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The Reactionary Utopian
August 7, 2008

President Katrina
by Joe Sobran

[Breaker: George Bush as Liberal Icon?]

During the fuss about the Bush administration's warrantless wiretaps, liberal critics were on the verge of making a few good points. But they missed the biggest point of all: George W. Bush is the fruit of their own liberalism.

David Ignatius of The Washington Post quite properly noted that Bush and Dick Cheney make the dubious claim that the president's constitutional wartime authority “trumps everything,” even acts of Congress specifically forbidding, say, warrantless wiretaps. Sound familiar? Where have we heard this before?

Yes, of course! Abraham Lincoln felt entitled to claim any powers he deemed necessary to perform his transcendent duty to “save the Union.” True, the Constitution didn't spell these out, but as Harry V. Jaffa has written, Lincoln “discovered” a whole “reservoir” of wartime powers implicit in Article II. Why shouldn't Bush imitate the great example of Lincoln, one of liberalism's gods?

After all, liberalism adores “great” presidents, those who, like Lincoln and the Roosevelts, take a “creative” and “expansive” view of executive power, not necessarily going by the book. This approach dovetails nicely with the liberal view of the Constitution as a “living document” whose meanings evolve over time, adapting to new circumstances.

This is a game any number can play. Today liberals are understandably upset with what Bush is doing, and I'm not happy about it myself. But Bush and his men are merely doing what liberals have always done, finding new implications — penumbras and emanations and so forth — in the Living Document. And they have so many precedents on their side. This is just the Republican version of what the Democrats have been doing since Woodrow Wilson. (And Republicans had been doing it long before that.)

I can't get hysterical about the remote possibility that my own phone may be wiretapped. The real danger is more general than that; and even to call it a “danger” is wrong, because it's a certainty, and it's already happening. All limits on federal power are going the way of the New Orleans levees.

I must admit that the colossal and explosive growth of the federal government under Bush has surprised me. But I can't deny its logic, given the legacy of liberalism. What surprises me more painfully is that Bush has done all of this with so little protest or resistance from conservatives who should know better.

However it happened, it has happened. The federal budget first reached a trillion dollars under Ronald Reagan; Bush has now proposed one of $2.77 trillion. And it's safe to assume even this figure understates the amount that will actually be spent.

“The era of big government is over,” Bill Clinton assured us, lying as usual. What we didn't suspect was that Clinton was just the calm before the real storm, to wit, the political Hurricane Katrina that is the Bush administration. Who ever dreamed that a president calling himself a conservative would end any illusion that government could be limited?


This column appeared originally in the February 2006 edition of SOBRAN'S: The Real News of the Month.

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