Yesterday, I tried to offer a statement on the issue of Bush’s phone call database for those who are truly confused about those who would be opposed to these actions. These are people who think in terms of, “Bush is simply trying to make us safe. It’s insane to be angry at somebody who is trying to keep you alive.”
The basic response, which I gave in greater detail yesterday, is that we need to worry most about people who think that they can do whatever they please – particularly when those people have power. To protect ourselves from these people, we recognize certain moral limits on what people may do. We protect these lines because those who cross them either are a danger to others themselves, or they make it easier for others to do great harm. The tools that President Bush is creating are tools that can do a great deal of harm if they fall into the wrong hands, and they are almost certainly going to fall into the wrong hands sooner or later.
I had a different post planned for yesterday that address some of the same issues, but from a different perspective.
I do not write about political strategy.
In fact, I instantly feel a small measure of hostility against anybody who writes about political strategy. Partisans tend to be people who will do whatever it takes, who have no problems tossing moral considerations aside, for the purpose of gaining power for themselves, their political allies, and (often) the patrons who hired them.
I see no particularly strong reason to think that Democrats are better than Republicans. These days, Democrats are making a lot of noise about the Republican “culture of corruption.” They talk as if Democrats are inherently more honest than Republicans.
I see a different explanation.
These days, why would anybody have any reason to bribe or corrupt people who are as impotent and ineffective as the members of the Democratic Party have been in recent years? It makes more sense to try to bribe my seven-year-old nephew for all of the political power he wields, than to bribe a Democratic Senator or Congressman.
This may sound cynical, but I’m waiting to see how well the Democrats handle power again before I make any judgments.
So, I am not particularly concerned with divining a strategy that will best put the Democrats back in power. I am, in fact, somewhat hostile to those who think in these terms. I would rather focus on what should or should not be done – regardless of which party is in office.
I have read several articles from people who are reporting that the plan to nominate General Michael Hayden to run the CIA was an act of political expedience.
Allegedly, Karl Rove has been put in charge of making sure that the Republicans keep control of the House and the Senate in the November elections. He suggested that Hayden be the nominee to run the CIA because the nomination would be politically useful.
Well, by nominating Hayden, President Bush would putting the person who was responsible for running the warrantless wiretapping program on the floor of the Senate under oath. Hopefully (from Karl Rove’s perspective) the Democrats would not be able to resist the opportunity to attack this target. When the did, the Republicans would be ready to use this to argue that the Democrats are soft on terrorism – that the Democrats are not willing to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe. With this, they would set up their message for the November elections: "If the Democrats gain control of the House and Senate in November, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!
The Democrats apparently saw this trap and are refusing to step into it. According to Bloomberg, Democratic leaders have announced that they will not be questioning Hayden about these warrantless wiretaps. Instead, they will focus on the fact that Hayden is a military officer being put in charge of a civilian agency that exists for the purpose of checking and balancing the power of the military.
Of course, if they give Hayden a pass on warrantless wiretaps in the NSS, we would be foolish not to expect warrantless wiretaps in the CIA.
These considerations all fall under the heading of political strategy.
I tend to think that the political strategists on both sides of the isle are fairly competent. In recent years Republican strategists have been more successful than Democrats. However, I suspect that this is mostly due to the fact that the Republicans have completely cut any moral bindings on what they may do, which gives them much more freedom to maneuver.
If we accept this assumption that these political strategists are reasonably competent, then this suggests that Rove is right about the American people. There is more political power to be had by those who will destroy the Bill of Rights (allegedly, in the name of security) than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States, and Rove wants to harness that power for the Republican Party.
If this is true, then it is because the American People themselves make it true. The fault, then, rests not so much with the politicians, but with our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
What Kind of People Are These?
When I think about how to understand the type of person who these politicians are afraid to offend, I imagine a show-covered town in eastern Pennsylvania in 1776, where a recruiter for the Continental Army is trying to get people to enlist. He tells the crowd, among other things, "We are fighting for the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches without probable cause."
In the crowd, we can imagine several types of people.
One group thinks that this right is worth fighting for. They are the ones who get their muskets and join the Continental Army.
The other group says, "You have to be kidding! Protect and defend a right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches without probable cause? I could die. There is no way that I am going to risk my life to defend such a pathetically poor idea."
There are others. There are people who initially like the idea of a right to be free from unreasonable searches, and requiring officers of the government to get a warrant based on probable cause. They may join the Continental Army. However, the instant they find their situation a little uncomfortable, or battle is joined and the bullets start flying, they drop their guns and head for the hills -- deserting those who have decided to stand and fight.
We can see all three of these types in what they have to say about the Bush’s plan for warrantless wiretaps, and now a database on all phone calls made in the United States.
I see no sense to be made of the claim that, “Bush is just trying to protect us from those who are trying to kill us,” but to equate them with those who would have said to the Recruiter, “Defend a right to be free from unreasonable searches without a warrant? Are you mad? I could get hurt!" Both think that the principle of prohibiting warrantless searches is not worth defending.
Those who gave lip service to the Bill of Rights for years only to abandon it are like those who would have joined the Continental Army only to desert when the campaign got tough.
Those who stand and fight for the principles embedded in the Constitution today are the ideological descendents of those who would have stood and fought with the Continental Army in 1776 and stayed the course.
Ironically, those who would have stood and fought for those principles better understand what we need to do to guarantee our security, and the security of the generations that come after ours. True security requires establishing a culture that says that people have certain rights – that among these rights is a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects – that people cannot be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects if others may trespass against them at will – so that security requires no trespass against the persons, houses, papers, and effects of another without probable cause.
A society that does not agree to live by this rule is a society within which the people cannot be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.
Those who say that security in one’s persons, houses, papers, and effects are not worth fighting for, are by definition people who are making us less secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects.
Without the diligence of those willing to stand and fight for these rights, those who run and hide and say that these rights are not worth fighting for will discover, eventually, that they are far less secure because of it.
Rove's Strategy Revisited
Karl Rove seems to be trying to appeal to those who think that these rights are not worth fighting for, and making them the core of the Republican Party. He hopes that there are enough people who are more concerned with their immediate short-term personal safety than the principles of liberty that he can use them to keep the Republican Party in power.
He thinks that it is politically expedient to appeal to these people, and the Democrats apparently think that he is right.
If this is true, it is because the American people have made it true. If the most powerful political party is the party that says that these rights are not worth defending, it is because the American people themselves have become a nation of people who would have dismissed the Recruiter and gone home, where it was safe, rather than risk the consequences of battle.
These are the people that Rove is trying to reach with his message, "Abandon that principle that people have a right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. It is not worth defending. Give us the power to conduct searches and seizures whenever we like. Then, run and hide. We will protect you. We will not abuse this power. Trust us."
By their decision not to pursue this issue, the Democrats are telling us that Rove is right.