At the Republican National Convention in New York on Sept. 1, 2004, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) explained why he was backing President George W. Bush's re-election. Plainly put, he stated, the Democrats were soft on defense. "U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?" he asked Democratic leaders opposed to a variety of defense programs.
Nothing has changed since 2004. On Dec. 15, The New York Times splashed a huge story titled "Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say." The story revealed that the intelligence community had been authorized by President Bush to monitor specific international phone calls and e-mail exchanges without a warrant.
The left went ballistic. The New York Times editorial board piously intoned, "Let's be clear about this: Illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that." (Surely this marks the first time that The New York Times has appealed to the rule of law and the Constitution to justify its policy positions. Normally, it seeks to destroy both in the name of liberal talking points, like gay marriage.) Jonathan Alter of Newsweek hysterically raved, "We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator or, in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War." Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), hot on the trail of the 2008 Democratic nomination, haughtily averred, "He is the president, not a king, and that is the way we make laws in this country."
Now, debate about the nature and extent of presidential power is healthy. It is a debate with a long pedigree:
-- The debate about presidential power in the wake of the Alien and Sedition Acts left Thomas Jefferson as our chief executive in 1800.
-- The debate about suspension of habeas corpus by President Abraham Lincoln was resolved in his favor despite the protestations of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney.
-- The debate about presidential confidentiality during the Nixon administration ended with President Richard Nixon's resignation.
-- The debate about presidential invincibility ended with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton by the House of Representatives.