Monday, November 28, 2005

Timid Liberals and Civil Liberties - Addendum

In my previous post on Saturday, November 26th, I failed to report that the Bush Administration had in fact indicted Jose Padillia to avoid a showdown with the Supreme Court. Although not the least bit hesitant to steamroll Congress in their disrespect for the Constitution, President Bush's Justice Department are wary of the nation's highest court and fearful that a majority of justices may respect the law. Indeed, as the Washington Post noted in an article on November 23rd, last year while reviewing numerous cases pertaining to the war on terrorism retiring Justice Sandra O'Connor wrote,

"A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
Both the New York Times and The Washington Post report that Padilla's change in status is merely a shift in tactics and the Bush Administration remains very much in arbitrary control over detention policy.

When Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter convenes hearings to consider Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, most will focus on abortion. We can expect that abortion will be covered with great intensity by the media while the special interest groups for each side are ready to clash. There is far more at stake than abortion. It is imperative that true civil libertarians pressure the members of the Senate Judicary Committee to vigorously question and challenge Samuel Alito's views about the detention of U.S. citizens in a time of war. It is entirely possible that the Supreme Court will preside over a matter similar to Jose Padilla's in the coming years and Sandra Day O'Connor will no longer be there.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Timid Liberals and Civil Liberties

On November 15th, 2001 a New York Times columnist wrote :

Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens. Intimidated by terrorists and inflamed by a passion for rough justice, we are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts.”

That columnist was none other than William Safire. The very same William Safire who shamelessly venerated Nixon, glorified Reagan, irresponsibly raised suspicions that President Clinton murdered Vince Foster, and spent his final years as the Times senior columnist justifying Bush’s folly in Iraq. While liberals ducked and covered after 9/11 he was one of the few to stand up to the far right and demand no further encroachments upon our civil liberties. Indeed, during his tenure at The New York Times, Safire was a stalwart defender of privacy rights and frequently chastised Big Brother conservatives for going too far. And he’s far from alone in the Republican Party.

Since 1968 the Republican Party has successfully appealed to law and order conservatives, mobilized a religious fundamentalist constituency that believes government should enforce “values” and simultaneously persuaded civil libertarians that the GOP is their natural home. The message has been singed into our heads that if you don’t want the government regulating your personal choices then the GOP is home. If you’re security conscious and believe civil liberties should be sacrificed to reduce crime and feel safe the GOP is also your home. Finally, if your religious faith compels you to believe that abortion is murder and homosexuality a sin, there is no better home than the Republican Party.

It is time for Democrats to get off the deck and stop the Republicans from enjoying a free ride. Why not aggressively drive a wedge between civil libertarians and social conservatives? In a brilliant Op-Ed piece to the New York Times, Dan Savage suggested that Democrats propose an amendment to the Constitution explicitly codifying the right to privacy.

We’re constantly patronized by conservative strict constructionist nonsense that the Constitution never mentions privacy. Well, as Mr. Savage writes, if it’s OK for Republicans to put forward an amendment about banning homosexual marriage, then it makes perfect sense for Democrats to rally libertarians behind their banner by proposing a right to privacy amendment. Politically it would completely knock the Republicans off balance and let civil libertarians know that Democrats are truly on their side.

The stakes are far greater than the Democrat’s electoral viability. By now many Americans have heard about Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito’s application to work for the Justice Department in 1985. Typically, the media, liberal special interest groups such as NARAL, People for the American Way, and NOW focused on his stated opposition to abortion. However, far more alarming was Judge Alito’s position that he believed ''very strongly'' in ''the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values.'' That ought to trigger alarm bells in every libertarian’s brain. I know reading it gave me a severe jolt.

Will the Democrats merely punch themselves out over abortion while Alito does a rope a dope about his respect for precedent? Or will they press him for his views on technology and the right to privacy? For example, what are Alito’s views about brain finger printing and the future right to privacy? This is not science fiction. In a mere twenty years, current Chief Justice John Roberts and nominee Samuel Alito may preside over cases about whether a search and seizure is justified after a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan of one’s brain waves. Perhaps their Supreme Court will decide whether such a scan is admissible in trial and can be used as a high tech polygraph. I wonder if Senators Schumer and Biden who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee have thought about the right to privacy beyond abortion. Do they understand that by their pro-choice abortion centric focus to every judicial nomination they are neglecting valid constitutional issues? Do they understand that they are squandering an opportunity to persuade libertarians that the Democratic Party is a more hospitable home?

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of reproductive rights. In 1215 the Magna Carta famously declared that a man’s home was his castle. Now in the year 2005 too many Republicans believe that a woman is not entitled to autonomy over her own body. Today, pharmacists are refusing to sell women morning after pills for example and Republicans are pushing within state legislatures to allow any pharmacist this right. Certainly, reproductive rights, as illustrated in Griswold vs. Connecticut are a vital component of civil liberties. Democrats should never stop standing up for them. But their sole focus on abortion has not worked and allowed the Republicans to encroach upon a broad range of liberties.

For example, as Democrats flail away on abortion the Bush Administration is currently waging war on the Constitutional right of habeas corpus – a principal in constitutional law that a U.S. citizen may not be indefinitely detained without a trial. The right to a speedy and public trial is guaranteed in the sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Bush Administration has detained Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen without a trial since 2002.

The Bush Administration alleges that Mr. Padilla is a terrorist and arbitrarily labeled him an “enemy combatant” who is not eligible for due process of law. Perhaps the Bush Administration has valid evidence that Mr. Padilla is a terrorist. Their conduct in this matter is nevertheless profoundly disturbing. Mr. Padilla’s lawyers have appealed his case to the Supreme Court and the stakes are enormous. If they rule against Mr. Padilla, future Presidents will have the power to detain citizens indefinitely without trial. Can we always be certain that the Executive Branch will apply such power judiciously? Or will they simply detain people who hold political views they don’t like?

And where are the Democrats? Are they standing up for due process of law? Or will they continue to be timid, fearful that Republicans will portray them as soft on the war on terror? Will civil libertarians become disenchanted with the Republican Party? Where will they go if the Democrats remain cowardly? Memo to the Democratic Party: lead the fight to protect civil liberties.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Welcome to the Intrepid Liberal Journal. My intention is to advocate progressive principals supported by facts and provoke discussion. I do not lay claim to the holy grail of objectivity. This blog is a vehicle to put forward my own opinions about the issues of the day. I suspect Democrats as well as Republicans will disagree with much I have to say.

All opinions in response to my postings are welcome. Certainly, I hope to persuade others to my point of view but I also want to be educated in return. Just as I lay no claim to objectivity I also don't pretend to possess a monopoly on wisdom. One of my pet peeves are polemicists who shamelessly promote themselves as infallible and all knowing. Another irritant in the current political environment is the lack of civility. Primarily, I blame conservatives, but those of us on the Left must go beyond derisive hyberbole and contribute real solutions to current challenges.

I hope to faciliate debate that is intelligent and civil. As far as I'm concerned, vulgarity in debate is an illustration of weakness. If your opinions can't stand on their own in a civil discourse, then why bother?

At its best, politics is an intense competition in the marketplace of ideas that enhances society. Sadly, today we have a Republican Party bereft of decency, honor, and competence. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party's quality of opposition to the Bush Administration is incoherent, lacking in authenticity, and putting forward virtrioli instead of viable alternatives. The ultimate responsibility for national direction is with us: We The People. Only an informed public that participates in the marketplace of ideas can have the leverage to hold our leaders accountable, treat our hard earned tax dollars with respect, and facilitate a society based upon freedom, personal responsibility, and social justice.

The Phony Debaters and Pathetic Partisans

I had fully intended my first issue posting to be about civil liberties. I was all geared up to write how Democrats have a unique opportunity to drive a wedge between social conservatives and civil libertarians by advocating a right to privacy amendment as recently suggested by Dan Savage in his Op-Ed to the New York Times. That will have to wait for another day. Thanks to Congressman John Murtha and the resolution just passed in the Senate, I must instead write about Iraq.

I find myself agreeing with Congressman Murtha's demand for withdrawl and disgusted by it at the same time. Candidly speaking withdrawl is dishonorable. Withdrawl is analagous to going into a small town, taking out a homicidal crime boss who plunders the community's resources, promising everyone that life will now be better, and leaving behind multiple rival crime families that kill anyone who gets in their way. That is what we're talking about doing. Let's not kid ourselves. The Iraqis are not capable of establishing and enforcing a civil society while conflict rages between the Shiites and the Sunnis. Any chance they ever had was eviscerated by the Bush Administration's inability to obtain international help in properly training Iraqi's on the ground and their reluctance to utilize the infrastructure from the former Bathist regime.

What sickens me the most about the Bush Administration's approach to the Iraqi occupation is their halfway concept. As my father has told me many times in life, it is impossible to be a little bit pregnant. Either success in Iraq is truly vital to our national security, or it isn't. If as Bush's rhetoric suggests Iraq is the central front for the war on terror then why didn't he put more boots on the ground from the very beginning? We never had enough forces in the first place to get the job done. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld wanted Iraq to be the War of Novocaine. No pain. No broad sacrifice. War is not supposed to be cheap or easy. That's why responsible leaders only initiate it out of necessity. If it's not worth the sacrifices to win, then it should not be fought. Over 2,000 troops have perished and thousands more were wounded because the neo-cons wanted to make Iraq into a client state for the oil.

Now we find ourselves in a box because our military presence can no longer accomplish anything postive. Indeed, our presence is toxic and legitimizes Islamic Fascists as well Saddam's former minions as they wage attacks on their own people.

In Washington, the Democrats are feeling their oats. As Bush's poll numbers continue to plummet they smell blood and want to go for the kill. They joyfully accuse the Administration of lying about the intelligence before the war and are in a fever over the CIA leak investigation. I have no doubt the Administration lied, and history will judge Bush quite harshly - as it should. His stewardship of our nation is bereft of decency, honor, and competence. He easily ranks among the worst Presidents in our nation's history. More corrupt than Warren Harding and the cronyism of the Teapot Dome scandal. More feckless than the pre-Civil War Presidents who were textbook examples for the consequences of weak leadership. Even more feculent and nefarious than Richard Nixon who applied power more cynically than any President before him.

Nevertheless, I'm more disgusted with the Democrats. While everyone is focused on Congressman Murtha, my attention was captured by former Senator Bob Graham's Op-Ed in the Washington Post

Senator Graham was the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee during the lead up to the war. In his Op-Ed it appears obvious to me that while the Democrats did not have access to the same intelligence as the White House, they absolutely had enough to at least vigorously question the Administration's policy. Senator Graham found all sorts of inconsitencies and contradictons in the intelligence that was available and made the right call.

He closes his column with this: "

I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not."
Senator Graham you did your job. Your colleagues didn't do theirs. They were regulated by political fear and cowardice. It's bad enough to put your finger to the wind on issues such as taxes. War requires a much higher standard of leadership. Consequently, I have equal contempt for George W. Bush, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton. Both parties are disingenuous on the Iraq War and a cabal of phony debaters and pathetic partisans.

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