Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Constitution, conservatism, and Dick Cheney

From the very inception of the PATRIOT Act and the laws and regulations which are connected to it, I have registered my outspoken opposition. I have done so not as a liberal looking for a convenient way to criticize a President who holds a differing political viewpoint, but as a conservative Republican who believes as a matter of principle that the government which governs least governs best. It is a cardinal rule of American conservatism that the Constitution of the United States is meant to be taken literally, and that we should never "read into" the federal Constitution legal notions that the framers of that document or its corresponding amendments did not intend.

Until September 11, the idea that the federal power had no right to take actions which violated the basic tenants of both the Bill of Rights as well as the principle of States' Rights specifically enshrined in the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was something deeply ingrained into the conservative mind. After that awful day, so-called conservatives were championing warrantless wiretaps, torture disguised as "coercive punishment," detention without trial, and trial before bodies with legally questionable judicial authority. From the beginning of all of this, I remember thinking I was in some kind of twilight zone. I could not believe that people would condone such sweeping executive power that clearly had no rational basis in a strict construction of the Constitution. The President's men were committing the same grave error that liberals do-reading things into the Constitution that are not there.

Most of all, I've been asking myself for the last six years: Am I the only conservative who sees a problem with the newly expanded federal executive power?

As it turns out, not only am I not alone, but former conservative members of the present Administration agree. The former head of the Office of Legal Council (OLC) Jack Goldsmith let the President know in no uncertain terms that he stood in violation of the Geneva Convention as well as the Constitution. The other major figured who nearly died defending the Constitution and laws of the United States would surprise many on the Left, but does not surprise me-former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

I always thought Ashcroft was somehow getting a bad rap-I could feel it somewhere deep in my bones. We now know that Ashcroft let it be known exactly what he thought of the program of torture, military commissions, and unconstitutional behavior on the part of the White House (and specifically on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney): He believed that it was unlawful.

So powerful has the Vice President become that he and his Chief Counsel David Addington can easily be seen to be running the country-the Constitution be damned. If you haven't seen the latest Frontline on the extent of Cheney's power and the battle between conservatives in the Administration, you absolutely need to watch it.

If Democrats think four years of Hillary or Obama will undue this pervasive Constitutional mess, they ought to give thought that these kinds of laws and regulations can just as well be used by Democrats and liberals against their political opposition-if you are expecting all of this to be undone, you had best think again.

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At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 3:53:00 PM, Blogger Sharon Cobb said...

Good piece, but it's not really fair to single out Clinton and Obama on this issue. Because, to be honest, the only person running for President on either side who would "undo this mess" is Ron Paul, and as you know, he has no shot.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 4:50:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

I think it is fair for one reason, Sharon-they are criticizing the President on these things just as I have done. Okay, that is legitimate, but here's the rub:

They really have no room to talk unless they are going to do something about it. Like you, I do not believe that any of them will.


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