"I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel I owe anybody an explanation," - president George W. Bush.
Sullivan uses this quote to point to a lengthy article in the New York Review of Books. Your literacy is presumed upon, but it's well worth some tired lips to read this account of George Bush's clandestine power grab with the passive complicity of a tame Congress.
There's a very clear pattern of aggressively asserting executive power, and the Congress has essentially been complicit in letting him do it. The key is that Bush has a Republican Congress; of course if it was a Clinton presidency we'd be holding hearings.
Grover Norquist, a principal organizer of the conservative movement who is close to the Bush White House and usually supports its policies, says, "If you interpret the Constitution's saying that the president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and can ignore the laws you don't have a constitution: you have a king." He adds, "They're not trying to change the law; they're saying that they're above the law and in the case of the NSA wiretaps they break it." A few members of Congress recognize the implications of what Bush is doing and are willing to speak openly about it. Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator from California, talks of a "very broad effort" being made "to increase the power of the executive." Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska, says:
Further down, there's this:
In late February, shortly after Bush's signing statement on the McCain amendment, the Constitution Project, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization in Washington, issued a protest signed by former government officials of both parties, prominent conservatives, and scholars, saying that they "are deeply concerned about the risk of permanent and unchecked presidential power, and the accompanying failure of Congress to exercise its responsibility as a separate and independent branch of government." They objected to Bush's assertions that he "may not be bound" by statutes enacted by Congress, such as the McCain amendment, and that he can ignore "long-standing treaty commitments and statutes that prohibit the torture of prisoners." It concluded that "we agree that we face a constitutional crisis."
Those of us with bluish blood and liberal educations (that is to say, the traditional liberal-arts values which are quite apart from political philosophy) have an reflexive horror which those of us that toil among the Common People must learn to suppress. I throw in a "fuck" now and again to establish my intellectual punk creds.
But there is a point to speaking with both technical precision and with a deliberate lack of passion about such a grave matter. You see, to translate that into terms the politically apathetic and those of average education may understand, the phrase would be something along the line of "The British Are Coming; The British Are Coming!"
A constitutional Crisis is, in political terms, something like the term "broken arrow" in national security terms.
A Constitutional Crisis is a huge big fat fucking deal. The whole point to the constitution is to prevent anyone from doing precisely the things that El Presidente has done.
Declare war illegally, spy on citizens, detain persons without trial, ignore the laws passed by Congress as directed by the people - these are all things that are constitutionally forbidden, and for damned good reasons. One very significant reason for that is the security of the people - which our founders thought far more important than security of the people who consider themselves to be the government.
Nor were the founders particularly concerned about nebulous threats, or even naked ones. "The Tree Of Liberty must from time to time be Refreshed with the Blood of Patriots."
National Security is YOUR job, and MY job. The job of the Government (and at this point, the Founders were thinking of Militias, not armies) is to send out a holler for help, and you and me are supposed to grab our muskets and come a-runnin'.
Seeing that thee and me are likely to be raucously pissed should we have to go out and be shot at for trivial reasons, much less reasons of personal political advantage, the government was expected to conduct it's foreign and domestic affairs in such a manner as to prevent large numbers of us from picking sides and exchanging volleys.
With one notable exception, that philosophy has worked, although it may be argued - and I'm one starting to think it should be argued - that despite all it's flaws and all the evils of slavery and bigotry that existed within it, the Confederacy should have won.
Confederates were a lot picker about their rights and freedoms - perhaps due to having so many examples of what the lack of it was like.
But of course, all of history is "Pre 9/11," as if we had somehow had a magical immunity to the reality of human nature before.
Now, "national security," you say "means we must give up a few rights and privacies."
There is only one proper response to that, in constitutional terms.
In frontier terms, in terms that anyone familiar with John Ford Westerns and Star Wars, the answer is more succinct:
Because anyone who is unwilling to individually defend their liberty and the liberty of their neighbors, their children, their town and it's widows and orphans is damn well unworthy to breath the same air free men do. They are either a gutless coward or an outlaw, and a bullet is a proper cure for either condition.
Now, the odds of you, personally being affected by even the most profound, destructive and deadly act of terror - short of the stupidest imaginable bioterrorism - are on the order of being struck by lighting - in your left foot.
But the odds of you being harmed, disadvantaged, annoyed, presumed upon, bothered, discriminated against or even rounded up and put into a detention camp are far greater. The odds vary for each possibility, but for some of us, the possibility of being "gitmoized" or just "disappeared" in the Poyndexterean sense is significant enough for us to consider taking out additional coverage, with both Lloyd's of London and Smith and Wesson.
Consider one thing: Terrorists are not interested in killing a huge number of people. They are interested in killing enough people to terrify a huge number of people. Dead people affect no policies and do not vote.
On the other hand. You can vote. Perhaps you did vote.
Are you satisfied with the results?