Mr. Bush and his cronies would like the argument over illegally wiretapping US citizens to be about who is willing to go the furthest to protect the American people. Predictably, the Democrats are falling into their frame.
But this isnít about security. Itís about the rights of citizens in a democracy, the abuse of power, and the rule of law in preventing such abuses.
As many have pointed out, FISA gives the President broad authorities and even allows him to act prior getting a warrant.
Notwithstanding the breadth of FISA, many of us Ė Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals Ė are willing to examine whether or not we need to change the way we gather intelligence, both domestically and internationally in the age of the Internet, global communication networks, and terrorists.
But in America, as in other democracies, thereís a process for that.
When the leader believes he needs more power, he must go to the people or their representatives and ask them for it. The power in our democratic form of governance, after all, resides with the people. Itís ours to give, not his to take.
President Bush didnít do that. Acting in secrecy, he simply took the power he wanted for his own. Thatís how dictators in banana republics operate.
Thatís the issue here. Itís that simple.
This kind of power grab was precisely the kind of abuses our founding fathers were trying to protect us from when they wrote the Bill of Rights.
And itís not the first time heís done it. Mr. Bush, like the spoiled preppy frat-boy he is, wants what he wants, and he doesnít see why he has to be subject to the same limits as the rest of us.
When he wanted to invade Iraq, he manufactured fake intelligence and lied the people and Congress into his tragic and ill-conceived preemptive war.
When he wanted to pass a prescription drug plan designed to benefit the pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the elderly and the nationís taxpayers, he lied about how much it would cost, and his administration threatened to fire the civil servant in charge of estimating the cost of the program if he told Congress the truth.
When he wanted to Privatize Social Security he lied about the health of the program, the cost of his alternative, and his motives for wanting to kill social security.
When he wanted to escape blame for 911, he said he wasnít warned about the threat, even though heíd been given an intelligence memo titled "bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States" in August of 2001.
When he wanted to punish folks like Ambassador Wilson who exposed his lies, he mounted a vicious smear campaign that involved outing a covert CIA agent.
Mr. Bush has been willing to use any means necessary to push his own agenda, and he has shown, again and again, that he puts his agenda above the truth, above the rule of law, and above the will of the American people. Look at the pattern of Soviet Style propaganda Ė paid journalists, fake newsreels, fake town hall meetings featuring phony pre-screened audiences armed with pre-screened questions complete with jack-boot stooges to toss out any citizens who make it past the government-approved attendance lists. Are these the actions one would expect from a self-described "champion of democracy?"
And his domestic spying program hasnít even made us safer. The FBI says they are getting swamped by poorly substantiated leads from these wiretaps; they tell us their agents are getting pulled from promising investigations to pursue witch hunts, and that America may be less safe as a result of this ill-conceived trampling of our Constitutional rights.
Nevertheless, in the face of doubts about the effectiveness of his domestic spying program, a record of blatant dishonesty and a penchant for grabbing power, Mr. Bush once again launches his fear machine and asks us to just "trust him," and heíll protect us.
Sorry, Mr President, but trust is something you have to earn; and trust is something youíve betrayed once too often. Weíve watched you crank up your fear machine so that you can launch your war; enrich your already rich buddies; and snatch away our rights. Frankly, Mr. Bush, you and your lust for power and your "theory of the unitary executive" have become as scary as that which you would protect us from.
The warrant less wiretap program is not about security; itís not about terrorism. Itís about the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Our rights.
If Americans value freedom, we can never allow any president to snatch our rights simply because he wants them. Tyranny is more often an inside job Ė freedom is given away more often than it is taken. And the soft siren-song of security has been the instrument of choice for would-be tyrants throughout history.
John Atcheson's writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, as well as in several wonk journals. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org