How Would a Patriot Act, Part 2

I finished reading Glenn Greenwald’s How Would a Patriot Act on Saturday, but today’s the first day I’ve felt healthy enough to write up my thoughts about it (actually I started writing this on Thursday, but events and a trip to San Antonio have prevented me from completing it until now….)

One of Greenwald’s most effective techniques is to compare the memorable words of the leading thinkers of the American Revolution with the words of Bush apologists. In 1775, Patrick Henry famously stated “give me liberty or give me death.” Greenwald catches two Bush supporters stating exactly the opposite: John Cornwyn of Texas, with “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead,” and Pat Roberts of Kansas, offering “I would only point out that you really don’t have any civil liberties if you’re dead.”

Bush has repeatedly used such fearmongering techniques to bolster flagging support for his administration. The claim is that he’s the president who’s “tough on terror,” but in fact he’s the president who cowers behind “terror” to excuse some of the most blatant intrusions on civil liberties in American history.

Greenwald points out that that America has repeatedly suffered dangers vastly more significant than the current terrorist threat, from the Cold War, to World War II, the Civil War. These conflicts all threatened to not only harm Americans, but destroy the America itself. Even if the terrorists could mount the worst-case-scenario attack — perhaps some sort of chemical or biological weapon or a dirty nuclear bomb — while the damage would be severe, it certainly wouldn’t destroy our nation.

Yet in none of those other cases did the president ever argue, as our president is now doing, that his authority to defend the country trumped the authority of Congress to write laws regulating his behavior.

As I read Greenwald’s account of the NSA eavesdropping scandal, I became increasingly irate about why the public — and the media — hasn’t called Bush to task over this issue. Greenwald, however, ends his book on a more optimistic note. The American public was similarly apathetic about the Watergate scandal when it first broke. It took over two years for the ire to increase to the point that the nation was poised to impeach Nixon. He finally resigned almost 26 months after the break-in.

Though the NSA scandal seems like old news, it’s now just under 6 months since the news was released. Eventually, America will get to the bottom of this, Greenwald claims. Bush was able to pressure the Senate Intelligence Committee to shelve the issue of investigating his crimes, despite bipartisan support to do so. He may have done this out of principle rather than to cover up his guilt, but what principle, though? To prove that Congress shouldn’t have the authority to investigate the president’s possibly criminal actions? Should we be happy with a president who’s burning tropical rainforests’ worth of political capital to prove the principle that he shouldn’t be investigated?

Greenwald believes this deferral of the investigation of the president won’t prevent the truth about the NSA scandal from emerging. He’s optimistic that when it does, Americans will act with suitable diligence.

I, for one, hope he’s right.

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