Eugene Robinson comes to a lot of the same conclusions we've all been having lately on the NSA Presidential power grab, but his op-ed piece in today's WaPo is a very clear walk-through of the issues. It's a good read, and something that the not-too-kool-aid tainted might even be willing to contemplate.
The reason we don't do these absurd things, of course, is that we see a line between the acceptable and the unacceptable. That bright line is the law, drawn by Congress and regularly surveyed by the judiciary. It can be shifted, but the president has no right to shift it on his own authority. His constitutional war powers give him wide latitude, but those powers are not unlimited.When you consider that there have been a number of reports and articles over the last few days: from James Bamford, William Arkin, and from the Seattle Post-Intelligentcer -- all detailing ways in which the NSA is said to have been deployed far beyond what its mission has traditionally been, and all without any third party oversight because the Bush Administration deliberately chose to move forward without it.
If you go along with my experiment and assume that the president has the best of motives, then the problem is that he wants to protect the American people but doesn't trust us.
The President has made an extraordinary power grab with all of this, using war powers arguments as justification for stepping well outside the standards of legal precedent in national security matters built up over years and years. This Presidential Activism (hat tip to Jeralyn for the term)is something that must be either reconciled or condemned by members of Congress over the course of oversight hearings -- but members of Congress should know that we will be watching what they do, or don't do, as will the ghosts of the patriots who fought so hard to make this nation free in the first place.
The President has seized power through legal machinations, but it was not his for the taking -- and his breach of his oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States should not go unpunished. No matter what his intentions, breaking the law is a serious matter -- for the ordinary citizen and for the President. The law makes no distinction, and neither should any of the rest of us.
(Hat tip to the many readers who sent me links to the Seattle and UPI articles.)
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has more (via Atrios).