Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sit Down and Shut Up

We know that when the White House denies they’re doing something, that probably means they’re doing it. The NSA warrantless wiretap program was well under way when George W. Bush told an audience in Buffalo:
Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. 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.
(No problem, we were told; the President was referring to roving wiretaps pursuant to the "PATRIOT" Act. The NSA's warrantless wiretaps were something else entirely, being restricted to international calls directly involving known or suspected terrorists.)

So what does it mean when the Attorney General refuses, after all, to rule out warrantless spying on purely domestic communications between American citizens? One strong possibility is that it means such a program is already in place, or at least in the works.

At a time when both Congress and the White House are working to limit the oversight power of the Federal judiciary, and Congress seems to be cooperating in its own emasculation, the signs of an approaching Constitutional crisis are alarming. As Josh Marshall writes,
Peel back all the individual arguments from Al Gonzales and the president and whomever else they put forward, the underlying idea is not so much that the president is above the law as that he is the law. He embodies it, you might say, even embodies the state itself. And thus what he does can't be illegal. What he does is simply the state cogitating and defending itself.

This is a vision that simply incompatible with any idea of separation of powers because in this view the president's prerogative always trumps the other two branches. And that makes it a grave danger to our constitutional system itself.
So what are Democratic strategists talking about these days? Well, at least one of them, Bob Shrum, is telling Hardball viewers that Democrats need to just sit down and shut up:
MATTHEWS: What happens if . . . [people] watch the president going from state to state blasting away at the Democrats saying, "Hey, if you guys get in power, all you guys want to do is censure me or waste our time with some other partisan activity. . . ." What happens if the topic becomes the Democrats?

SHRUM: Well, first of all, I think Democrats are going to go out there and make it clear that we don't want to impeach or censure the president [emphasis mine].
Somebody in Washington needs to grow a spine and stand up to the Executive Branch. If not the Democrats, then who?