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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Various items

(1) One of the favorite claims of Bush followers is that Jim Webb is going to be some sort of thorn in the side of Democrats based upon the myth that he is not a "real Democrat." It looks like half of that claim is correct -- he is going to be a thorn, but not in the side of Democrats. From The Hill:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t.

Webb's office, more or less, confirmed the report. It is difficult to fathom the hubris and self-indulgence required for someone to ask a parent of a soldier in Iraq how their son is doing only to then snidely tell the parent that the answer isn't what he wanted to hear.

(2) Whenever you think that Bush followers cannot descend any lower into un-American authoritarianism, they always prove you wrong. Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, has said that he will take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible, since -- as a Muslim -- he happens to believe in the Koran and not the Bible. Dennis Prager has a column (cheered on by various extremists) insisting that Ellison "not be allowed to do so," arguing that "if you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress":

What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.

If you hadn't read that for yourself, wouldn't it be hard to believe that someone is actually arguing this? Prager is essentially asking: What has happened to America where now it seems that people can decide for themselves what books they will believe are holy? The viewpoint which Prager derisively attributes to the "Muslim and leftist supporters" of Ellison happens to be one of the core founding principles of the Republic: "it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

James Joyner and Stephen Bainbridge both provide excellent rebuttals, including Joyner's pointing out the rather obvious fact that requiring elected officials to take their oaths on the Bible would constitute a textbook case of a "religious test" prohibited by Article VI, and would almost certainly violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well.

As always, it is the most basic constitutional principles -- which were previously beyond challenge -- that are placed in doubt by the most rabid Bush followers. And these attacks on our constitutional values are, with no sense of irony, waged in the name of defending "America."

(3) One of the oddest and most damaging aspects of our political discourse is that some of the most significant issues -- ones which have the greatest impact on our laws and government -- somehow become too controversial for mainstream political figures even to mention, let alone seriously debate. An orthodoxy arises which one cannot even question, let alone deviate from, while still maintaining political viability.

One such topic is the role which our commitment to Israel plays in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. But another equally significant topic is the rationale behind ongoing drug prohibition laws and the havoc those laws wreak on every level. As this post from McQ illustrates (h/t Mona), opposition to drug laws and their accompanying Draconian enforcement efforts (along with still more Draconian laws to enable enforcement) is a political position which finds considerable support across the ideological spectrum. Despite that, opposition to drug laws still remains strictly off-limits for any mainstream political figure. It is hard to see exactly what accounts for that dynamic.

In response to an article I wrote at Salon regarding the increasing support for Democrats among Mountain West libertarians (in the broadest and least doctrinal sense of that term), as well as the decidedly un-libertarian agenda of the current incarnation of the Republican Party, Radley Balko claimed that Democrats would never "waste any political capital" pursuing any items important to libertarians. Included on his list of important libertarian items were various issues relating to the nation's drug laws, along with similarly intrusive federal powers:

How about cutting off funding for the DEA's jack-booted marches into California's medical marijuana clinics? While you're at it, snip the purse strings for the agency's persecution of pain specialists, too. And remove the federal ban on scientific research into the possible health benefits of marijuana. Revoke the Internet gambling ban, or -- even better -- legalize online wagering to eliminate any ambiguity. Repeal federal asset forfeiture laws. Repeal the federal minimum drinking age and the national .08 blood-alcohol standard. De-fund the FCC's war on dirty words, and the DOJ's war on dirty pictures.

Personally, I would favor each of the items on Balko's list, as I have written before with regard to some of them (although most, if not all, of those items could never be enacted by Democrats in light of the presidential veto). Very preliminarily, my sense is that the staunchest opposition to repealing or even weakening the nation's drug laws -- and certainly to repealing various federal measures designed to enforce nationalized standards of "decency" -- would be predicated on moralistic/religious grounds, and would be found among "social conservatives" who dominate the Republican Party.

One could far more easily envision a Democratic politician advocating at least mild repeals of some drug laws than a Republican political official doing so, but it is hard to understand why this issue remains so politically radioactive in light of how glaringly irrational and destructive (on every level) the drug laws are. Is there really substantial support for anti-drug laws and aggressive federal enforcement of those laws among liberals? I doubt it, although, again, that is speculative.

But what does seem clear is that the greatest impediment, by far, to being able even to discuss the issue of drug prohibition is the moralistic opposition to drug usage coming from the "religious conservatives" on whom the Republican Party depends. Indeed, for most (though admittedly not all) issues involving excessive federal power and unwarranted federal government intrusion into the lives of American adults, it is the moralist social conservatives, along with their Republican comrades (the surveillance-happy and domestic-intelligence-hungry neoconservatives), who are responsible for those excesses.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports a slightly different version of the Webb-Bush exchange:

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

How dare Jim Webb not answer the Leader's question exactly as it was asked.

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