Monday, January 09, 2006

When Fear Runs The White House

A number of fellow bloggers have been writing on the President's decision to wiretap domestic phone calls of suspected terrrorist sympathizers here in the US. The libertarian and lawyer blogs have been disappointed or even outraged. Our Neo-Conservatives, have of course rallied to the Presidents side. They have joined in the call for an investigation into the whistleblower. Of course like the Neo-Cons in the White House they are calling all of us who are upset with the Presidents decision either blind to the terrorist threat or terrorist sympathizers. Liberal bloggers are calling for the President's impeachment.

I have not been comfortable with any of it. I do not think the President or his merry band of men are presently using the NSA to spy on domestic enemies of the administration. I also would not put it past members of his administration. Zealots often have persecution complexes and paranoia can lead to overreaching. Hence the fears of the Liberals and even some of the Libertarians.

On the other hand blinding approval of this presidential overreaching is just as bad. The White house was wrong to follow this program. The FISA court was available and a near rubberstamp of most administration wiretap warrent requests, if they had a problem with a warrant then maybe that warrant needed to be rethought. You see the FISA court is sufficiently out of the White house "paranoia circle" to determine a proper request from a request that over-reaches.

Critics of the President point to his discomfort with the "rules" of government. Whether he called the US Constitution a god damn piece of paper, or just finds it easier to do things his own way, his "my way or the highway" and "either you agree with me or you are a traitor" additude just reminds too many of us of our Watergate days.

I am a lawyer by trade, but a Historian by training. I read a recent post on the Uncivil litigator which got me thinking.

I don't agree with everything in the blog. I do however think that the President's lack of legal training, and his failure to appreciate the rights embodied in the Bill of Rights clearly indicates that he must be carefully overseen by an active congress.

Look, it seems clear to me that the president is interested in keeping Americans alive and well. He is very paternal that way. It is commendable that he wants to make us safe from terrorists.

It is also not a good idea to over limit freedom in exchange for peace and security. The President has allowed fear to overtake America, and with that undo much of what we appreciate about our political culture. It is also clear that the President does not understand that 9-11 was not the only time that America was attacked from within. The Weathermen in the 1960's were bombing things all over. They were also helping stage havoc at student lead riots throughout the nation.

As historians looking back, few of us have been impressed with the Johnson/Nixon response to those domestic terrorists. Spying on them became spying on anyone who disagreed with the Executive branch. In fact the only thing I can deduce is that the cutting down on Freedom caused us to have no more security. We are a jittery nation. In surrendering our Freedom we have allowed the cretins of the world to undermine the greatest democracy in history. So many of us are ready to be searched and otherwise inconvienenced. Now the Administration wants us to consent to be bugged and to allow information to be gathered against us and held by our government. We have forgotten everything Ben Franklin tried to teach us. The problem we have is that it is only a short leap from investigation enemies of the state to investigating enemies of the administration. The GW Bush White house has shown little patience with anyone who disagrees with them. That is especially true as to anyone who disagrees with their conduct in their "War on Terrorism."

Now it comes out that the President proceeded without legislative support to go after telephone conversations of Americans on American soil without getting a warrant from the most warrant happy bench in the Federal Judiciary (the FISA Court).

Is it a constitutional breach? Probably not. Is it legal. Maybe for about a month after 9-11 Without a doubt it is not legal for longer than that. Domestic spying without a warrant and without a change in the law is not legal long term.
Even if the technology was a problem, it needed to be addressed in a public forum. The law is capable of keeping up with the technology.

So what do we do? I think the President needs to apologize for the breach. Explain to the American people that the program was not about his overreaching for power under the guise of protecting us, and acknowledge that he is acting the way he is because he cares about us and doesn't want to see another 9-11 on his watch. Then he needs to acknowledge that being the President of the most freedom loving nation on earth, means that most of us would rather be exposed to some level of risk than forfeit our freedom. He needs to say that he understands why we are upset with the overreaching and that such concern is not a misunderstanding of the terror threat but a fair reaction to his administration's response. That he will work to change laws he thinks are hampering the war on terror through the normal political channels and that he will be very careful and limited when trying to protect us. He needs to acknowledge the passing nature of the administration's initiatives so that the rest of us do not believe that all these changes will last forever. He needs to provide outside oversight when he acts the way he has been acting.

I am sorry Mr. President, If I wanted to live in a state safe from the world's harm, I would go to Switzerland. I want to live here. I want you to do your best to limit the danger, without it infriging on our right to privacy in our daily lives.

That is what I think, tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment below or writing to me at
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