Saturday, December 17, 2005

Zombie Nixon Walks Among Us
(If this is your first visit to this blog, click here.)
It's my bloggy responsibility to talk about the revelation this week that, on 30 different occasions, the White House simply ignored the law and permitted the military to spy on Americans, including peace groups. But I couldn't do it as well as the Poor Man: It's Nixon all over again, and it's every bit as bad now as it was 30-plus years ago.

The single most memorable line of Nixon's famous post-resignation interviews with David Frost was his justification for many of his actions in office: "If the president does it, then it is not illegal." With so many old Nixon hands prowling the corridors of the Bush White House, it's no wonder such thinking is back in vogue. Spying, torture, it doesn't matter what the law says--the presidency is not a coequal branch of government, it's a law unto itself. And therefore, the president need only decide that something needs to be done, and that's it. L'etat, c'est moi.

Russ Feingold has it exactly right, in response to Bush's angry and defensive radio address today:
Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps.

"If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for," Feingold told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Right. And if they really believe the president's power is unlimited, this past week's "capitulation" on the torture ban and the "defeat" of the Patriot Act reauthorization are just minor inconveniences, and more a problem of PR than a threat to standing policy. And if this administration was dissuaded by bad PR, it wouldn't have lasted three weeks in office.
The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper.

"As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have," he said. "The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
Keep in mind that many of those he calls "enemies" are American citizens, engaging in Constitutionally protected activities that are a threat only to a rogue administration more concerned with consolidating power and protecting its collective political ass than in effectively fighting terrorism.

So the best we can say about all this is that Bush is channeling Nixon at his worst. The worst we can say about it is that he's basically declared that we're now living in a dictatorship, as the Rude Pundit described it so well yesterday. Bush made clear this morning that he intends to do whatever the hell he feels right, and furthermore, that he has the power to do it. If you disagree, then you're with the terrorists.

Whether Congressional Democrats will be cowed by Bush's defense remains to be seen, but what we already know is that his defense will certainly embolden his Repug enablers in Congress. So I am not optimistic that Congress will formally investigate the spying. That would require the Repug leadership to show nonpartisan, for-the-good-of-the-country statesmanship, and they don't have it in them.

And what if they did? As the Poor Man observes, the administration has no respect for Congress' rights to check and balance. Just as the only way to get a stubborn mule's attention is to whack him in the head with a two-by-four, the only way to get the administration's attention would be to impeach it. Everything else they can ignore. But as long as Bush doesn't get blown by an intern, all we're likely to get from Congress are ineffectual Democrat peeps, which can be negated by Repug officals and pundits linking arms and chanting "9/11, 9/11."

Adding to the likelihood that the spying revelations will cost the administration little save temporary embarrassment is the fact that it's Christmastime, and also that the story has emerged, like all the rest, as part of the daily firehose of news and information. Thus it's possible that the transcendent importance of this story will be lost on a majority of Americans.

But missing it or ignoring it doesn't make it any less malignant. And so, like frogs in the pot of slowly heating water, millions of Americans may never perceive that the temperature has risen a little bit more, but all the same, it brings them just that much closer to being cooked.

So Long, Leo: Sad news today that John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on The West Wing, has died of a heart attack at age 58. During the show's best seasons, his character's sure-and-steady guidance of the White House staff, pragmatic yet principled, was one of the reasons so many of us wished Jed Bartlet was the real president of the United States. The current West Wing storyline has Leo running for vice president and about to take a greater role in managing the campaign--and with some of this season's episodes yet unshot, the story is about to take a turn nobody expected.

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