succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, January 16, 2006

"Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gore gave one hell of a speech today.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."


In a properly functioning system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands - notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.


The President's judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive - a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not - and I do not - we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

It's this last point that I find to be the most compelling reason to be terrified of the rapidly-inevitable-seeming confirmation of Judge Alito. Yes, during his confirmation hearings he stated more than once that no man, including the president, is above the law. But if your interpretation of the law is that, legally, a president is entitled to do pretty much any damn thing he wants (a slightly loose interpretation of the unitary executive), then this statement is pretty empty. And that, more than any other specific issue on which I may hold a differing opinion, is the reason why I think Judge Alito joining the Supreme Court has the potential to be disastrous. This man will be helping to shape the interpretation of law for decades. And he is not the man America needs. If you, unlike me, have even remotely reasonable senators, try one more time to call and share your thoughts with them. U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121

Gore also includes a particularly motivating reminder of our job as citizens:

We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We-as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

The revolutionary departure on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke: "All just power is derived from the consent of the governed."


We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, "The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will."

And again the reminder that fear is not only not the way of progress, but that an administration that rules by fear is an insult to our origins.

As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.


It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We seem to be on something of the same wavelength today, except you, as usual, are more eloquent.


8:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home