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 President Disastro 

May 11, 2006 
Our government has to protect us, and how it does so is none of our business.

But now we luckily learn how the huge but shadowy National Security Agency does it, thanks to USA Today, which has done a bit of Today's column is "President Disastro" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.countersnooping in our behalf. Without informing us, and with the cooperation of three telecommunications giants, the NSA has secretly collected records of billions of our phone calls. And it’s still building its database.

Nobody’s rights have been violated, President Disastro assures us, acknowledging that yes, he authorized the secret program. For our own good, of course. Don’t worry, it’s all compatible with the laws, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the UN Charter, and all that stuff. Just the way Thomas Jefferson would have wanted it.

I rarely chat with terrorists, and I’m not particularly afraid of being singled out for the Bush administration’s special attention, but it’s the principle of the thing. Once again this gang has been caught red-handed being underhanded.

This is how we live now. Self-government doesn’t mean we have to know everything our rulers are up to, does it? It’s hard enough keeping track of agencies like the Department of Agriculture. There are so many of them, protecting us from so many things. And the rules, which are countless, are always on their side.

This is the greatest, freest country on earth? Well, in some ways maybe, no thanks to Bush and his team. If some of our legal traditions still survive, albeit severely curtailed, it’s in spite of these madmen, not because of them. The present system — a huge, hideous, monstrous distortion of the government originally prescribed in that Constitution — suits them just fine.

[Breaker quote for President Disastro: Worse than we thought, as usual]Clever idea, the Constitution. Too bad it didn’t work. By now we should stop congratulating ourselves on it. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments pretty well destroyed what was left of it, and with all due credit to Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, the ovine electorate allowed Franklin Roosevelt and his successors to finish the job.

The incumbent is just adding a few twists of his own. Lincoln set precedents for executive arrogance by suspending habeas corpus, free speech, and press, arresting elected officials, and invading the states. Wilson and Roosevelt followed suit with other wartime persecutions and usurpations. Since all three enjoy the ultimate benison of liberalism — these were “great” presidents — it seems churlish of liberals to spurn Bush, the “conservative” they’ve brought on themselves.

To their credit, liberals have become more skeptical than conservatives about “national security” as a pretext for overweening executive power. They prefer other rationales for violations of our liberty — “social justice,” and so forth.

But in the end, both sides get along very well, accepting each other’s gains and seldom threatening to repeal any power that has been established. The iron law they both respect is that the state must grow. Its powers can’t be repealed, it can’t be cut back to its previous scale, its ambitions can’t be reduced. “You can’t turn back the clock,” as they say.

Now, at last, a president may be bringing the system to a final crisis with more promises and debts than it can sustain. He has no sense of limits or proportion, or of what his subjects will tolerate. For all their excesses, the “great” presidents knew there were some lines they mustn’t cross. They lied with finesse. Some of their lies are still believed, chiseled on the marble monuments we call “our heritage.”

But Bush lies without finesse. One of his chief weaknesses is that he is fatally gauche. Even simple people realize that he has deceived them and that he’s now just insulting their intelligence. Conservative intellectuals have argued that his embarrassing awkwardness is a mark of his “authenticity,” when it’s really a sign of his insincerity. He repeats himself like a dumb criminal repeating a formulaic alibi he’s afraid to risk putting into fresh words, lest an inconsistency betray him.

Having used up all his chances with more than two years to go as president, Bush now faces historical infamy. The rest of us face the continued horror and humiliation of being ruled by him, and it isn’t likely to get any better before January 2009. But even if a calamitous collapse can be delayed until then, there may be no way his successor can avoid it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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