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Monday, December 19, 2005

Constitutional Dictatorship, Part 2

Posted by on December 19 at 10:28 AM

At his news conference this morning, president Bush explained what happened after he suggested the government start spying on American citizens:

Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so?

Uh, no, Mr. President.

I am — I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.

There’s already been some blogosphere explanation of how Bush finds authority to break U.S. law in the Constitution, but I assume the mainstream media will take today’s press conference as an invitation to explore this question further over the next few days. One reporter this morning headed in this direction, asking whether there is any limit at all to the powers Bush believes he has:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at 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, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of “unchecked power.”

Q Well —

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. 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.

This is an awesome responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people, and I understand that, Peter. And we’ll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor programs such as the one I 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.

Q What limits do you —

THE PRESIDENT: I just described limits on this particular program, Peter. And that’s what’s important for the American people to understand. I am doing what you expect me to do, and at the same time, safeguarding the civil liberties of the country.

Translation: Bush doesn’t want to be called a dictator, but he doesn’t want to have to follow the law, either. Got it? And he doesn’t want to have to follow the law, even when the law already allows him to do the very thing that he claims he needs to break the law in order to do: start wiretaps quickly.

Which obviously makes no sense. Unless, as some bloggers are beginning to suggest, something else is going on.