Friday, May 26, 2006

Hypocrisy, foolishness, venality

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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.
Most Democrats (or liberals, or whatever you want to call them) aren't really civil libertarians, though I've noticed an increase in self-identification as such in the waning years of la Régence dauphinoise. To be fair, the misidentification is less a matter of dishonesty, unlike the faux-libertarians who populate rightwing blogistan and specialize in ostentatious pseudo-ethical blather prior to inevitable justifications of authoritarianism. It's more a matter of naïve shock ...more »that statist policies they themselves support could reach their logical and terrible conclusions in the hands of particularly unscrupulous leaders. The outcry over the president's peeping-Tom-ery is a perfect example: there's a lot of hand-wringing over the violations of the FISA statutes, and a lot of gloriously irrelevant talk about Congressional oversight. This misses the heart of the matter.

The official history goes something like this: FISA was the culmination of a series of legislative actions in the 1970s designed to rectify abuses of America's information-gathering capacity, especially the use of intelligence services and the FBI to engage in domestic spying.

Now that's a nice fairy tale—and about as patently absurd as a gingerbread house with a witch inside.

Laws like FISA provide statutory cover for violations of our liberties. I find it absolutely galling and incredible that Democrats speak in defense of the FISA statutes because, after all, the FISA court never turns down warrant requests. This is oversight? The lack of intellectual rigor required to convert that fact into a critique of the president for circumventing the FISA court is astonishing. If, in fact, there have been thousands of FISA warrant applications, and if, in fact, less than a half-dozen have been turned down, then that isn't oversight, and it certainly isn't a check on executive prerogatives to spy on whomever they wish, whenever they wish, for whatever reason they can concoct. Perhaps my allies on the left have a higher opinion of the general honesty and dispositions of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton than I do, but I'd aver that it requires credulity bordering on idiocy to believe that the FISA court's unique willingness to rubber stamp every request it received between 1978 and 2001 somehow indicates its value as a bulwark of our fragile liberties.

It's true that President Bush disregarded FISA. It's true that he broke the law. Fine.

But answer me plainly: What practical, substantive difference is there between spying on Americans with or without the secret approbation of a secret court that doesn't deny permission? I've read plenty of speculation that Bush was spying on political enemies or on reporters—that, perhaps, the NSA was using some new data-mining technology or technique that would have caused the FISA court to blench.

I'd gainsay that this is a highly improbable scenario. To believe that two decades of uninterrupted compliance—during a period in which data-and information-gathering techniques and technologies advanced exponentially beyond any prior capacity—would culminate in a stand against some new manner of spying is simply preposterous.

Plainly put: If you accept that the government has the right to spy on you with the phony approbation of a secret kangaroo court, then you have no grounds to protest when it spies on you without the approbation of a secret kangaroo court.