I think George Bush has spoken to the American people more in the past three days than in his entire presidency. A mark of true desperation. I’m guessing that their polling is showing that they’re taking an awful hit–and not just in the obvious Democratic strongholds, but perhaps in their own strongholds.
The president’s press conference Sunday was instructive of the broken-record defense he’s been giving about the NSA spying program since Friday. Let’s look at the [New York Times->http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/politics/19text-bush.html?pagewanted=print] transcript for some real whoppers:
I want to make clear to the people listening that this program is limited in nature to those that are known al Qaeda ties and/or affiliates. That’s important. So it’s a program that’s limited. And you brought up something that I – I want to stress. And that is is that these calls are not intercepted within the country. They are from outside the country to in the country or vice versa. So in other words, this is not, you know, a – if you’re calling from Houston to L.A., that call is not monitored.
Bush continues to parrot that the program is “limited” to detecting terrorists, which of course masks the fact that these “terrorists” are U.S. citizens. First, we don’t know that these Americans ARE terrorists as Bush claims (by the way, since Bush later in the press conference refuses to talk of any “successes” of this program he denies us the ability to judge who it targets). We only know that he claims they are. Tell me, how predisposed are you to taking Bush’s statements at face value??
Here’s where Georgie goes all “civil liberties” on us:
I can fully understand why members of Congress are expressing concerns about civil liberties. I know that. And it’s – I share the same concerns. I want to make sure the American people understand, however, that we have an obligation to protect you and we’re doing that and at the same time protecting your civil liberties. Secondly, a open debate about law would say to the enemy: here’s what we’re going to do.
Bush’s mantra is to keep repeating that he’s hunting down terrorists while upholding civil liberties. The first contention is at least somewhat credible though he’s had little success at it. The second contention is positively laughable and ludicrous. Everyone knows George Bush doesn’t give a crock about civil liberties. Everyone knows that if George had been in the room when Madison proposed those ten Bill of Rights, he’d have voted No. Civil liberties are at best an inconvenience for him.
Here George proves he can’t tell one federal agency from another:
I just want to assure the American people that, one, I’ve got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and three, we’re guarding your civil liberties. And we’re guarding the civil liberties by monitoring the program on a regular basis, by having the folks at NASA, the legal team as well as the inspector general monitor the program. And we’re briefing Congress.
This is perhaps the most revealing, troubling and perfidious exchange, which begins with a reporter’s question:
Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you can tell us…what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a president during wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we’re going to see…a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?
A. First of all, I — I — I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power…there is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We’re — we’re talking to Congress all the time. And on this program to suggest there’s unchecked power is not listening to what I’m telling you. I’m telling you we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times. It’s a — a — this is an awesome responsibility, to make decisions on behalf of the American people and I understand that. And we’ll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I’ve described to you to make sure that we’re protecting the civil liberties of the United States. To say unchecked power, basically, is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.
To put the lie to Bush’s spurious claims–Senator John D. Rockefeller IV–one of those “briefed” about the NSA spying program has [revealed publicly->http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/19/AR2005121901641_pf.html] what he said privately to Dick Cheney himself in opposing the program:
…Rockefeller released a letter he sent to…Cheney on July 17, 2003, complaining that “given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.” The letter was handwritten because secrecy rules prevented him from giving it to anyone to type.
On Monday Mr. Rockefeller said that after he sent his letter to Mr. Cheney, “these concerns were never addressed, and I was prohibited from sharing my views with my colleagues.”
The Post also reveals the extraordinary fact that Rockefeller so mistrusted Cheney that he explicitly told him he was placing a second copy of the letter he wrote to him in a safe in case Cheney would later choose to deny that the senator had expressed reservations about the program. Now, that’s trust!
In light of this revelation, the notion that briefing Congress in the way Cheney did constituted “oversight” is laughable. It makes a mockery of the concept of Congressional consultation. As I think Nancy Pelosi said, they were not asked their opinion about it. They were curtly informed that the NSA program existed. That’s consultation?
Bush’s “ascribing a dictatorial position to the president” phrase above is one that I hope he will live to regret. Here he gets closer to the real truth than he ever has in his presidency. Of course, he’s still denying the truth here. But even in denying it or because of the repetitiveness of the denials, he focuses our attention on the statement. It’s almost the equivalent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook” statement. Because of the desperation of the denial, you believed the opposite of what he said–that he was indeed a crook. In just the same way, Bush’s denial of a dictatorial presidency only focuses our attention more on the fact that this is precisely what his presidency is.
Martin Garbus and Leonard Weinglass penned an interesting Huffington Post article comparing Bush’s legal justifications for warrantless searches with Nixon’s similar claim in the face of a 1970s era domestic bombing campaign. Nixon lost his case 8-0 before the Supreme Court. But Garbus ominously points out that the 1971 Court contained civil liberties advocates like William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart and William Brennan. A similar case brought against George Bush before the current Court could fare differently (though one would like to think that that 8-0 result would give the current Court pause). Garbus lays out and demolishes Bush’s claims of constitutionality in what is an interesting read.
Returning to Congress’ role in this scandal: I’m waiting for a little more outrage on the part of Congress whose prerogatives and legislative intent are being trammeled by the Imperial President. When will they fight back? Will they let that bit of sand he threw in their eyes–arguing for no hearings about the NSA program because it will give away our secrets to Osama bin Laden–deter them from their duty? I warn the Republicans–you’ve got President Run Amok on your hands. He’s your problem because he’s your president (not mine, well I guess he is mine sort of…). And you will have to live with the consequences come election time. Because this entire scandal stinks to high heaven and it won’t go away.
Besides even if it does (highly unlikely), Bush seems to provide a new scandal every week as grist for the mill. The Republicans ought to start showing some backbone or they may lose their majorities in both houses. Actually, Republican moderates like John Sununu, Arlen Specter, and John McCain HAVE started showing some of that backbone by repulsing the USA Patriot Act national security onslaught. Now, we need to see them joining together with Democrats to get a real investigation going. And if they won’t, it’s the Democrats responsibility to keep their feet to the fire.
Democrats must start by having those briefed on the NSA program (like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi) reveal more about the briefings and whether or not they resisted the diktat they were given by Cheney & Co. If they didn’t they need to explain why. They haven’t yet and that’s shameful. How can they claim to be an Opposition if they didn’t oppose this? And if they’re intimidated by the notion that they cannot reveal such information for national security reasons, they ought to stop and think what kind of damage this program is doing to American civil liberties and to Congress’ stature as one of the three major branches of government. Will they continue to let themselves be walked all over by Bush? Or will they stand up for themselves and their chamber?
This is slightly off topic. But Bush provides us with yet another political whopper by claiming, in today’s news conference, complete befuddlement over how anyone could believe he doesn’t care about African-Americans:
…The fact that some in America believe that I am not concerned about race troubles me. One of the jobs of the president is to help people reconcile and to move forward and united. I — you know, one of the most hurtful things I can hear is, you know, Bush doesn’t care about African-Americans, for example. First of all, it’s not true. And secondly, I am — I believe that — you know, obviously I’ve got to do a better job of communicating, I guess, to certain folks. Because my job is to say to people, we’re all equally American and — and the American opportunity applies to you just as much as somebody else. And so I will continue to do my best, April, to reach out.
His “race problem” as he sees it is not based on any policy shortcomings in his presidency. But rather on poor communicating. He’s just got to do that more and better and then those black folk are going to come around. You betcha, George.