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.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to take a stand for your country

(updated below)

I really encourage everyone to listen to the full interview which Sen. Russ Feingold gave today with George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Week, in which Feingold announced that he was introducing a Resolution to censure George Bush for breaking the law with his warrantless eavesdropping program aimed at Americans. Crooks & Liars has the video of the full interview here. The full transcript of the interview is here.

As you listen to it, just imagine where this scandal would be if Democrats had simply come out from the beginning and taken a strong stand in defense of the rule of law and our constitutional principles, instead of listening to those worthless, fear-driven Beltway consultants who -- as Feingold pointed out -- counseled that Democrats should just allow Bush to break the law because it was too risky politically to oppose it.

All that was necessary from the beginning was to make three very simple and clear points, just as Feingold made them today:

(1) We all want eavesdropping on Al Qaeda and the law allows that;

(2) The problem isn't that the President eavesdropped; it's that he did it in a way that broke the law by eavesdropping without judicial oversight and approval, which Americans required in 1978 in order to prevent abuse of the eavesdropping power; and,

(3) We cannot maintain our constitutional republican form of government if the Congress stands by meekly and silently and allows the President to break the law, no matter what his intentions are. We did not declare martial law on 9/11. We are still a nation of laws and it is intolerable for the President to act illegally.

I hope Feingold forces a vote on this Resolution and we can separate the patriots from the cowards in both parties. He certainly sounded like he intends to. And we should do everything possible to demand that every single Democratic Senator and every periodically honest Republican Senator support this Resolution as well.

Bill Frist followed Feingold on the show and the following is an excerpt from his response. It is not possible to exemplify how an authoritarian cultist thinks and acts any more vividly than Frist did in making this statement:

FRIST: George, what was interesting in listening to my good friend-Russ, is that he mentioned protecting the American people only one time, and although you went to politics a little bit later, I think it's a crazy political move and I think it in part is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the President of the US as Commander in Chief, who is out there fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn, have sworn to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us. And they're out now attacking, at least today, through this proposed censure vote, out attacking our Commander in Chief. Doesn’t make sense.

As Digby has astutely pointed out many times, it is nothing short of creepy how lowly politicians like Frist always refer to the President, who is our public servant, as our "Commander in Chief." The President is not the Commander in Chief of Americans; he is only the Commander in Chief of the armed forces (Art. II, Sec. 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States"). Constantly referring to him as the Commander in Chief is to imply that we have the obligation to treat him the way that soldiers are required to treat their military commanders -- i.e., with unquestioning obedience. That is appropriate for a military dictatorship, but not for a constitutional republic.

Beyond that, Bill Frist is making a rancid and consummately undemocratic point -- that to criticize the President or to hold him to account for his illegal conduct is tantamount to treason, because it constitutes an "attack" on the Commander in Chief which impedes our war effort, a despicable equivalency which they have been peddling for years, ever since John Ashcroft in December, 2001 warned the Senate that questioning the Administration was the same as aiding our enemies:

Attorney General John Ashcroft lashed out Thursday at critics of the administration's response to terrorism, saying questions about whether its actions undermine the Constitution only serve to help terrorists.

"To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.

Of all the dishonest and corrupt steps taken by this Administration, the worst, in my view, is that they have flamboyantly masqueraded as defenders of America while they have simultaneously sought to dismantle every political attribute and core principle that has defined who we are as a country for the last 225 years. Bush followers will undoubtedly seek to depict Feingold's effort as quixotic, radical, and even treasonous. And it faces obvious uphill battles, beginning with the frightened posture of Feingold's Democratic colleagues.

But sometimes, the act of a single person of this nature can change things dramatically. Just as Bush followers thought that they had swept this scandal under the rug and covered it up by ensuring that there would be no investigation, Sen. Feingold goes on national television and urges that the President be censured for breaking the law. And he's on the Judiciary Committee as well, and this should make it that much more difficult for Specter to simply shut down the hearings without following through on his promise to find out if there are other warrantless eavesdropping programs besides the one we know about.

Taking a strong and principled stand in defense of the rule of law and our country's principles is what we have been urging Democrats to do from the very beginning of this scandal, and it's what Sen. Feingold just did. I think the blogosphere as a whole ought to find the most effective ways for harnessing whatever influence and power we can muster in order to pressure as many Democrats as possible to support this resolution and to make it as clear as possible to the country why it is so warranted and urgently needed.

UPDATE: I have a post up today at Crooks and Liars regarding the bewildering and truly self-destructive refusal of so many national Democrats to have anything to do with the blogosphere, despite the fact that the blogosphere is really the only venue which can generate truly impassioned and vibrant citizen activism.

It's my hope that Sen. Feingold's office will be receptive from the beginning to exactly the sort of cooperation I reference in that post -- cooperation which many national Democrats are simply afraid to pursue because they fear what Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and their Republican friends and colleagues will say about them if they have anything to do with the fringe, dirty, extremist masses in the blogosphere.

UPDATE II: Via Jeralyn at Talk Left, Sen. Feingold has posted a press release and a Fact Sheet explaining the rationale for his Censure Resolution. In addition to Jeralyn, both Georgia and ReddHedd explain why pursuing censure at this point (as opposed to, say, impeachment) makes complete strategic sense. I agree entirely with that reasoning.

The first order of business is to persuade larger and larger segments of the public that the President broke the law because he believes he has the power to do so, and that this poses a profound and intolerable threat to our system of government. Just as Bush followers thought they had swept this scandal under the rug, Feingold's resolution ensures that this scandal will remain in the public eye and that that discussion will continue.

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