What scares me the most about the telecomm immunity/warrantless wiretap bill that the House so cravenly passed yesterday is that some of our lawmakers justify letting the phone companies off the hook, so to speak, in the manner of Senator Kit Bond, who actually said this:
When the Government tells you to do something, I think you all recognize, uh, that that is something that you need to do.
It's funny: we teach our children in elementary school that ours is a government of laws, not men, and that no man is above the law. We teach our kids in high school that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and that rights are inherent and inalienable in the people, not something granted to us by our government. We teach our soldiers in military school that an illegal order is null and void and not to be followed. We teach everyone that even the most powerful people in the country do not have the power to break the law, or order others to do so. These are fundamental American principles.
Or so I thought.
Somehow, though, once you've been in the Senate for twenty years like Kit Bond has, you forget all this. Or maybe you just say that all that lofty philosophizing is fine for children and soldiers, but we veteran lawmakers know it's all just wooly-headed window-dressing.
Under Bond's theory, "the government told me to do it" is a valid defense to breaking the law. Or, to put a Nixonian spin on it, "if the President tells you to do it, then it is not illegal." I find this to be a very frightening and un-American doctrine. And what makes it even more galling, as Hunter points out, is that our Congresscritters are attempting to justify the abrogation of the rule of law with false claims, phony arguments, and appeals to fears of terrorism:
The glowing embrace of the right-wing and administration logic used to foist corporate immunity to lawbreaking upon us: President Bush is so terribly put upon that he cannot possibly follow existing law in conducting espionage against American citizens, and nobody should expect him to, so we must urgently change the law.
But FISA was not expiring. FISA was not falling into a legislative black hole. It continued to exist, as the exclusive means for electronic surveillance of the American people, and all it required was a warrant, and all the warrant required was probable cause. That's it. That's what this entire, months-long parade of panic, bluster and torn hair has been about, that it was just too damn difficult for the administration to be asked to show two sentences of probable cause to a judge in a secret hearing before collecting whatever electronic information about you, your neighbors, your family, your friends, everyone in your town, everyone in your social organizations, everyone in every restaurant you've ever been to, etc., etc., etc. they wanted to collect.
And if you object to it, then even Barack Obama will hold the threat of imminent Terror over your head as justification for why we should ignore past violations of Constitutional rights and declare a massive, flag-waving, star-spangled do over that simply declares there's no more problem.
* * *
I'm not sure which frightens me more, the thought that the people leading my nation could be so damn gullible, or the thought that they aren't -- but they're counting on us to be. If the Democrats are going to be so fired up about demanding that they be allowed cave on basic protections, lest the Republicans treat them cruelly in future elections, they could at least have the decency to not insult our intelligence while they're doing it.
Now: how can we proclaim what it means to be an American when the very foundation of our political philosophy has been so undermined by our own Congress? Some folks, including the usually perspicacious John Cole, seem to think this is just politics, and hey, sometimes the compromise cards go your way and sometimes they don't. But civil liberties, such as those guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, are not subject to political dealmaking. The rule of law is not something to be horsetraded in the House cloakrooms. These are bedrock precepts of our very governmental system, not tax breaks to be swapped for highway construction. Of course politics entails compromise--but if you'll compromise on anything, you have no principles.
Just like three-fourths of the House of Representatives.