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There are plenty of partisan reasons to disapprove of George W. Bush: his antichoice zealotry, the Iraq war, tax cuts for the rich, his half-baked scheme to privatize Social Security, hacks appointed to high positions and rarely held accountable, the vicious attacks against critics up to and including former cabinet members. And more.
But never mind. Believe it or not, these aren’t the important reasons why Bush is a catastrophically bad president. You might even approve of all of those actions and still fear the man, because he really does believe that being president is a lot like being, well, king. And if his belief is institutionalized, sooner or later a liberal Democrat will reach the throne, and then what?
Glenn Greenwald, a Manhattan attorney who didn’t bother to vote in 2000, explains it all in his succinct and well-documented new book, How Would A Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok.
“The National Security Agency eavesdropping scandal is not an isolated act of lawbreaking," he writes. "It is an outgrowth of an ideology of lawlessness that has been adopted by the Bush administration as its governing doctrine. Others include the incarceration in military prisons of U.S. citizens who were not charged with any crime or even allowed access to a lawyer, the use of legally prohibited torture techniques, and the establishment of a military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, a no-man’s-land that the administration claims is beyond the reach of U.S. law. In the media and the public mind, these issues have been seen in isolation, as though they are unconnected.
“In fact, all of these controversial actions can be traced to a single cause . . . an unprecedented and truly radical theory of presidential power that, at its core, maintains that the president’s power is literally unlimited and absolute in matters relating to terrorism or national security.”
Methodically refuting this un-American theory of executive power is dirty work, but someone has to do it. If the American experiment survives the current constitutional crisis, we’ll owe patriots like Greenwald. And if you think Thursday's narrow Supreme Court decision striking down military tribunals for POWs is the end of the story, don’t.
Greenwald also blogs at Unclaimed Territory, where you can find his analysis of this complex ruling as well as a surprising fact about the book. Short version: “The decision is an important step towards reestablishing the principle that there are three co-equal branches of government and that the threat of terrorism does not justify radical departures from the principles of government on which our country was founded.”
(And for those conservatives who don't understand that unlimited presidential power for this president means unlimited presidential power for future presidents of other persuasions, the inimitable Billmon explains it here.)