Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Don't Value Life Too Highly or Freedom Too Lightly

In a comment to my posting yesterday, A Red Mind In A Blue State took exception to my quoting Al Gore so approvingly at such length. He said, and you can read his comments on yesterday's post below to see if I am paraphrasing fairly (i) that Al Gore lost the election, and a good thing too, and now he shouldn't be talking too much and (ii) what are you supposed to do when confronted with terrorists -- send them flowery notes politely asking them to disclose their future plans to us?

In order to make the statement that Red Mind and Rudy Guiliani and so many others have made that they thank their lucky stars that Al Gore wasn't President on 9/11, you have to assume that Gore would have ignored-- like Bush and Cheney did -- all the intelligence that was already on the President's desk by 9/10. I don't know where anyone can get off making that sort of an assumption.

Nevertheless, I agree that Al Gore is a wuss who committed an unspeakable sin. He would be President now if he showed the slightest interest in the job in 2000. But being President was not enough for Al Gore. He had to be President and maintain his high moral standards. Gore's refusal to embrace Bill Clinton before Election Day and his refusal to fight for what was rightfully his after Election Day (whatever the ultimate result would have been) showed that he was NOT willing to make any hard choices for freedom in this country.

Al Gore's acquiescence in the Election of 2000 was a betrayal of everyone who voted for him. Now he is shreiking like Cassandra to pay penance.

Doesn't mean that Gore has been wrong about any of the things he has been saying over the past few years.

No one in an official government position has said that domestic surveillance has been limited to communications regarding terrorism. That is just an assumption that talking heads are making -- both on the left and the right -- both in the MSM and on the blogosphere -- for no good reason at all.

I agree that you have to play hardball with hardball players. You have to get your information however and wherever you can --- wiretap, torture, putting bodies on ice. You may have to disregard habeas corpus, which is a concept from a dead language anyway, and you may have to throw American citizens in a bottomless pit for an indeterminate length of time.

But just because certain types of surveillance and certain types of interrogation techniques may be necessary -- and just because you have to do it anyway --- doesn't make them legal. All wartime Presidents take an expanded view of their powers. None of them, except Bush, had the disrespect for the rule of law to pretend that these acts would be legal for the rest of our lives.

The time from September 11 to now -- over 4 years -- is longer than the time it took to fight the entire Civil War, all of World War I, all of the American involvement in World War II.

Unlike those wars, this war hasn't even begun yet.

This situation in Iraq is merely a prologue. It isn't even the War itself. We still need to deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and most likely North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia before we can say this war is over. Then of course there are the aspects of the war that cannot be foreseen.

There is no such thing as an "emergency" that lasts that long.

There needs to be a distinction between what needs to be done and what is legal, otherwise when the "emergency" is over -- beyond our lifetimes -- there is no roadmap home to "normal" times. And if the point of the "emergency" is not to get us back to the normal times -- the normal rule of law, then what is the point?

If it is only safety -- or if safety is such a high priority that we are willing to go wherever safety takes us -- then you value life too highly and freedom too lightly.

John McCain made the argument far better than I am now when he hung tough on the torture statute. I refer you to some of the things he said then.

If you take the approach that President Bush is taking -- the approach that the new Supreme Court will surely endorse -- that (i) the law in an "emergency" is whatever the President says it is and (ii) that enemy combattants are whoever the President says they are --then there is not much difference between the rule of law and monarchy.

Given the PATRIOT Act (and I know that politicians all across the political spectrum are complicit in the PATRIOT Act) and given the Prsident's interpretation of things like (a) FISA and (b) the enabling act allowing him to go after Sadman Insane's weapons of mass destruction and (c) the McCain anti- torture amendment -- I would say that the President has enormous plenary powers to maintain an "emergency" indefinitely. Which Al Gore has noted (in other speeches) may have been the point in the first place.

This next thing is going to sound sarcastic, but it is not -- It has been gracious and restrained of President Bush to make such limited use of the powers that he claims to have in this "emergency" situation.

I am sure that if I were President-- or if Cheney or Bill or Hilary or Condi or Obama were President --- none of us would bother with all this velvet glove stuff.

The iron fist on Americans we disagree with would be much harder.