalitarian regime, not free people with a healthy distrust of government power. I especially like the capitalized "L" (as in "Dear Leader").


Watching your posts over the last year or so, I must say that I’ve noticed a tangible shift. Do you now have an overall unfavorable impression of President Bush? And, regarding comment #6, do you trust him (is he "someone we trust"), or not?

I find the reasoning of Fat Mike and Stephanie to be pretty disturbing. So we should blindly trust Our Great Leader no matter what he does? Even if you’re a rabid Bush supporter, it seems you shouldn’t put him on the same level as God Himself, which is almost what it sounds like you’re doing here.

Watching your posts over the last year or so, I must say that I’ve noticed a tangible shift.

I don’t regret for a moment having voted for Bush, but as I explained here (and referenced here) I did so with serious reservations. I was pretty clearly supporting him as the lesser of two evils, and continue to believe that this was the case.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything that the president has done--with the possible exception of his tax cuts and his invasion of Afghanistan--that I’ve embraced unconditionally, and there are chunks of his agenda (the ban on stem cell research, the prescription drug benefit) which I fully oppose. He has an unfortunate tendency to confuse support for capitalism (which is good) with support for particular businesses. And while 9/11 has had a profound impact on my foreign policy thinking (which used to be fairly consistently anti-interventionist) I really do fear that we are heading toward what Harry Elmer Barnes called "perpetual war for perpetual peace." There’s nothing conservative about that.

So, do I trust him? More than I trusted Clinton, I suppose. On the whole, though, I trust politicians to want to increase their power, and Republican politicians have proved no exception to this. I’m not prepared to write anyone off yet, but I’m beginning to fear that it will take another major big victory by the Dems in order to get the GOP to recommit itself to liberty.

I know that the Lincoln parallel has been bandied about a great deal lately. I admire Lincoln very much, and in the vast scheme of things I think he’s to be forgiven for his extra-Constitutional actions during the Civil War. However, I still don’t see how allowing Clement Vallandigham--repulsive as he was--to remain free would have spelled doom for the Republic.

Don’t be so surprised Phil. There are a lot of Kool-Aid drinkers out there. Check out this from a transcript of Fox News’ "Dayside" program (within the last 3 days):

Audience member: "We’ve got to give the President the flexibility to protect me. I use my cell phone all the time and I don’t have any problem with the folks listening to the conversations I have because they’re appropriate conversations."

Peter said: "Would my response be the same (already leaning toward the President’s decision) if Clinton were the president? The answer is no, of course not. Why? Because I trust Clinton less than I do Bush."

This isn’t something that Clinton OR Bush should be trusted with. The fact that Bush "thought it both necessary and legal, and made sure that others knew about it" matters not a bit. The law exists above and beyond Bush’s thoughts, feelings and hunches, and even if others did know about it, that doesn’t make it right or legal. Also, there is considerable disagreement coming from the The Hill as to whether the privileged few who were let in on these actions could really comment on them, approve or disapprove. Remember we’re talking about the President who uttered these words on Oct. 15, 2001:

"Let me say a few words about important values we must demonstrate while all of us serve in government. First, we must always maintain the highest ethical standards. We must always ask ourselves not only what is legal, but what is right. There is no goal of government worth accomplishing if it cannot be accomplished with integrity. Second, I want us to set an example of humility. As you work for the federal government there is no excuse for arrogance, and there’s never a reason to show disrespect for others. A new tone in Washington must begin with decency
and fairness. I want everyone who represents our government to be known for these values."

I guess that part about "not only what is legal, but what is right" was up for a lot more interpretation than most people would have reasonably thought, and the part about arrogance, well I guess the executive branch gets an exemption from this?

Lastly, while it’s all fine and dandy if/when we truly fight terrorists (instead of Quakers, students and all "swarthy" fellows), but there has been no war declared as of yet. As far as I’m concerned, this "war" is about as squishy and endlessly malleable to political ends, (and counterproductive) as the "war" on drugs.

It might be useful also to know what the President himself has said on these matters. Here is what he said in Buffalo, New York on April 20, 2004:

"When the President speaks, he better mean it."

Indeed. And then later, in the same remarks, he said (emphasis added):

"...there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

Pretty interesting, isn’t it? Keep in mind he said all of this when he was still renewing this policy that allowed him to do the wiretaps WITHOUT the court orders. A bald-faced lie about matters of constitutional significance. I believe a discussion about impeachment should begin, and not just on blog sites.

War does not determine who is right, war determine who is left.

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