The executive branch has the right (they say) to investigate, review, and decide the merits of wiretapping United States citizens without the subject's knowledge, or any other branch of government interfering with the investigation. No oversight. No FISA to be burdened with. And with any luck, no newspaper will move ahead with the story that this situation actually exists.
Why does this shock anyone? Will the next revelation surprise the public? Veiled corporate councils that conceive energy policies, hidden interrogation centers, word-bending on torture, an entire war brought about courtesy of intelligence hand-picked to deceive? To put this melodramatically, it would take the President himself knocking over a liquor store caught on the six o'clock news to shock the public at this stage.
There is no War on Terror. Just as there was no "war" on poverty, or illiteracy, or drugs, or crime. The term is not applicable to a tactic used by the fanatics familiar with the tool. War is reserved to a declaration by Congress against a foreign state. There is no declaration of war on Iraq, just an open-ended call to the President to do what he deems fit. What the U.S. faces is a very small group of radicals that wishes to avenge the perceived wrongs (without taking issue as to the rightness or wrongness of these perceptions) done to them by attacking American interests at home and abroad. They do not call any one place home, and will be with us for as long as the long arm of American foreign policy interferes with other countries' affairs.
The rationale the President used in his latest radio address is that he can do this because the United States is at war. How long then can he continue to conduct this warrantless search of citizens? Whenever the war on terror is over. Notice an open-endedness to that approach?
President Bush suggested that he has done all of the greater good of protecting the American people. Something to review for the moment then - what does the oath that President's take before being sworn in as the nation's leader state?
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
And what of the Fourth Amendment in said Constitution?
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This government has been a grand experiment. Can a republic be built upon democratic ideals and survive humans? Each administration should have enough respect to leave the system as good or better than when they found it. A farmer will tell you that you must care for the land and treat it right if not for good crops this year, but a good harvest next year and for the next decade. Instead, the last century has shown a creep towards concentration of power. Whether it was a Roosevelt (both), a Reagan, a Johnson, or a Clinton, the American public has grown compliant to the shift. That march towards power is hurting the experiment's results each and every year.
Placing the brakes on that push towards absolutism is reserving the rights of the citizens to the citizens, and not solely to the executive/legislative/judiciary branches of government. Maybe this is why so many are up in arms about the notion that a President can do what she or he sees fit when it comes to our rights in the name of security.
There has to be outrage and shock at this, even if it seems hard to muster.