Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Whole Ballgame
If you don't think the upcoming Supreme Court deliberations on the holding of enemy combatants at Guantanamo and the jailing of Americans Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi are the most important of the last 50 years, then I challenge you tell me what they've done that's been more important. Anthony Lewis examines the outlines of the cases here; John Dean looks back at court rulings against Nixon's imperial presidency and speculates on the coming court rulings here.

To say simply that the stakes are high misstates the gravity of the situation. If the Supremes rule that Bush has the right to lock people up incommunicado and throw away the key, there will be nothing--nothing--to stop him from ordering people to be "disappeared" off American streets on any whim he might have. He could, for example, have Al Gore picked up for a speech like the one he gave in New York this week for MoveOn, in which Gore accused the administration of corruption and moral cowardice. All Bush would have to do is deem that such accusations gave aid and comfort to the enemy, whoever the enemy might be, and Gore would be gone.

Of course, it won't be people as prominent as Gore who come under the hammer. It'll be little people, the ones who fall through the cracks of the CAPPS airline passenger profiling system, for example. And perhaps it'll even be the people out here in the blogosphere with the temerity to suggest that Bush deserves his own cell in Guantanamo.

Sound extreme? These are times in which to think extreme thoughts. Bush and company are doing so, and those of us on the other side had better get in the habit of doing so as well. As Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, for Democrats to assume that the 2004 election is like all the others, and can be fought just like all the other elections, is a prescription for disaster. If reelected, Bush will finish the job he's already begun. The screwing we're going to get on every conceivable aspect of public policy will make his first term seem like sweet and gentle love. Thus this election is nothing less than a war for survival, and it has to be fought like one.

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