Sunday, February 12, 2006

How times change, or God-king redux

At The Free Republic, the FISA Court used to be horrible. In 2000, after reading about the tissue paper thin protections the FISA court offers civil liberties, one commenter asked:
Any chance of Bush rolling some of this back?
And the reply?
I don't see that as a possibility. This is wherein the danger lies in the precedent set by the Clinton criminal administration. God only knows who will be in power next, but there are no checks and balances anymore. This is exactly the SORT of thing I've been protesting all along. Libs just don't see this!
Damn those Libs and their liberty-hating ways! You'd think that the Freepers would be up in arms over the recent revelations that the Bush administration cut the FISA court out of the loop when there wasn't enough evidence to satisfy even the limited demands of that court.

From the reactions to Senator Roberts' defense of the illegal wiretaps:

I think he, along with many of us, have had it with the libs trying to characterize this intelligence gathering as something it is not and never was.

I read the FISA statute myself and, while I'm no attorney, I can read. I believe the President has full authority to order this surveillance and and very glad that he has pledged to continue it.
Quo vadis, conservative fear of warrantless wiretaps?

Or consider this quote by a latter-day defender, if not the latter-day defender of the "imperial presidency":

President ____ exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height — in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President ____ has accelerated the disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law.
I'll let you click through to find out the author and whose name goes in those blanks. The ironyhackery is seething.

Of course, as Glenn Greenwald now notes, anyone who criticizes George Bush even a little is now a "liberal." Andrew Sullivan, well-known conservative writer, is now "liberal" because he broke with the God-king over illegal torture, illegal wiretaps, and the unconstitutional insertion of religion into governance (and vice versa).

Glenn picks out this passage about Bob Barr's chilly reception at a conservative conference. Barr was the manager for the Clinton impeachment and (not necessarily a compliment) as reliably conservative a person as you could hope to find. Barr, echoing the Freeper's voices in 2000, said:

"Do we truly remain a society that believes that . . . every president must abide by the law of this country?" he posed. "I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes."

But nobody said anything in the deathly quiet audience. Barr merited only polite applause when he finished, and one man, Richard Sorcinelli, booed him loudly. "I can't believe I'm in a conservative hall listening to him say [Bush] is off course trying to defend the United States," Sorcinelli fumed.
There is no principled conservative or liberal defense of warrantless wiretapping. There may be a tortuous legal defense, but there is no way to justify this from first principles (or if such a defense exists, no one has presented it). It says something that a principled conservative stand got so little support, and was even deemed un-conservative.

Glenn says that "What it takes to make someone a "conservative" … in the eyes of all Bush followers [is] a willingness to support Bush's actions because they are the actions of George Bush." That seems fairly accurate, and quite unfortunate. Counterexamples may exist, but are largely notable for being exceptions. For instance, I suspect that a number of conservative commentators have simply been sitting out the warrantless domestic spying story, torn between their loyalty to principle and their regard for the President.

Glenn explains that:

The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. …Bush followers… have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush…

And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader.
Cultists around an authoritarian leader with limitless power? Wouldn't that make him a God-king?

Obviously, this ties in with my thoughts on the nature of debate the other day. Blind loyalty to a man is the dittohead's creed. Commitment to principle and a willingness to change perspective on the consequent policy is the basis of thoughtful debate. That's what we've gotten from Governor Sebelius, and what we haven't gotten from the President and his spokesmodels. By all accounts, the policy apparatus in the White House has atrophied, and been replaced by bread and circuses. Let us hope we skip the placing of horses in the Senate, the incestuous marriages by the God-king and consumption of the resulting offspring, and skip straight to the war on Neptune.