Monday, January 30, 2006

How the insiders fought back

Newsweek describes the Palace Revolt by James Goldsmith and Richard Comey, lawyers in the Justice Department who stood up against torture and against warrantless wiretapping:
The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage. (For its part the White House denies any internal strife. "The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn't based in fact," says Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. "This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.")
I find it fascinating how "internal division" is implicitly equated with debate over the "commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy." Everyone wants that, it's pie, and chips, for free.

But as the gecko says, you can get that anywhere. The trick isn't agreeing on the goal, it's agreeing on how to get there. And David Goldsmith wanted to get there without shredding the Constitution. "Goldsmith is no executive-power absolutist. What's more, his friends say, he did not intend to be a patsy for Addington and the hard-liners around Cheney." Meanwhile, Scooter Libby's replacement, David Addington, doesn't mind a few parchmentcuts along the way. "Addington and a small band of like-minded lawyers set about providing … a legal argument that the power of the president in time of war was virtually untrammeled."

And this is the fight. A band of partisans who want to vest near total power in one man, and committed people from across the political spectrum who believe in a government of laws, not of men.

A couple weeks back, there was an exchange over the praise some conservatives got for coming out against the illegal domestic spying. Ed Kilgore of the very centrist DLC wrote that these people are still bad. Max Sawicky responded by noting that there's a libertarian strain that wraps around, and there's nothing wrong with praising agreement.

I'd go further and say that there is a broad consensus about the way the system works and should work. Some people have let themselves get caught up in a cult of Bush's personality, and it's nice to see that some people from across the spectrum are prepared to stand up for principle, even if we don't always agree on the validity of the principles. That's a better conversation to have than a technical debate over what might or might not work.