[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
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
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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