Sunday, December 25, 2005


The King ... er, Prez ... takes some shots in today's Tribune op-ed page in reaction to the recent revelations about his extra-legal use of the NSA to snoop on America.

First up, erstwhile libertarian Steve Chapman gives his thoughts on the über-imperial Presidency.
President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.
He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.
His conservative allies say Bush is acting to uphold the essential prerogatives of his office. Vice President Cheney says the administration's secret eavesdropping program is justified because "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it."
But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors.
Next up is Clarence Page, who raises the spectre of Monicagate by comparing the lies of Bush with the lies of Clinton, and even though he doesn't explicitly make the point it is still there -- Clinton is the one who was impeached for his lies?

One of the first rules of skilled lying is to avoid leaving evidence around that might expose your fibbing. President Bush has left evidence on the White House Web site. There we can see Bush promoting the Patriot Act at an April 2004 appearance in Buffalo, N.Y., and assuring us that his administration does not conduct wiretaps on Americans without court approval.
Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires--a wiretap requires a court order," he says. "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."
Knowing what we know now, that sounds like the biggest presidential whopper since Bill Clinton denied his indiscretions with an intern.
Two years before Buffalo, Bush authorized the National Security Agency to turn its mighty electronic ears on thousands of phone calls and e-mails between the United States and abroad without bothering to get a warrant. He does not deny violating the now-famous Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Instead, he argued after the disclosures by The New York Times that he does not have to obey the FISA.
He argues, echoing other presidents, that the special circumstances of the "war on terror" authorize him to take any steps he needs to keep Americans safe. But if the president can do whatever he wants, why do we need a Patriot Act?
Bush was too busy complaining about the "shameful" leak to the Times to answer that question at his media face-off. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy," he fumed. Ah, when discussing a well-known security program is "helping the enemy," George Orwell must be spinning in his grave.
Closing the trio is Ronald Allen, a law professor at Northwestern, delves into the myriad constitutional questions raised by the President's usurpations.

The president purports to be searching for information relevant to foreign affairs, but he apparently has authorized highly intrusive searches of citizens in the U.S. He may very well have the inherent authority to do this if Congress does not act, but I am fairly confident that the Supreme Court also would conclude that Congress does indeed have the power to regulate the president in cases like this.
And Congress should make it clear that that is exactly what it intended to do through the adoption of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. This law permits emergency action followed by subsequent notification to the FISA court, and to my knowledge there has not been a single claim that information given to the FISA court has ever leaked or damaged national security.
Moreover, it is obvious that the government is engaged in an ongoing effort to get information and is not acting to stop imminent threats of harm. I applaud these efforts but prefer that the executive branch not exercise its authority answerable only to its own good judgment. That path does indeed lead to tyranny.
Most of all, I applaud the debate that will now occur in the country. Maybe I am wrong in my judgment that subjecting the president's actions to the minimal constraints of FISA wouldn't imperil our national security. If it would, the Bush administration should make that case, and the nation should evaluate it.
The point of all three is clear -- even this President in this environment is not bigger than the Constitution. You would like to think that the controversy surrounding this latest escapade would make that clear to him --- but nobody will be surprised if it doesn't.


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