"Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander in chief," says paramount partisan hack Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), responding to the testimony of former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean at Friday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sen. Russ Feingold's Bush censure motion.
A good question for the senator might be this: if the war in question is the so-called "War on Terror," when exactly might we consider it an appropriate time for "weakening" the commander in chief?
President Bush has used this faux "war" as justification for all manner of power grabs, from the invasion of a country to the ignoring of acts Congress, to the violation of court orders to the violation of federal laws, to the termination of citizenship rights. By Bush's--and Hatch's--reasoning, the president cum commander in chief could order the secret arrest, detention, torture and execution of any one of us, could cancel national elections, could indeed, declare martial law and have done with the Constitution altogether.
And since this "war" will never end--terrorism having been with us for as far back as you want to look, and likely to be with us forever--Hatch's argument is a prescription for dictatorship.
It's amazing to watch how these self-described conservatives are trashing their own philosophy of limited government and traditional values.
Just imagine what the Founding Fathers would have had to say about this idea of presidential omnipotence and infallibility.
Actually, we don't have to imagine what they'd say. As I note in my new book The Case for Impeachment (see above right), they pretty much said it all.
Here's Jefferson, on the idea of a president violating the rights of citizens. In a letter to a friend, Isaac Tiffany, he wrote in 1819: "Law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."
His political and philosophical rival, Alexander Hamilton, had this to say about the idea of scrapping habeas corpus and clapping people in jail without charges and the right to a public trial: "To bereave a man of life or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person by secretly hurrying him to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."
More to the point in the current censure debate, James Madison said: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether or one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
And of course, there is old Ben Franklin, now celebrating his 300th birthday, who said simply: "Those who would give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
Orrin Hatch's words will not go down in history, it's safe to say, but it's worth noting what prompted them. He was responding to the testimony of John Dean, a man whose last occasion to testify before Congress was in 1974, during the Senate Watergate hearings, when he spilled the beans about president Nixon's constitutional crimes. And he was responding to comments made by the censure motion's author, Sen. Feingold (D-WI).
Dean told the Judiciary Committee that Bush's warrantless NSA spying authorization was worse than anything Nixon had done, and he added, "Had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented."
For his part, Feingold said, "If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking."
My guess is that Dean's and Feingold's words will resonate decades hence far more than the words of the enabler from Utah.
But Feingold, who is contemplating a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, might have added that if the American people this November return to Congress the very Republican partisan hacks and Democratic cowards who have allowed this president to become the Willie Sutton of constitutional violators, We the People will be complicit in Bush's crimes.
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To find out more about the new book, The Case for Impeachment, click here.