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.
In a republic, the role of the executive should be kept under close watch; the same principle holds true for Congress and the federal judiciary.
But make no mistake -- this debate over President Bush's authorization for broader intelligence monitoring of terrorists is not about the Constitution. It is not about the role of the executive in our governmental structure. It is not even about the president's additional wartime powers.
No, this debate is about partisan politics. The left wants to deprive Americans of yet another tool in the war on terror, this time by curtailing the ability of our commander-in-chief to secretly keep tabs on those who wish to kill us. President Bush has briefed senators more than 12 times about this program; he has re-authorized it more than 30 times since 9/11. This program is hardly news to anyone in the know. Yet The New York Times felt it necessary to sound the alarm about the demise of our civil liberties and, by doing so, alert terrorists that they are indeed being monitored. President Bush was eminently correct when he called the media's disclosure "a shameful act."
It is no coincidence that The New York Times held this story until the week that the re-authorization of the Patriot Act was to be debated by Congress. This is a calculated political ploy on the part of liberal representatives and their willing media allies to castrate America's intelligence capabilities. While Feingold and his ilk protest that the debate over intelligence is really about the Constitution, his Democratic colleagues are busy killing the Patriot Act in the Senate. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats (along with media hound John McCain) are pushing for an end to American torture of terrorists. Even if Feingold and his friends believe that presidential power should be limited, Congress still has the ability -- and the obligation -- to grant the president enough power to do his job.
We are a nation in need of strong intelligence no matter what those Democrats in the Senate might think. We are a nation at war, no matter what those on the Times editorial board might think. And we sure need more than spitballs to fight that war.