A Check on Executive Power

     The U.S. Supreme Court stirred a fleeting uproar by 
ruling, in a narrow 5-to-3 decision on narrow grounds, 
that there are limits on how the Bush administration may 
try suspected terrorists being held at the infamous 
Guantanamo Bay prison. But this was far from the 
"sweeping rebuke" some liberal pundits wishfully called 
it. Detainees may still be held without charges forever 
and ever.

     To hear the liberals, you might get the impression 
that the Court had ordered Gitmo closed down. Nothing of 
the kind. It merely held ... well, I'm not sure what, 

     Certainly the majority (the five usual liberals) 
didn't give the administration the unqualified executive 
authority it claimed. This may be a signal that it, the 
liberal majority, is at least prepared to limit 
presidential war-making powers unless they are 
specifically authorized by Congress. For the first time, 
the Court has become an active player in the Iraq war.

     Since the detainees aren't prisoners of war in the 
usual sense -- soldiers in the uniforms of a recognized 
state -- the administration argues plausibly that they 
aren't protected by the Geneva conventions on POWs. 
Giving them all individual trials would create a mare's 
nest, and the Court didn't require that.

     Still, you have to wonder how many of them were 
really fighting the U.S. invaders, and how many were just 
hapless men who were at the wrong place at the wrong 
time. But nobody is going to try to sort these two 
categories out, so some of the detainees are just out of 
luck. None of them will be going home for a while.

     At any rate, for once I am happy to see the Court's 
liberals prevail. It isn't often that they take a stand 
against claims of executive power.

Fathers and Sons

     Ever the party-pooper, North Korea's "Dear Leader," 
Kim Jong Il, upstaged the Fourth of July festivities and 
the launching of the new American space shuttle by doing 
a bit of saber-rattling: He test-fired a few missiles and 
warned that any American aggression will be answered with 
nuclear weapons. Since the only long-range missile 
fizzled, the threat seemed no more than Kim's latest 
attempt at black comedy.

     I guess I'll just never understand North Korean 
humor. Is Kim trying to parody President Bush's 
bellicosity? Mostly he makes you feel it was a better 
world back when their fathers were in power; the sons are 
a pair of loose cannons, scaring people to death around 
the globe. Both lack their fathers' gravitas. The old men 
had their faults, but they never made you feel the end of 
the world might be just around the corner.

     I can't honestly defend the younger Bush, but at 
least he provides some amusement. "The problem with the 
French," he has observed, "is that they don't have a word 
for 'entrepreneur.'" He has also remarked that "for a 
century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one 
of the great and enduring alliances of modern times." 
(Who says Americans have short memories?) And: "Rarely is 
the question asked, 'Is our children learning?'"

     But liberals shouldn't laugh too hard at Bush. True, 
after an Ivy League education he commits bloopers any 
high school honor roll student (and most dropouts) would 
avoid, but liberals should ask themselves a simple 
question: "Why would most Americans rather be governed by 
him than by us?"

     Maybe an honest answer to that question would teach 
them a bit of humility.

The Vice of Legislation

     Sometimes a simple phrase, used for the hundredth 
time, can trigger a thought that should have occurred to 
you the first time. The other day a book reviewer in THE 
WASHINGTON POST commented that John Kennedy is popularly 
rated a great president despite his "lack of major 
legislative accomplishments." These five words set me 

     In the first place, I suspect that Kennedy's 
enduring popularity is due in large part precisely to his 
"lack of major legislative accomplishments." In other 
words, he left us alone. If it's legislation you want, 
Lyndon Johnson was your man; he surely did more to expand 
the federal government than any president since 
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Has it made him a fond memory? 

     More basically, why should we think of legislation 
as an "accomplishment"? Superfluous laws are burdensome 
or tyrannical. Law by its nature means obligation. You 
are forced or forbidden to do what the legislation 
requires; that is, the moment it passes you are less free 
than you were before. Moreover, you will be taxed to pay 
for the enforcement of every law.

     Why should an increase of coercion and a 
corresponding diminution of liberty be regarded as 
intrinsically desirable? On the contrary, shouldn't there 
be an opposite presumption? Shouldn't the necessity of 
compulsion have to be proved in every case?

     I never cease to marvel at the inane assumption that 
we always need more laws, and that making them is an act 
of beneficence. By now we have so many laws that the real 
accomplishment would be to repeal most of them, to 
simplify them, to condense them, and to make it harder to 
pass new ones.

     For some impenetrable reason, people who are always 
demanding new laws are called "reformers." But as 
Chesterton points out, "It is futile to discuss reform 
without reference to form." A gross superabundance of 
laws is, in fact, the exact opposite of reform.

     As a Roman sage put it, "A corrupt society has many 
laws." Civilized society had quite enough laws a long 
time ago; once you have laws against violence to persons 
and property, you hardly need more, beyond a few 
definitions and refinements. But the word "enough" no 
longer seems to apply to government.

     John Kennedy may be overrated, but you can easily 
understand why. He reminds us of a receding age of 
relative freedom -- which means freedom from government.

The Eyes Have It

     Your prayers and my guardian angel have worked a 
miracle. In a few days I will have laser surgery on my 
eyes, which should take care of the threat to my vision.

     I can never adequately thank our Lord, or you, or my 
angel, for my deliverance from the terror of blindness.

                 +          +          +                  

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