Tossed a softball question during Tuesday morning’s press conference about whether he should be censured for ordering warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations “during a time of war,” President Bush fell back on the lie that Americans must surrender liberties — and the rule of law, itself — in order to be made safe from terrorism.
The question, a virtually verbatim repeat of talking points circulated by the Republican National Committee, was about as generous a set-up as a president has ever gotten in a press conference.
“Thank you, sir,” began Carl Cameron, who serves as Fox News’ always-on-bended-knee chief correspondent in the court of King George. “On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program — not to change the tone from all this emphasis on bipartisanship — but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program. The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation. What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election?”
Bush was, needless to say, ready for the Cameron’s inquiry.Grabbing hold of the “time-of-war” reference as the lifesaver it was intended to be, the president said, “I think during these difficult times — and they are difficult when we’re at war — the American people expect there to be a honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that’s how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that’s what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we’re using to protect the American people shouldn’t be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we’re not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That’s what they ought to be doing. That’s part of what is an open and honest debate. “
Of course, no prominent Democrat has ever suggested publicly or — to the extent that reporting has revealed — privately that it would be wise to do away with surveillance programs that are designed to thwart terrorism. What Democrats and Republicans have suggested is that the president ought to obey the law when ordering federal agencies to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens.
As Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who raised the issue of censure last week, noted on Monday: “At his press conference today, the President once again failed to tell the American people why he decided to break the law by authorizing a program to spy on Americans on American soil without court orders. Instead of offering any defense of the program’s legality, the President shamelessly played partisan politics by implying that Democrats don’t want to wiretap terrorists. That is flat-out wrong, and the President knows it. Of course we should wiretap suspected terrorists, and under current law, we can. The question is why the President believes he needs to break the law to do so.”