Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year End Musings

The Moose rambles during his holiday repose.

There is a legitimate and important debate underway on the authority for the President's eavesdropping program. There are strong arguments that the President should have sought authorization from the FISA Court for the surveillance. However, in the Moose's view, it is out-of-bounds to suggest that the President was attempting a tyrannical seizure of power. Contrary to the not too subtle suggestion in the fevered ACLU ad in today's New York Times, this is not Watergate. Aging baby-boomers don't need to get their fraying Impeach Nixon shirts out of the closet just yet. There is no evidence, for instance, that President exploited the program to spy on domestic opponents or to assist in his re-election. If he did, it would be an entirely different matter.

Both the Constitution's clause granting war powers to the President and the Congress' authorization of the use of force against Al Qaeda appear to be sufficient to justify the program. The detection of phone calls between terrorist suspects and contacts in America constitute legitimate war activities in this new type of conflict. Establishing probable cause and justification might have been impracticable with the need to immediately mine hundreds of calls and electronic communications. And there are certainly precedents for warrantless searches.

In virtually every war, there has been a push and pull between the Executive and Congress over war time power. For instance, prior to World War II, many assert that FDR brazenly circumvented the Neutrality Act to defend our allies. Imagine how the ACLU crowd would have treated FDR's action - Dictator, Tyrant, Criminal! Come to think of it, the Taft Republicans of that day did employ similar invective. And so today, we have the rantings of the Taft Democrats.

In a conflict between Article II and FISA, the Constitutional war making powers of the Presidency are likely to prevail. And if there was ever a case for "energy in the Executive" it was the pressing Presidential duty to detect terrorists after 9/11, regardless of whether that Chief Executive was a Republican, Democrat or Vegetarian.

Lefties are availing themselves to bash Bush, and would not likely object if a Democratic President implemented an eavesdropping program. If we do not thwart the plans of the Jihadists, there will be far greater threats to our freedoms, our liberties and our lives.

If the Members of Congress who were briefed on the eavesdropping matter truly believed that the President was violating both the Constitution and the law, then a mere letter to file was far from sufficient. They should have made this a matter of critical importance - a closed meeting of the Intelligence Committee, if not the Senate was in order. House Members should have broken down the door of the Speaker and demanded action.

Now that the program has been revealed, it is lame for those briefed Members to suggest that this is a Constitutional and legal travesty. Even though this is a secret program, they might have gone public because the rule of law was in jeopardy.

Similarly, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11. Now that memories have faded, almost all Democratic Senators, who once supported the legislation, stopped a modified version of the bill which accommodated many civil libertarian concerns.

It appears that we have an entirely new category of politicians -the "hindsight heroes". They express disgust at those same policies that they either supported or did not strenuously object to until after they become unpopular with the Democratic base. That is also true of many who once supported the war, but have now discovered religion. And entering their ranks are those esteemed current and former Members who didn't exactly "set their hair on fire" when they learned about the eavesdropping are suggesting that we have arrived at a constitutional crisis. As others have pointed out, so far none of the objectors have actually called for a termination of the program.

At least Russ Feingold opposed the war and the Patriot Act from the beginning. He is as consistent as he is courageous (while wrong-headed). It was also particularly gutsy of him to be the only '08 Democratic aspirant to have voted for John Roberts. If the left has a standard-bearer, Feingold is an admirable advocate in contrast to some of his "sunshine" colleagues.

Perhaps the wrong judgment was made about circumventing FISA. But, this was a decision made on the basis that FISA was not structured to deal with hundreds of real time intercepts that demand immediate action. One is free to quibble with that judgment. But this action was taken with the knowledge of the leaders of both parties. Somehow, the Moose does not recall President Nixon briefing Democratic leaders as he implemented the plumbers program.

If lefties and some libertarians want to oppose the eavesdropping because they are privacy absolutists, fine. But don't suggest that the President has defiled the Constitution and broken the law. Sometimes judgments are right or wrong and not illegal or unconstitutional. The Moose acknowledges that he is deferential to Presidential powers during wartime. And this President has far from stretched the boundaries of precedents established by past Commanders-in-Chief.

We have two great parties in America. One is in thrall to big money. The other is under the control of left wing "new politics," upper middle class, and highly educated activists. The primary domestic objective of the contemporary GOP is to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. However, the primary objective of the National Democratic Party is not to address the anxieties of the middle class or poor working Americans but rather to relieve the fevered anxieties of the ACLU, Hollywood funders and puerile bloggers.

The lesson of the last election that national security matters most has been lost on the donkeys. They are in danger of becoming the 9/10 Democrats. Increasingly, they appear to resemble pre-Clinton Democrats of the seventies and eighties when they were animated by the new class liberalism, particularly on foreign policy, rather than New Democratic centrism.

There is a great need for a serious opposition party to critique the Administration's ineptitude in Iraq or its hapless policy toward the growing threat in Iran. During the Cold War, great Democrats like JFK and Scoop offered a more hawkish alternative to the Republicans.

Unfortunately, too many of the National Democrats play the role of modern Robert Taft/Henry Wallacites in the war against terror. Of course, there are some notable exceptions - but they are a distinct minority in a party that is animated by full-throated Bush rage. The great, and possibly only hope of the Democrats, is that the Governors assert power within the party. Maybe, they can reinvigorate the long dormant JFK wing of the party.

What Peter Beinart perceptively wrote over a year ago is even more true today,

"But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.

"When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world."

The Moose would readily sign up for the Democratic Party of FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ and Scoop. Alas, it doesn't exist and there is no sign that it will return anytime soon. And it is hard to believe that any of those great Democrats would recognize their party. Neither party represents their followers. Progressive hawks dwell in a political Diaspora. If only there was a party that both advocates universal health care coverage and universal coverage from a Jihadist attack.A party that can combat both global warming and global terrorism. A party that can be serious both about fighting poverty and Islamic extremism.

The Moose is not exactly holding his breath waiting for such a party to emerge. That is why he will remain a cheerful independent grazing in the vital center of American politics.

Anyway, enough of this rambling disquisition. Happy New Year!

-- Posted at 8:12 AM | Link to this post | Email this post