The Constitution as Talking Points

by on January 26th, 2006

When it comes to the Supreme Court, the Bush administration claims they want judges on the court who will “strictly interpret and apply the constitution.”

But when it comes to their own actions, the President and his minions apparently believe that the Constitution is little more than political talking points from which they can pick and choose to press for political advantage.

The vaunted Republican spin machine was out in force again this week working to make the case that breaking the law and illegally spying on American citizens is a good thing.

Sensing a divide in American opinion over revelations of illegal domestic spying, the Bush team launched an effort to drive a wedge through the electorate and change the debate from a legal one to a political battle. They even gave their illegal spying program a snazzy new name “ The Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Treating the issue as just another political campaign, all the Presidents men were spun out to deliver the message that we need to be scared, and that to oppose the presidents spying program was to be weak on national security.

Karl Rove, delivering the Republican talking points and setting the stage for a weeklong series of political speeches, defined the issue in the starkest of terms. In a speech to the Republican National Committee he said, “We have two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post 9-11 world view – and many democrats have a pre 9-11 world view.”

The effort is pure Rove and it is intended to accomplish two things: One is to redefine the issue – to change it from a debate over substantive legal issues to a political controversy that frames the discussion as a false choice between security and liberty. The second is public relations 101 – the administration is admitting to what they have done in advance, disclosing wrongdoing while wrapping their actions in the cloak of 9-11 prior to the pending Senate hearings and other investigations.

But Rove also said something in his speech that may come back to haunt him. Seeking to turn the debate over the appointment of Supreme Court judges into a political issue for the upcoming elections Rove said, “This important debate will decide whether we treat the Constitution as the governing charter of our nation – or whether we will treat it as if it is made of hot wax: pliable, inconstant, and easily changed.”

Well I guess we know where he comes down on this. Judging from their recent actions, Rove and others in the Bush administration apparently believe that the President is above the law and that the Constitution does not apply, except when they say so.

But despite the political claims of the Bush Administration, the United States, for the time being anyway, remains a nation of laws, and the 1978 FISA legislation specifically prohibits domestic spying on U.S. Citizens without a warrant based on reasonable cause.

And as for the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Even Rove is going to have a tough time spinning his way past that one.

But he is right about Republicans having a post 9-11 worldview and Democrats having a pre 9-11 worldview.

Democrats believe in a pre 9-11 America where civil rights and civil liberties are protected, where political power is limited by the Constitution’s checks and balances, and no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Many Republicans however appear to believe in a post 9-11 vision of America where liberty is sacrificed in the name of security, where domestic spying, torture and secret prisons are standard policy, and the law is only what the President, or Karl Rove, says it is.


John McDonald