Chris's Rants

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"A Republic, if you can keep it"

QUOTATION: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
John Dean wrote yesterday (emphasis mine):
"I've got nothing to hide, so electronic surveillance doesn't bother me. To the contrary, I'm delighted that the Bush Administration is monitoring calls and electronic traffic on a massive scale, because catching terrorists is far more important that worrying about the government's listening to my phone calls, or reading my emails." So the argument goes. It is a powerful one that has seduced too many people.

Millions of Americans buy this logic, and in accepting it, believe they are doing the right thing for themselves, their family, and their friends, neighbors, community and country. They are sadly wrong. If you accept this argument, you have been badly fooled.


For several years I have been reading the work of George Washington University Law School Professor Daniel J. Solove, who writes extensively about privacy in the context of contemporary digital technology. The current apathy about government surveillance brought to mind his essay "'I've Got Nothing To Hide' And Other Misunderstandings of Privacy."

Professor Solove's deconstruction of the "I've got nothing to hide" position, and related justifications for government surveillance, is the best brief analysis of this issue I have found.
It was quite good, but a little dry and academic, IMO.

For me, the best quote was the following (emphasis mine):
By saying “I have nothing to hide,” you are saying that it’s OK for the government to infringe on the rights of potentially millions of your fellow Americans, possibly ruining their lives in the process. To me, the “I have nothing to hide” argument basically equates to “I don’t care what happens, so long as it doesn’t happen to me”30


30 Comment of BJ Horn to Solove, Nothing to Hide Argument, supra note 17.
You need to put all of this into context. The President thinks that he has the authority to declare, on his word alone, anyone, including an American Citizen, an "enemy combatant" whom he can detain indefinitely, without access to legal counsel or the right to call loved ones, without the rights of habeus corpus that are written into the Constitution. With the datamining that the NSA is performing on the telephone records, illegally obtained from your friendly, neighborhood phone company, all it might take for the government to conclude that you are a terrorist enemy combatant is for you to have called your local pizza place, the same one frequented by Osama bin Laden, to order take-out, and you could be detained indefinitely, without recourse, much like Josef K.

"Gee, too bad about poor Josef K", unless that poor slob is you.

Our founders understood all of this, and they have given us the greatest gift of all time. Dick Cheney and George Bush have demonstrated complete disregard for that gift every day since they stole the election.
Last month, Republican Congressional leaders filed into the Oval Office to meet with President George W. Bush and talk about renewing the controversial USA Patriot Act.

Several provisions of the act, passed in the shell shocked period immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, caused enough anger that liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union had joined forces with prominent conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Bob Barr to oppose renewal.

GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

I’ve talked to three people present for the meeting that day and they all confirm that the President of the United States called the Constitution “a goddamned piece of paper.”

... and there's this quip from this week's press conference:
Q Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment. He said recently that next year when he has to step down, according to the constitution, as President, he may become Prime Minister, in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there. Senator McCain --

THE PRESIDENT: I've been planning that myself. (Laughter.)
Hardy, har har


  • Resounding to this --cheque into the talk by Naomi Wolfe, Kane Hall, University of Washington, Oct. 11, 2007

    Discusses the "End of America"- yet on a positive note- she says in the most eloquent tone that we have an executive that is guilty of treason.

    Valiant, and indeed, noble-- she is a star

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 21, 2007 10:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home