Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, I admit it, I was secretly hoping that the President was ordering exactly the sort of programs that Democrats were protesting so vociferously until a few days ago – wiretapping, data mining, search and seizure based on “not entirely improbable cause”, secret assassinations and the occasional waterboarding. I wanted, in the immediate aftermath of such a massive attack, a vigorous, quick moving executive, not a bureaucracy beholden to the slower than molasses judiciary. I wanted this to get the situation handled and quickly, to move past the emergency stage. I envisioned FBI agents working 18 hour days, with every available hand, even the secretaries, listening to wiretaps for any clue and not wasting the time to fill out warrant applications. When they found something, the bastards they caught in the act of attempted mass murder were going to be hit with such massive firepower there wouldn’t be a big toe left to protest the lack of a warrant.
I was okay with all that, even supported it for a couple of reasons. First, I knew John Ashcroft was Attorney General and, unlike the current one, he was a longtime supporter of civil liberties who I expected to be vigilant in checking excessive action. Second, and most importantly, I expected the action to be temporary, a quick fix to deal with the emergency until longer term rules (and extra manpower to make them work) could be put in place. I expected the courts with deliberate slowness and the Congress with slow deliberation, to check and balance the immediately expedient steps of the executive branch and craft rules to safeguard American liberties.
Even Republicans in Congress should have been jealous enough of their Constitutional prerogatives that after a few months, or a couple of years at most, they would say to the President, “Enough is enough. This was fine in an emergency, but it’s not fine to drag on for years.” Democrats should have been screaming it to the high heavens and, of course, they were in the last election. But now…they simply rubberstamp the NSA wiretapping program?
A President acting decisively in a moment of crisis is no threat to democracy or liberty. Indeed, the 4-year term and indirect election of the President are both intended to ensure that a President can act that way precisely to preserve democracy and liberty in the longer term. A complacent or even subservient Congress, on the other hand, is a severe threat to liberty. What’s next from the Senate? Perhaps they could name a Dictator Perpetuus.
Now all that is left is to appeal to the President, hopefully not as futilely as Cicero:
What I am more afraid of is lest, being ignorant of the true path to glory, you should think it glorious for you to have more power by yourself than all the rest of the people put together, and lest you should prefer being feared by your fellow-citizens to being loved by them. And if you do think so, you are ignorant of the road to glory. For a citizen to be dear to his fellow-citizens, to deserve well of the republic, to be praised, to be respected, to be loved, is glorious; but to be feared, and to be an object of hatred, is odious, detestable; and, moreover, pregnant with weakness and decay. And we see that, even in the play, the very man who said, – “What care I though all men should hate my name, So long as fear accompanies their hate?” –
found that it was a mischievous principle to act upon.