As I watch Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping program, I’m struck by a particularly bizarre aspect of this.
I cannot imagine many of these senators supporting such a surveillance program if it were created by President Bill Clinton or a hypothetical President Al Gore or John Kerry. (Or, for that matter, a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton.) They’d be outraged. They would rightly point to Congress’ restriction on wiretapping, post -Nixon, via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, barring the president from engaging in any such acts. They would say that the president does not have unlimited power, in times of war or otherwise, and that when the president violates a law, that is a crime.
But it’s not the hypothetical that interests me. It’s that Republicans who defend these actions on the part of the president are making it possible for a future Democratic president to have the same powers. The question isn’t whether President Bush may ignore law when it finds it useful, it’s when any president may ignore law when he finds it useful. If we turn President Bush into a king, we will turn a future President Warner into a king. I’d find that every bit as objectionable as what President Bush is doing now, with the possible exception that I’d find President Warner’s overreaching more in line with my own interests.
I have to wonder how many Republicans who support President Bush’s newly-claimed powers would have supported those same powers for President Clinton, or for future Democratic presidents. I suspect not very many.