One of the worst developments on the national political scene in the last few years has been the all-but-official declaration by the right that they consider themselves Republican before American. It’s partly understandable in light of their history and current circumstances, but that doesn’t excuse it or exempt any of those who are party to the ongoing infidelity.
Historically Republicans are a top-down hierarchy, which has its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is you’ll sometimes get a “lifetime achievement” nominee like Bob Dole that’s nearly predestined to lose in the general election. If he paid his dues, moved up the ladder and kept the faith he’ll get the nomination because it’s his turn. A much worse liability is that the very discipline and loyalty that can create a remarkably durable coalition can cause them to support leaders even when doing so is against America’s national interest (and sometimes their own). That’s the situation we’re in right now.
A person like George Bush came around at the worst possible time for an organization like the Republican Party. Eight years of Clinton left no anointed successor and the 1996 election left them in no mood to pay tribute to anyone. They wanted a win and when someone with a good name showed up they went into a fugue state; the next thing they knew they’d hitched their wagon to him. Questions about his proposals, experience, past and temperament that in other years might have knocked him out were batted away as partisan bias if they were addressed at all. Once he was elected he was at the top of the heap and everyone fell into line.
He’s now had six plus years of being The Man and has firmly consolidated his hold on the party. The leading figures on the right are loath to be critical of him out of respect for his position, but it’s lead them to neglect their duties to the Constitution. As the nation came to grips with the trauma of 9/11 and began to get its bearings again conservatives should have been leading the charge to undo some of the more outrageous civil liberties giveaways. Certainly by August 2007 it’s time to expect them to take a stand and the FISA legislation gives a perfect snapshot of how comprehensive their betrayal is:
House Republicans voted 186-2 in favor and Senate Republicans voted 43-0. Among leading conservative thinkers Andrew C. McCarthy called for the total elimination of FISA court so the president could “protect our nation from those trying to slaughter us”. (He also writes “Yes, the Patriot Act was the subject of great debate”. Quick timeline: “Introduced…on October 23, the Act swept through Congress remarkably quickly and with little dissent….The bill passed in the House the next day and in the Senate…on October 25. President Bush signed the bill into law on October 26.” Kind of casts a pall on his other points, no?)
The National Review editorialized that Congress
temporarily acknowledged the executive branch’s authority to monitor international communications for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence….This should not have been controversial. The single most important task of any president is to protect the United States from external threats….That task has never been more vital than it is today, when transnational terror networks, seeking access to weapons of enormous power, vow to attack us after killing nearly 3,000 Americans. Yet our defense is hindered by an improvident and outdated legislative scheme, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Ed Morrissey in The Weekly Standard wrote “It’s essential that the president have the requisite tools to conduct surveillance on terrorists plotting to harm Americans and American interests.” I found no commentary at all at The American Enterprise Institute.
Among right wing bloggers Dean Barnett lauded the “much-needed FISA reforms”, Sister Toldjah wrote “Well, while Democrats often won’t vote in favor of a bill in spite of the fact that it would help protect us from terrorism, they will vote for it for two reasons: 1) politics and 2) they wanna go on their summer recess” and Jules Crittenden chimed in with “Losers fail to stop winners in vote vs. enemy, that’s a loss therefore a win, right? Senate backs White House on eavesdropping vs. foreign terror suspects” (embarrassingly awkward syntax in original). Reaction across the board consisted of procedural accounts, political scorekeeping, notes of approval or complete silence.
No conservatives have the courage to say the changes wrapped a tiny loophole change (foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through American infrastructure) up with enormous and unconstitutional executive power grabs. Some argue FISA itself is the problem, conveniently ignoring the alternative enforcement mechanism – Congressional oversight – can be neglected by the legislature or contemptuously ignored by the executive. (If nothing else Bush has demonstrated the value of bureaucracy: It forces process and documentation.) The current crisis can be laid at the feet of both the left and the right – I’ll get to liberals next week – but conservatives bear a larger share of the blame. Their uniform blind obedience has been the primary enabler of tyranny’s lengthening shadow.