The Manifest President

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the whole domestic wiretapping issue and I think I’ve come to some kind of conclusion concerning what irks me the most about the whole situation. I think it’s quite clear that the President is overstepping his bounds, given the fact that Congress created the FISA court and construed the rules for using such a body back in 1978. None of the reasoning (or excuses) given by the Bush administration argues against the role of the FISA court, nor is there an argument that Congress should legislate for the Executive branch to wield the additional powers they have been using. They have simply stated (erroneously, I argue) that the President has the right, the manifest power I’ll call it, to enact policy that defends this nation even where that power is at odds with the voice of the people, the House and the Senate.

Now, on it’s face, many folks might be convinced that a little spying is a good thing. “If you have nothing to hide,” goes the argument. But let’s take the President’s argument one step further. If, as he asserts, he has the right – this manifest power – to do whatever he likes in the face of terrorism, why hasn’t he done more? If he can use the NSA to wiretap American citizens, why not reach farther in other areas outside of “spying” to ensnare our enemies?

For example:

  • Utilize the National Guard and other branches of the military to completely seal off our borders
  • Harsher enforcement of existing gun laws (enemy combatant status and imprisonment without charges, hearings or trials) and waiting periods (wiretaps of all those who purchase weapons) through the FBI and ATF
  • Treason charges brought by the Justice Department against seditious/treasonous journalists who “leaked” the wiretapping/domestic spying story
  • Create internment camps for all American citizens of Middle Eastern descent or Muslim faith

These all seem like solid areas for extending these manifest powers (save the handgun idea), especially for loyal Conservatives and Republicans. I’m being faceteous, of course (or maybe it isn’t that far off), but I’m wondering why none of Bush’s defenders had called for him to execute his powers in as broad a manner as he claims he can? Are they worried that perhaps this kind of unchecked Executive might cause more harm then good? I know I certainly don’t want the unrestrained and unguarded use of power to accidentally catch me (of my friends and relatives) in it’s net.

And I think this is the larger issue of the wiretapping brouhaha. Do we as Americans believe that the current threats in the world today warrant the kind of restructuring and reimagining of the powers of the Executive in this way? Ultimately, I think I agree with Al Gore:

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment’s notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

Now I don’t know how many of the people reading this blog agree or disagree with my politics on this issue, but you’ve got to admit that the kind of thing the Bush administration is explaining away as their right all along – this concept of manifest powers – isn’t exactly the kind of democracy you learned about in school. It sure doesn’t sound like the Republic I know (or knew) as America.

So please, just pause for a moment and extrapolate the consequences, both good and ill, ascribed in the current policy of governance by our chief executive officer and decide for yourself if it isn’t akin to the corporate malfeasance of Enron executives who cooked books because they claimed the right. And let’s all remember that Lincoln said “right makes might” and not the opposite.

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