The House has overwhelmingly passed HR 1540, frightening legislation that codifies the president’s totalitarian power to detain militarily terrorist suspects indefinitely without meaningful due process, including U.S. citizens captured on American soil. This legislation has many other horrible war-on-terror provisions, but the solidification of the Bush-Obama claim of imperial prerogative over imprisoning any soul in the world the president chooses has got to be the worst.
Originally, the administration hinted it would veto the legislation—for the laughable reason that it represented overreach by Congress into the proper domain of the executive. Here is an analogy. It would be akin to Parliament affirming the power of the King to do whatever he wanted to anyone in his kingdom, and the king saying he cannot accede to such a proclamation because it is not up to Parliament to define what the King’s power is in the first place. It is not a perfect analogy, since no King ever had the power over his subjects, the technological capacity to destroy lives and liberties, or the effective jurisdictional reach, that our president enjoys.
Now the president has “backed down” and agrees to support the legislation. How magnanimous of him. This would be like the King saying, “Oh, you know what? I was too hasty to reject Parliament’s declaration of my royal prerogative. I will humbly accede to this august body’s determination that I have infinite sovereignty over my realm.”
Again, not a perfect analogy, since the president is in practice much more powerful than the king. The president can order any country bombed, for example, and has much more access to resources to finance his bidding. The king had to court other wealthy and powerful interests in his kingdom. Obama simply orders a war started, and it is paid for one way or another.
The one brake on presidential power, relative to kingly power, has always been the constitution—and not so much the written one on parchment, but the one in the hearts and minds of the people. Some things the American people would not tolerate the president doing. Yet we are losing this brake on power every day. It certainly is nowhere to be found in government. When two-thirds of the opposition party in the House of Representatives—two-thirds of Republicans, who rode into control of that body of Congress bearing 2010 campaign promises of curbing political power—vote for the president to have this virtually limitless authority to detain anyone anywhere forever, we know that no effective checks and balances exist in the most crucial areas of policy.
All that remains is a public jealous of some components of their liberty. Public ideology is why we don’t have a theocracy, prohibitions on alcohol, the death penalty for adultery, full socialization of industry, or other such features of other political systems. A public ideology is the main reason we’re not rounded up and put into labor camps—that and the fact that politicians recognize we’re more productive as relatively free-range tax livestock. Ideology is ever important, and a philosophical revolution in the population can still reverse the tide of tyranny. Yet most Americans seem unaware or uninterested in the mass destruction being done to their priceless freedom, especially since it is in the name of security and bipartisanship—two favorite refuges for scoundrels and would-be despots. How sad to report all this on Bill of Rights Day.