Uh-oh. Excuse me. I'm so sorry, but we are having a constitutional crisis. I know the timing couldn't be worse. Right in the middle of the wrapping paper, the gingerbread and the whole shebang, a tiny honest-to-goodness constitutional crisis.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country: Damn the inconvenience, full speed ahead. On his own, without consulting the Congress, the courts or the people, the president decided to use secret branches of government to spy on the American people. He is, of course, using 9/11 to justify his actions in this, as he does for everything else — 9/11 happened so the Constitution does not apply, 9/11 happened so there is no separation of powers, 9/11 happened so 200 years of experience curbing the executive power of government is something we can now overlook.
That the president of the United States unconstitutionally usurped power is not in dispute. He and his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, both claim he has the right to do so on account of he is the president.
Let's try this again. The president is not above the law. I wish I thought I were being too pompous about this, but the greatest danger to our freedom always comes when we are scared or distracted — and right now, we are both.
As an ACLU liberal, I would like to say how proud and honored I am to stand with so many American conservatives on this issue. You do credit to all your heroes. Barry Goldwater would be so proud.
One of the more annoying things about this usurpation of power is that it is both stupid and unnecessary. As large numbers of people have pointed out, it takes almost nothing to get a warrant to do what Bush has been doing illegally — it's almost pro forma.
Here is a curious fact about the government of this country spying on its citizens: It always goes wrong immediately. For some reason, it's not as though we start with people anyone would regard as suspicious and then somehow slip gradually into spying on the Girl Scouts. We get it wrong from the beginning every time. Never seem to be able to distinguish between a terrorist and a vegetarian.
The Department of Defense has just proved this yet again with its latest folly of mistaking a flock of Florida Quakers for a threat to overthrow the government. A few months ago, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth tried to check out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" and wound up being interviewed by two feds. Cointelpro and all those misbegotten Nixon-era spy programs were always making ludicrous mistakes.
The usual suspects, like that silly congressman Dan Burton, solemnly try to scare us with the dread specter of war, as though they alone are the hard-headed pragmatists, while only woolly minded liberals care about the Constitution. "Don't these people realize we're at war?" Well, yes. Why that justifies treating Unitarians like Islamofascists is beyond me.
This is the same pattern we have seen with Bush when it came to the Geneva Conventions for handling prisoners and to using torture. Not only does he consider himself above the law, he has surrounded himself with people who keep inventing perverse readings of the Constitution to justify him. Makes it especially nice to hear him go on about the importance of bringing democracy to Iraq.
Bush defended his actions Monday by saying it was part of "connecting the dots." A painful moment, since the 9/11 Commission just finished giving this administration grades of D and F in terms of preventing another terrorist attack — and it has jack-all to do with wiretapping. This administration has cried wolf so many times using the national security excuse it has lost all credibility.
Bush just could not resist that especially nasty little fillip at the end: blaming the people who reported the problem. As though the sin were telling the people of this country what is happening, what is being done in our name with our money, as though we have no right to know.