Al Gore delivered an exceptional and potent speech today attacking George Bush’s lawless NSA eavesdropping and describing why this scandal is truly a profound crisis for our country. The speech was reasoned yet still exceptionally impassioned and principled. It clearly highlighted the serious dangers posed by Bush’s law-breaking without being the slightest bit strident or hysterical.
Gore's speech -- which was introduced by long time conservative Bob Barr and sponsored by the libertarian Liberty Foundation -- really can be a galvanizing event for both Democrats and as well as other Bush opponents on the NSA scandal. There are several observations I think are worth making about this speech:
(1) It is past time for Democrats to dispense with the tepid, half-hearted, non-committal language when talking to Americans about why this scandal is so serious. Democrats, like Gore did today, must explain clearly to the country that Bush is deliberately breaking the law and has vowed to continue to do so, and that he and his followers have literally embraced a theory of Presidential power which claims that the permanent "war" we are fighting gives Bush the power to break the law. As Gore put it:
At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.
Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?
That George Bush broke the law is crystal clear and easy to explain. Gore just did so with perfect clarity. That Bush has vowed to continue breaking the law based on his belief that the Constitution gives him the power of law-breaking is something which most Americans will instinctively and viscerally reject – provided that this is explained to them clearly and unapologetically.
There was a previous President who claimed the right to break the law and the last image everyone remembers of him was waiving good-bye as he flew away from the White House in disgrace. These are not esoteric or abstract issues. There is no reason for Democrats to be afraid of standing up to George Bush on this issue. Bush got caught breaking the law and our country can’t tolerate that. It is that simple, and that was what Gore just expressed so powerfully.
(2) For reasons I explained in this post today, the NSA scandal is not a partisan or ideological scandal and must not be depicted that way. There is nothing in either liberal or conservative ideology which remotely promotes or endorses the notion that the President has the right to break the law. This scandal transcends the standard liberal-conservative battles because it threatens the basic principles of our government.
Bush’s lawless behavior can and should be opposed through an appeal to both strength and the defining traditions of our country. Our country was borne of a rebellion against a central authority who claimed monarchic powers that put him above the law. It was precisely to avoid such authority that the Founders made the country one based on the rule of law and checks and balances of the Executive. They made expressly clear that the President is bound by the law to the same extent as everyone else is. There is no such thing as the power to break the law in America. That power is completely foreign to our history and traditions.
Those are the principles and traditions under assault by this Administration and those were the principles invoked by Gore in his speech today. This scandal is not about whether liberal or conservative approaches to terrorism are best. It is about whether we will continue to be a country that is based on the rule of law and not subject to George Bush’s unrestrained power. This fact ought to lay to rest the paralyzing fears of overly cautious Bush opponents who keep fretting about the scary political costs of standing up to George Bush’s law-breaking.
Bush followers are not conservative; they are devoted solely to the aggrandizement and glorification of George Bush. It is more of a personality cult than it is a political ideology. There is a strong anti-government sentiment which still runs deep in traditional conservatives – that is why Bob Barr and so many other actual conservatives have spoken out, in many cases more aggressively than Democrats have, against Bush’s lawless eavesdropping. Those fissures on the Right from this issue can be and should be exploited in order to prevent this scandal from being cast as the latest partisan bickering or as the by-product of liberal opposition to strong anti-terrorist measures.
This is a scandal, from beginning to end, about law-breaking and George Bush's belief that he has the right to break the law.
(3) Gore called for several specific actions to be taken in response to this scandal – including the appointment of a Pat Fitzgerald-like Special Prosecutor and the holding of comprehensive and serious hearings (not the worthless show trial planned by the impotent Senate Judiciary Committee and the neutered Arlen Specter).
There is much frustration in the blogosphere in the wake of the Alito debacle over the glaring disconnect between the vibrant, energized resolve in the blogosphere and the staid, lifeless, and weak Democratic leadership. Gore’s speech called for several specific actions to be taken, and it is worth considering, I believe, whether and how the blogosphere can be activated to help agitate for some or all of these measures.
--posted by Glenn Greenwald