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, April 12, 2006

Gingrich criticizes Bush's eavesdropping, helps the enemy

Newt Gingrich's sudden criticism of the Administration's actions in Iraq received a fair amount of attention, but as part of that speech, he also criticized Bush's illegal NSA eavesdropping. As the NY Sun reported (subs. req'd):

Mr. Gingrich, who led the House from 1995 to 1999, also took a swipe at Mr. Bush's decision not to seek congressional approval before implementing a wiretapping program aimed at uncovering communications involving possible Al Qaeda operatives.

"Where I fault the administration is, sometimes it would be so easy to just be simple and straight, okay? All they had to do is go to the American people and say, we want to make sure that if the National Security Agency picks up a foreign terrorist calling someone in the U.S., that they can listen to the call," Mr. Gingrich said in a video clip posted on the South Dakota newspaper's Web site. He said more than 90% of Americans would have quickly endorsed such a program.

There is a lot of this going on. As Bush apologists realize that their leader is presiding over a rotting, dying presidency, they are straining to distance themselves as strenuously as possible from their failed Commander. Stalwart GOP filth-peddler George Conway yesterday in his National Review column remarkably proclaimed -- with troops still in harm's way -- that "this Administration is the most politically and substantively inept that the nation has had in over a quarter of a century"; made the accusation that "folks on this web site don't want to hear it, but deep down they know it's true"; sadly announced that he doesn't "consider [him]self a Republican any longer"; and rudely and disrespectfully said about the Commander-in-Chief's reign that the best thing about it "is that it's almost over."

These same would-be Bush critics have spent the last four years creating a paradigm where this type of criticism of the Commander is not permitted because such criticism constitutes aid to Al Qaeda and it is therefore tantamount to treason. Compare the criticisms made by Gingrich of the President's illegal eavesdropping and his Iraq policies to this truly disgusting declaration made by him just a few months ago on Hannity & Colmes:

I think it's quite clear as you point out, Sean, that from this tape, that bin Laden and his lieutenants are monitoring the American news media, they're monitoring public opinion polling, and I suspect they take a great deal of comfort when they see people attacking United States policies.

There are few people left willing to defend the President on much of anything, including the NSA scandal. Several days ago, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner publicly upbraided Alberto Gonzales for "stonewalling" -- i.e. engaging in a cover-up -- for concealing virtually all relevant information sought by the Committee as it pretends to investigate the Administration's eavesdropping conduct.

There is clearly a sea change going on. The self-interested rats who propped up this Administration with blind loyalty for the least five years are now jumping ship as it sinks, desperately trying to save themselves by showing some extremely belated autonomy and independence. But where were Gingrich, Conway and Sensenebrenner for the last five years while "the most politically and substantively inept (administration) that the nation has had in over a quarter of a century" inflicted unquantifiable, arguably irreversible damage on our nation? They were accusing Administration critics of lacking patriotism and being on the side of terrorists, and they cannot be allowed to distance themselves now from the Administration to which they tied themselves.

Beyond the unsurprising fact that Bush followers are revealing themselves to be soul-less and disloyal now that their hero has fallen, the more important revelation is that they have built a framework in our country ever since 9/11 where dissent from the Commander was all but prohibited by the noxious equation of criticism with treason. All of the far-too-late criticisms which people like Gingrich, Conway and so many others are suddenly so eager to voice, have been off-limits for years now as a result of the precept -- spread by people like them -- that the President is not our public servant, but instead, is our Commander-in-Chief fighting a war in which our very survival is at stake, and to criticize him or oppose his efforts is, to use Gingrich's formulation, to give "a great deal of comfort" to the terrorists.

Indeed, responding to criticisms of his policies in Iraq, the President himself "demand[ed] a debate that brings credit to our democracy -- not comfort to our adversaries." Debates over what we should do now in order to win are acceptable; but condemnations of the President for things done in the past or which call into question the value of the troops' efforts (Gingrich: ""It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003") are treasonous. Following that logic, Zell Miller angrily stood before the nation at the Republican National Convention and described the 2004 presidential election this way: "our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief. " The same logic led Michael Reagan to demand when Howard Dean questioned whether we can win in Iraq that Dean "should be hung." This is the dissent-prohibiting climate in which our country has been wallowing essentially since 9/11.

Presidents have pursued misguided policies before, and surely will again. But one of the self-corrective features of a democracy is that open, aggressive criticism of our leaders enables those mistakes to be exposed, realized and corrected. We have been without that self-corrective capacity for the last five years thanks to Bush followers who insisted that not only is the President right, but that truly patriotic Americans will refrain from criticizing his policies in any way, because the criticism itself is tantamount to helping the enemy. And so we have collectively pursued disastrous policies, and tolerated patently illegal conduct, because the conventional wisdom emerged that it was preferable, and more patriotic, to keep quiet about our Government's actions than to speak out and point out what was obvious for quite some time now -- namely, all of the criticisms which long-time Bush supporters are suddenly voicing as though they believed them all along.

The greatest evil of the last five years isn't that our Government pursued disastrous and illegal policies. It's that the Administration and its supporters attempted to immunize themselves from criticism for those actions and thus deprived our democracy of its greatest strength. To now watch the people responsible for that dissent-quashing stand up and voice the very criticisms that they have long equated with treason is far too infuriating to celebrate. It is important to ensure that the people responsible for the indescribable mess our country is in on so many levels not be allowed to extricate themselves from responsibility. There has been one political faction which has run every part of our country for the last five years and they are responsible for everything that has happened. We know who they are and it is critically important that they not be permitted to play-act as being the opposition.

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