Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tyranny

First religion, now politics. I apparently just canNOT let sleeping dogs lie. I have all kinds of funny, good stuff to write -- my Mom's birthday is today, my oldest friend in the world visited over the weekend and we had a great time, there's this awesome "Concert In The Cave" music series out where we live -- but there is legislation pending in Congress that I (and lots of others from across the political spectrum) believe to be the most important to face our country in my lifetime and I can't just let it go without some kind of comment.

It's no secret I'm what most people would consider a liberal. Fundamentally that means I think government has a significant role to play in shaping the society we live in for the greatest good, for the greatest number of its citizens.

I'm conservative in the sense that I believe whatever the proper role of government is, it should fulfill that role in a fiscally responsible manner. Balanced budgets, paying your bills, investing wisely, all of that stuff. I also believe in old-fashioned things like patriotism, justice, loyalty, honor, the great traditions of our military, strong defense, self-reliance, and responsibility.

All of which is why I find the current administration's philosophy of "The Unitary Executive" so profoundly alarming. Here's one way of stating the position from FindLaw (emphasis mine):

However, Bush's recent actions make it clear that he interprets the coordinate construction approach extremely aggressively. In his view, and the view of his Administration, that doctrine gives him license to overrule and bypass Congress or the courts, based on his own interpretations of the Constitution -- even where that violates long-established laws and treaties, counters recent legislation that he has himself signed, or (as shown by recent developments in the Padilla case) involves offering a federal court contradictory justifications for a detention.

This is a form of presidential rebellion against Congress and the courts, and possibly a violation of President Bush's oath of office, as well.

After all, can it be possible that that oath means that the President must uphold the Constitution only as he construes it - and not as the federal courts do?

And can it be possible that the oath means that the President need not uphold laws he simply doesn't like - even though they were validly passed by Congress and signed into law by him?


In a nutshell, our President and his team of advisors (notably VP Dick Cheney, former White House legal advisor John Yoo, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) believe that the President of the United States has the power under the Constitution as Commander In Chief to do pretty much anything he wants if he believes he is defending the country from attack. So far this has included the belief that the President can ignore laws passed by Congress, can use Presidential Signing Statements to essentially reinterpret those laws, can decide what court cases the Judiciary gets to hear, can detain suspects (even US citizens) indefinitely without recourse to a defense, can wiretap our phones and emails without oversight or probably cause, and can abrogate or reinterpret foreign treaties at will.

In other words, the President is above the law, because if he does something then by definition it's not illegal.

Once that concept is codified into law, we no longer have a constitutional democracy. Whatever party you belong to, or whatever political or religious philosophy you align yourself with, willfully elevating any of the three branches of government to a level that cannot be checked at all by any other is an insanely disastrous course of action. George Bush won't be President forever -- if you're a Republican, imagine this kind of unchecked power in the hands of a Hillary Clinton or a Michael Moore. Imagine that someone truly nuts gets elected, and can then declare almost anyone who opposes him as an "enemy combatant" -- even US Citizens -- able to be whisked away to secret prisons in far-away countries, tortured at will, and denied even the possibility of redress from the courts.

Those are the tools of the tyrant, and we're on the brink of writing them into law.

I want to quote at length from Andrew Sullivan, who used to be a strong backer of George Bush before it became clear that "The Unitary Excutive" is nothing but a euphemism for a dictatorship. The full post is here, and I encourage everyone to read it. This is a very real Constitutional Crisis facing us, and we remain silent at the peril of our very liberty.

Whatever else this is, it is not a constitutional democracy. It is a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, subject to only one control: the will of the Great Decider. And the war that justifies this astonishing attack on American liberty is permanent, without end. And check the vagueness of the language: "purposefully supported" hostilities. Could that mean mere expression of support for terror? Remember that many completely innocent people have already been incarcerated for years without trial or any chance for a fair hearing on the basis of false rumors or smears or even bounty hunters. Or could it be construed, in the rhetoric of Hannity and O'Reilly, as merely criticizing the Great Decider and thereby being on the side of the terrorists?

All I know is that al Qaeda is winning battles every week now. And they are winning them because their aim of gutting Western liberty is shared by the president of the United States. The fact that we are finding this latest, chilling stuff out now - while this horrifying bill is being rushed into law to help rescue some midterms - is beyond belief. It must be stopped, filibustered, prevented. And anyone who cares about basic constitutional freedom - conservatives above all - should be in the forefront of stopping it.

7 comments:

David M said...

Give some possible suggested actions to take to prevent it from happening.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, where is the bill, do you know its name and the status of the bill in the legislature? As a conservative, I never want to see any one person have unlimited power, nor do I want to see one branch of government bigger and stronger than another. After a couple of American history classes and some additional reading, I have no doubt that none of the Founding Fathers ever wanted to see a president with unlimited powers. Thanks for the heads up, and I'd like to read more about it. - Denise

Jeff Hebert said...

Give some possible suggested actions to take to prevent it from happening.

1) Write your Senator and/or congressional representative.

2) Contribute money to one of the organizations fighting this -- MoveOn or ActBlue if you're a Democrat, the ACLU if you're neutral, or to John McCain if you're a Republican (McCain has apparently capitulated to the White House on this, but I think he just is interpreting what the bills say, thinking they are more limiting than they really are).

3) Encourage people to pay attention to the issue if you can -- I know you're like me, you don't like bringing up politics, but this is really important.

4) Write a letter to your local paper.

Jeff, where is the bill, do you know its name and the status of the bill in the legislature?

There are two sets of legislation, the detainee/torture proposal (basically allowing the US to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions against torture so we can do pretty much whatever we want to uncharged detainees in our custody -- much like the Soviet Union used to do. Remember when that was bad?) and the FISA wireless wiretapping proposals (allowing the President to spy on anyone he wants -- even US citizens -- at any time he wants without either congressional or judicial oversight).

There are several versions of the detainee/torture bill working their way through the House and Senate. They're all bad. The worst is Arlen Specter's version, the almost-as-bad one is the McCain/Warner one. Part of the problem is that this is getting crammed through Congress so fast that no one's really quite sure just what any of them entail.

This stuff is too important to blast through it so hastily. I'd encourage everyone to let legislation on both the detainee/torture stuff and the FISA wireless wiretapping stuff wait until the next session of Congress.

Actually I'd encourage everyone to ask their congressmen to completely annihilate both sets of legislation because I think they're rotten to the core. But barring that, let's at least have an open, honest, and (most importantly) thorough debate about exactly what we're doing here. Democracy in secret is not democracy at all.

As a conservative, I never want to see any one person have unlimited power, nor do I want to see one branch of government bigger and stronger than another.

Amen to that. This whole Unitary Executive crap sets my conservative teeth on edge far more than my liberal sensitivites.

Jeff Hebert said...

I want to stress that many Democrats in the Senate (including, apparently, Harry Reid, the Minority Leader) are also supporting the Torture Bill (see here for more details).

This is not a partisan issue, this is an American issue. If the Democrats aren't willing to stand up and say that torture is wrong, they are every bit as culpable on this as Bush is for asking for it in the first place.

If you're a Democrat or liberal-leaning person reading this, pick up the phone and call Harry Reid, Barak Obama, and Joe Lieberman and let them know that they have got to finally stand up and walk the walk on this moral issue like they keep scolding the rest of us to do.

If this bill passes the Senate, every Senator who votes for it deserves to have their hands held to the fire, just as they're making it legal for us to do to those in our custody.

Jeff Hebert said...

One more specific thing you can do is to contact two key moderate Senate Republicans who have a chance of stopping this particular bill. Both of these women have shown in the past that they are willing to stand up for true conservative principles (smaller, more controlled government), the hope is that they can withstand White House pressure on this bill and vote against it, effectively killing it for this term so we can have some time to understand exactly what we need to do:

Susan Collins
461 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2523
Fax: (202) 224-2693

Olympia Snowe
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5344
Toll Free: (800) 432-1599
Fax: (202) 224-1946

Thanks to MyDD for the contact info.

Geopoet said...

Okay, I'm going to go against the grain here again, sorry.

Let's be factual here rather than reactive - none of this allows the President to "pretty much do anything he wants" in either situation. The Unitary Executive article is also disingenuous and very misleading. These are scare tactics being used to obscure the important details. The bills specifically focus on those criminals who are trying to kill innocent Americans while still abiding by the rules of warfare and ethical treatment of criminals or prisoners. Killing this legislation has nothing to do with protecting US citizens' liberties, it only makes it easier for foreigners to kill us.

There is one thing I do agree with - we need to read the bills and get the facts. You'd be amazed by reading what the "other side" is saying rather than the side that's out of power - in fact, the Republican's views may (and I think they do) contain more truths and facts than what's being said by the left and should be read. For example, McCain and the majority are not capitulating idiots - they are comfortable with the approaches and legal framework here. However, I certainly would not go anywhere near MoveOn or the ACLU if the truth is what you're after.

Jeff Hebert said...

There is one thing I do agree with - we need to read the bills and get the facts. You'd be amazed by reading what the "other side" is saying rather than the side that's out of power - in fact, the Republican's views may (and I think they do) contain more truths and facts than what's being said by the left and should be read. For example, McCain and the majority are not capitulating idiots

Yes, that would be the John McCain and Arlen Specter who said they doubted this bill was constitutional after it passed, but that they voted for it anyway. They weren't sure because they didn't know what it said once it came out of committee because they didn't have time to read it afterwards. The most troubling aspects of it came out of that committee, and most of it abrogated what McCain et. al. had reached in "compromise". He got suckered, again. The specific language that's so troubling is the definition of what an "enemy non-combatant" is, using very vague terms that easily can apply to a US Citizen. The concern is that a President who has already shown that he's willing to violate the rights of citizens suspected of terrorism (Padilla) will use that vagueness to take a law that people thought was about foreigners, and apply it to US citizens.

The right to habeus corpus is written into the Constitution. A law to bypass it is, prima facea, unconstitutional. What's appalling is that McCain and Specter and Warner voted for it anyway, knowing it probably was illegal. Their oath is not to protect the President, or their Party, or their jobs -- their oath is to protect the Constitution, and by their own admission they failed on this particular law.