Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Another not credible excuse
In Crawford, Texas, where Bush is taking yet another vacation, his second-string spokesman, Trent Duffy, defended Bush's four year-old program of illegal wiretapping and spying with these words:
This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches.

How well does this fit in with their previous justifications for law-breaking?

"We only spy on bad people." He's staying consistent with that one.

"The courts and/or Congress wouldn't let us do this if we told them why." Okay there's a flaw here. Can you find it? If you said, "They won't let you spy on known commuter train, wedding, and church blower-uppers!? That doesn't make sense," you guessed right. If you followed that guess by saying, "If you know who the commuter train, wedding, and church blower-uppers are and what their phone numbers are, why don't you do something about them?" you are a pro-Saddam enemy of America and I'm glad the President is listening to your phone calls. If you said, "Damn those courts and/or Congress for not letting the President protect our Little League practices and potluck dinners from known commuter train, wedding, and church blower-uppers!!" you are a patriotic American.

This reminds me of an only vaguely related point. Two of the other market-tested justifications for Bush's illegal wiretapping and spying have been, A) the Constitution allows it by saying the President is the Commander-in-Chief during wartime, and B) only by breaking the law can the President move fast enough to save us from all of those ticking atomic bombs hidden in our major cities' better neighborhoods.

Although the architects of the Constitution were, almost to a man, fearful of tyrants and suspicious of letting any person or body have too much power, they did see a potential need for someone to act quickly and decisively in emergencies. For this reason, they put command of the military into the hands of the President. But even then they tempered this power by leaving the authority to raise, fund, and establish rules for the military in the hands of Congress. They also conditioned the actual exercise of the President's Commander-in-Chief power over military on Congress declaring war. Beyond purely military matters, they also showed that they expected the President to be responsible for quick decisions when Congress was unavailable by granting him such powers as recess appointment.

Sum up that general concept. In those days of slow travel and communication, they knew that it could take days, even weeks, to gather a quorum of Congress. They recognized that the President would need to be able to speak for the entire government and make decisions in emergencies. Bush's apologists, being fans of original intent, think they have hit the mother-load of presidential power with this concept. The courts and congress can never act fast enough to satisfy John Yoo, Ted Olsen, or Alberto Gonzales. Add to that an open-ended war on an abstract concept--a permanent state of emergency--and we have an argument for unlimited presidential power.

This power is predicated on the President being on duty when Congress is not. If the President was to leave the White House over the week-end, Christmas holiday, or for five weeks in late summer, he would be abandoning his post, he would be derelict in his duty. Aren't there penalties for abandoning your post and going AWOL during wartime? I'm just speaking hypothetically, of course. Not that this President would ever do anything like that.

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