Situational Constitutionalism

At the end of last week, after I wrote about the Democratic Congress’ spineless cave-in on the White House’s desired FISA legislation, our good friend Eric Earling made a flailing attempt at a point here:

Mark Halperin makes this observation about the FISA compromise today, supported by Barack Obama and 105 House Democrats (including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer):

Watch to see how liberal bloggers and the commentariat react.

Locally, Lee, aka Sound Politics commenter “thehim,” is not pleased at all.

Washington Democrats Brian Baird, Norm Dicks, and Adam Smith joined Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Dave Reichert in voting for the measure.

More proof the netroots does not represent the mainstream of American politics on the issues of the day.

Now someone who isn’t a complete idiot could probably figure out simply by looking at Congress’ approval ratings to know that what Congress is doing is not a good barometer of public opinion. And as I’ve been reading through Great American Hypocrites, the latest book from Glenn Greenwald, the process by which Eric ended up in this bubbling stew of idiocy is well documented.

When it comes to beliefs in limited government, Republicans in this country went from being true believers of constraining executive power (when Clinton was in the White House) to being unapologetic big government advocates now that Bush is there and we’re “fightin’ the terra’ists.” As Greenwald explains:

Being an American who believed in the core political principles of the country always meant adhering to these standards and embracing these values. Today’s Republican Party, acting contrary to its election rhetoric of conservatism and limited government power, has repudiated, trampled upon, and made a mockery of the core principles defining our country.

Today in the right-wing world, the very ideas that they spent the last several decades loudly touting and that long defined America have become the hallmarks of leftist radicalism. And the media has dutifully ingested this new framework. Thus, our Beltway establishment first looked the other way, then acted to protect the President of the United States once it was revealed that he was spying on the communications of American citizens in violation of the leftist doctrine called “law.”

One could also look at the statements by conservatives Bob Barr and Ron Paul to understand that opposition to the FISA bill is not coming solely from “liberal bloggers,” but also from principled conservatives as well. This issue isn’t about left vs. right here. It’s about keeping the Executive branch of the government in check, something that should be important regardless of who’s in the White House, or regardless of whether you have a more liberal or conservative view.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of why this matters as I took a trip down to Covington to see my in-laws. As I’ve mentioned before, my father-in-law is a staunch Republican, even to the extent that he has serious doubts about McCain’s Republican credentials. He’s retired now and spends his days working on his long-time hobby: building engines and exploring alternative energy solutions for homes and vehicles. His latest tangent is with Kei Class Japanese trucks.

As Dana and I pulled into the driveway, he was standing next to one of the trucks. I could tell he was excited to give me a demo. The vehicle looked like a Smart Car turned into a pickup truck with the steering wheel on the right side. He had a second one in his workshop and we hopped in for a quick drive around the block. As we took off down the street, I said to him, “Is what we’re doing legal?”

He replied, “No, do you want to ask me if a care?”

I laughed and said, “No, I already know the answer to that.”

He and I have obviously had quite a few discussions on politics over the years, so he knowingly said, “I think you and I have some overlap in our thinking on this.”

Kei class trucks are in legal limbo in this country (as you can see from this thread). They are not up to federal emission standards and therefore there’s a question as to whether or not it’s legal to drive them on the roads – even if your particular state registers it and gives you a plate. These vehicles get fantastic gas mileage for a pickup truck (~45-50 mpg), so their popularity is starting to take off. The attitudes towards the federal government expressed in that thread by those in Mississippi and Tennessee over a law that was limiting their freedom isn’t much different that the attitudes expressed in California and Washington over medical marijuana laws. And as you might expect, I find the federal laws to be unjustified in both cases.

Whenever the topic of FISA comes up, Bush supporters blindly cheer on the ability for the President to monitor our communications without warrants, yet few of them seem to apply this logic to when a Democratic Administration is in power. When the reality of an Obama Administration sets in, and their wild caricatures of what he’ll do take shape in their minds, the idea of giving him the power to spy on people without oversight in the name of national security takes on a different light – especially considering that it’s not hard to equate either gun control or combating global warming with national security.* As an Obama supporter, I’m relatively confident that he’s not the kind of leader who would abuse that power, but that’s beside the point. No President should have these kinds of powers. With no oversight, they’ll inevitably be abused for political purposes. This is why we have things like the 4th Amendment in the first place.

When I brought this up in the comment thread to the Sound Politics post, commenter Russell Garrard summed it up quite well:

When an Obama says that he wants to register all semi-auto guns just in case any terrorists are stockpiling them, we right-wingers will scream like stuck pigs. But nobody will take us seriously**, because we’ve already made the argument that “if you’re not a terrorist, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Is it asking too much for the main blogger at Seattle’s most popular Republican blog to grasp this fact? Apparently so.

* For the record, I agree with the court’s decision today that D.C.’s gun ban is unconstitutional.

** Well, Mark Halperin might.

UPDATE: Washblog diarist Jeffuppy breaks down the bullshit from the three Democratic Congressman from Washington – Baird, Dicks, and Smith – who voted for the FISA bill. All three of them are either blatantly lying about the bill or they never read it.

UPDATE 2: McJoan posts more information and provides a good roundup of links.

Comments

  1. 1

    ArtFart spews:

    Kudos to Mr. Garrard for being sufficiently in touch with reality to grasp the irony of the situation.

    Most of the remaining Republican “true believers” aren’t bothered by such implications, because the thought of their side ever losing control wouldn’t occur to them.

    Hopefully, the wrongness of their brand of narcissistic optimism is matched by the wrongness of the paranoid fear held by some of us on the left that the neocons might attempt some sort of coup this fall if an Obama victory seems inevitable.

  2. 2

    michael spews:

    Dave Niewert’s book: In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest shows how right-wing American’s were stock piling weapons AND engaging in terrorism. It’s a great and informative read.

    I see someone tooling around in my neighborhood in one of those trucks all the time.

    I’ll leave the constitutionally of todays ruling to others to debate. But, considering the number of people murdered with handguns in the D.C. area you’d be hard pressed to call the ban any form of effective tool.

  3. 6

    I-Burn spews:

    @3

    I would have sworn that what happened was the Florida Supreme Court’s method for recounting ballots was declared unconstitutional, and the SC held that no alternative method could be established within the time limits set by the State of Florida. That isn’t quite the same thing as them awarding the presidency is it? Can you please explain that?

  4. 8

    spews:

    Republicans and Conservatives in support of strong(er) Executive authority with less constitutional checks must say one of the following:

    A.) “I feel safe with unchecked Executive authority in the hands of a Democratic administration”

    B.) “The US must be a single-party Republican state”

    Now, choose

    Off to plant this one over at SP

  5. 9

    Tlazolteotl spews:

    Please stop calling Ron Paul a conservative. He isn’t. He’s a right-wing militia-loving loony!

  6. 10

    spews:

    re 6: Each state determines how they wish to recount votes. The Supreme Court has no say in it. But, in any case, I’m not sure that your facts are correct.

    Doesn’t that sound like a snap decision on the part of the Supreme Court? Wouldn’t it take a long time to make that decision?

    I would think that you would not be in favor of such judicial activism.

    Gore, even with all the Republican cheating (including the use of the Supreme Court)won the popular vote.

  7. 11

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Hey Goldy–
    Latest Rasmussen Poll shows how America feels about your Democrat-controlled Congress:

    Congressional Ratings Hit All-Time Lows, 30% Say Most in Congress Corrupt
    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    The percentage of voters who think Congress is doing a poor job has reached its highest level ever recorded since regular tracking began in November 2006. Over half the nation’s voters (52%) now say Congress is doing a poor job, while just 11% give the legislature good or excellent ratings.

    The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that the number of voters giving Congress poor ratings has jumped five points from a month ago. Before this month, the percentage ranking Congressional performance as poor had never exceeded 50%.

  8. 12

    spews:

    re 7: Having worked in South Phoenix and North Phoenix, I can personally attest to the fact that police will watch their step very closely if they know their adversaries are armed, and, conversly, their arrogance and willingness to push people around goes up in proportion to their perception of physical helplessness on the part of the group that they are ‘controlling’.

  9. 14

    spews:

    @11
    I don’t understand your point. We all disapprove of Congress’ performance right now. That’s what this post was about, dumbshit.

    And I’m not Goldy.

  10. 15

    michael spews:

    @11

    Exactly! Congress is going along with most everything W. wants to do. Voters don’t like W. and they don’t like wire tapping, the war in Iraq and huge deficits.

    I hope you weren’t implying that those numbers showed some sort of approval for the Republicans, because they don’t.

  11. 17

    Steve spews:

    @16 It’s perfectly OK for people on the right to incessantly whine about Dino having the 2004 election stolen. Either that or you’re insane and a hypocrite.

  12. 18

    SeattleJew spews:

    Lee,

    Like you, FISA seems to me to be a good thing, BUT … riddle me this, has it ever worked or is this another waste of tax dollars?

    I worry that there has not been any real effect of the law. So the main issue perhaps ought to be how do we pass a law that protects our rights while giving the security apparatus enough scope?

    One general thought I have is that we should make more use of our criminal laws. When Ollie North committed treason he ought to have received a lot bigger penalty. While that might nmot have cuased toh pretty marine to snitch on Daddy Ronnie, I think there would be real deterrent if a Marine colonel were say, drawn and quartered for violating his path to the US Const.

  13. 19

    Steve spews:

    @18 So if Puddy were to be drawn and quartered, that would act as a deterrent towards any further inane troll posts? Hey, I’m all for it.

  14. 20

    Daddy Love spews:

    Either:

    The Constitution is correct when it places the reponsibility and privilege of running their own elections in the hands of the several States;

    or

    The Constitution is correct when it places the reponsibility and privilege of running elections in the hands of the federal government in order to ensure equal protection;

    but not both.

    WHICH IS IT?

  15. 21

    spews:

    @18
    Like you, FISA seems to me to be a good thing, BUT … riddle me this, has it ever worked or is this another waste of tax dollars?

    Of course it’s worked. The fact that Bush was able to by-pass it is not a criticism of FISA, it’s a criticism of Congress.

  16. 22

    spews:

    @18
    I worry that there has not been any real effect of the law. So the main issue perhaps ought to be how do we pass a law that protects our rights while giving the security apparatus enough scope?

    Simple – we require warrants. And we don’t give immunity to companies who break the law.

  17. 23

    SeattleJew spews:

    @22

    Lee

    Sorry, but I am not convinced it is this simple.

    First, on the issue of whether it has worked, there wopuld need to be evidence that the existnace of the court has had at least a chilling effect on the use of electronic surveillance. If that is true, nothing I have heard supprts the conclusion except Bush’s half assed efforts to get around FISA. Frankly, I have so little respect for Bush, et. al that this could just be more evidence of their incompetence.

    2. The assumption that a judiciary is less corruptible than an administration is not at all convincing to me. The more obvious benefit would be the mandated paper trail kept outside of the admin. Is there evidence that the paper trail has worked? Has anyone loked at the [a[er trail for the cases that have been brought to FISA?

    3. I am not at all sure that warrants are the answer in an era where pattern analysis of a 1000 people may be more effecvie than listening to 100 of these people. Does a warrant include pattern analysis?

    I have wondered about an entirely different approach. What of we had a law prohibiting the acquisition of certain kinds of information regardless of the search method? As you well know. a modern analysis across databases can produce amazingly detailed information with out ever violating existing laws.

    One simple minded approach would be to combine a national ID card with the right of each of us to access any and all information that can be or has been retrieved that can be linked to the card. THEN the fISA l;aw would require a warrant to conceal information form its owner.

    How do you feel about ID cards?

  18. 24

    spews:

    @23
    First, on the issue of whether it has worked, there wopuld need to be evidence that the existnace of the court has had at least a chilling effect on the use of electronic surveillance.

    No, that’s not the point of the law. You’re once again confusing right wing talking points with reality. The law is not meant to discourage wiretapping, it’s meant to be a firewall against abuses.

    The assumption that a judiciary is less corruptible than an administration is not at all convincing to me.

    That’s beside the point. The point is whether or not an administration alone is more likely to be corrupt than an administration along with a judiciary.

    I am not at all sure that warrants are the answer in an era where pattern analysis of a 1000 people may be more effecvie than listening to 100 of these people. Does a warrant include pattern analysis?

    Exactly how does pattern analysis help discover plots that threaten our national security? Again, you’re listening to right wing talking points and not thinking them through.

    One simple minded approach would be to combine a national ID card with the right of each of us to access any and all information that can be or has been retrieved that can be linked to the card. THEN the fISA l;aw would require a warrant to conceal information form its owner.

    How do you feel about ID cards?

    I’m not as against the idea of ID cards as you think, but I’m also not convinced that ID cards will be any benefit to stopping terrorism either.

  19. 25

    spews:

    @23
    I have wondered about an entirely different approach. What of we had a law prohibiting the acquisition of certain kinds of information regardless of the search method? As you well know. a modern analysis across databases can produce amazingly detailed information with out ever violating existing laws.

    The question you have to ask yourself is this: does this information, in the hands of the Executive branch of our government, give them great advantages in terms of winning elections or carrying out selective partisan prosecutions?