Safire and Taylor on wiretaps–and my radical wish for 2006

William Safire was on Meet the Press today. I did not see it, just like I missed the drop kick (though maybe I will catch both later). Safire is not exactly a fire-breathing radical–or maybe he is (more on that later). I recommend Steven Taylor’s excerpts from Safire’s remarks, and also Steven’s own comemnts afterwards, which read in part:

I would return to a basic principle of modern conservative thought (not to mention a foundational tenet of the founding of the US), which is that relying on human nature to guarantee that the right thing is done, sans proper constraints, is a dangerous path to tread.

I can quibble here with only one thing. I would not call the notion of relying on institutional checks rather than human nature specifically “conservative” (even taking due note of Steven’s parenthetical “not to mention” clause). The idea of constraining executive prerogative is a thoroughly radical idea. It certainly was at the founding, and in some respects it remains so today. I mean ‘radical’ in its most literal sense, as in getting to the root of the problem. The root being the inherent tendency to abuse of authority. The problem being that authority indeed has been abused in this case–to the point that even John Ashcroft apparently had qualms. But I also mean ‘radical’ in the progressive, even leftist, sense of expanding the scope of popular control over power.

Regarding “conservatives” it certainly does not seem a radical position to note that “conservative” administrations, at least recently, have been a good deal more willing to evade checks and balances in the pursuit of their own agenda, especially in foreign policy, than the other variety.

The notion that We the people, through elected representatives, should constrain executive prerogative through a constitutional system written to secure liberty and to ensure that decision-makers work for us, is a radical-democratic idea. It is a radical-democratic idea that must be fought for over and over, and never taken for granted.

Here is my wish that 2006 be the year that we fight for and re-secure this fundamental radical notion and reverse the constitutional crisis that we have been living with since December 12, 2000–if not longer.

Do I think my wish will be fulfilled in 2006, or even in 2007, after the midterm elections? No, I do not, because I do not expect real conservatives–the quaint old kind who believe in limited government–in Congress to break with the party of power, nor do I expect Democrats to win back Congress (as noted in a post earlier today) and give us the divided government that is almost certainly a necessary condition for proper restraint of executive power.

But New Year’s Day is a day for resolutions. And mine is to resolve that this country needs to come to grips with what it faces–a constitutional crisis that goes beyond bugging phone conversations.

0 thoughts on “Safire and Taylor on wiretaps–and my radical wish for 2006

  1. To defend myself a tad: my statement was aimed at those who would be considered on the right-side of American politics, who normally view themselves as being more distrustful of government than their brethren on the other side of the aisle (whether this is actually the case is a different debate).

    As such, the notion that many doctrinaire “conservatives” are so nonchalant about the whole affair is noteworthy, and betrays (to my mind) what many of them say they believe in. I do recognize the caveat that modern American conservatives have often been more prone to trust the state on mattes of security than on any other matter.

    In the overall realm of human thought, I concur with your labelling of the concept as radical.

  2. It may not be specifically a CONSERVATIVE principle, at least not anymore. If you think the Republicans are conservatives.

    It is a FOUNDING principle, though, for the U.S.

    And, if you have talked to many faculty at American universities lately, the founding principles mostly have to do with being racist, patriarchal slaveowners.

    So, founding principles are in disrepute, according to the academic left. The opposite of the left is….what? Isn’t it conservative? What else do you want to call it? Classical liberal? That would be fine.

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