Friday, May 12, 2006

"Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now."

Bushlewinsky-ViBrad DeLong reminds us:
The President's duty is to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. George W. Bush has not.
Meanwhile, j.d. is more sanguine. He asks "Been to France, Denmark, or Holland lately? How about England or Sweden? Or Spain?" Setting aside the bizarre conflation of rioting by disaffected French youth, unhappiness over some cartoons, and actual suicide attacks by al Qaeda, my answer is, "yes, so what?" They have stronger privacy laws than we do, laws that stand between the citizens and government surveillance. So does the United States.

The difference is that the United States government has chosen to ignore that law, and this is where things get troublesome. When criticism of the government violating the law and violating citizens' freedoms is dismissed as partisan sniping, the nation is in deep trouble. It's a society in which the Attorney General of the state of Kansas can declare himself "a patriot warrior," implying that his critics (including a growing number of judges) are enemies of patriotism. This sort of rhetoric drags debate over serious issues into a region of petty, cable news panel debate that's unworthy of a superpower.

The issue is not the previous NSA scandal warmed over. We've expanded from "hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States," to millions of citizens, and from an (allegedly) exclusively international focus to purely domestic surveillance. And from (allegedly) targeting people based on their (alleged) connection to al Qaeda to just sweeping up anyone who doesn't use Qwest exclusively for their local and long distance phone calls. Not the same thing. Eugene Robinson's summary is nice: "Bush has tried to convince us that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not affected by domestic surveillance, but now we know that the opposite is true: The overwhelming majority of us are."

The issue at this stage is not "Where is the line between privacy and safety?" We simply haven't gotten to that question yet. The question now is, what can be done to compel a President to obey the law when he chooses not to. The title, quoted from DeLong's piece, is the provision that the Constitution provides, but one which is not available to us at the moment. After all, there are no cigars or interns involved.

So we must pursue other courses of action. Like holding that President's nominees for office accountable. Should the man who oversaw who massive invasions of privacy be placed in charge of the CIA? Honestly?

John Rawls talks about "the veil of ignorance," the idea that you should judge a policy by how you'd see it if you didn't know what side you'd be on in the end. This is the rough equivalent of the "Clinton test," the idea that before you instantly dismiss/praise a Bush policy, you should imagine that Bill Clinton did the same thing and ask how you'd respond then.

And if Bill Clinton were secretly spying on the entire nation's phonecalls, you better believe the right wing would be going apeshit. And rightly so.

The thing is, we had a debate over where to draw the line between privacy and safety. We had a round of debate back in the late '70s, when FISA was written. Congress debated it again in the '90s, when FISA was amended. And they were debating it in Congress since 2001, revising FISA along the way. The problem isn't that this conversation didn't happen, it's that the President simply didn't care what anyone else thought. He decided to do his own thing without regard to the law and the balance struck by the legislature.

It's certainly true that, if we routinely monitored who called whom, we could sweep up all sorts of criminals. drug dealers would get busted, industrial espionage would be destroyed, leaking would go away, adulterers would live in fear. But so would groups engaging in non-violent dissidence. People would be afraid to call support center