(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
When Lyndon Johnson was president, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman William Fulbright held his fellow Democrat to account with hearings that challenged Johnson’s escalation of the undeclared war in Vietnam. It was the right thing to do.
When Ronald Reagan was conducting a lawless dirty war in Central America, Republicans such as Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and Charles Mathias of Maryland raised objections to the policies and actions of their party’s president.
When Bill Clinton steered the United States into the conflict in Yugoslavia, Senator Russ Feingold and Congressman Dennis Kucinich rejected partisanship to demand that the Democratic president respect the constitutional requirement that wars be declared.
Even when George Bush and Dick Cheney were enforcing the strictest party discipline, Iowa Congressman Jim Leach co-sponsored a resolution of inquiry into whether his fellow Republicans had conspired to lie about the supposed “threat” posed by Iraq.
In every case, the members of the Congress rejected the party line in order to defend the rule of law, which requires in our system of separated powers that the legislative branch check and balance the executive. It wasn’t personal. It was a matter of principle. In this, they accepted an understanding of the separation of powers articulated by then-Senator Barack Obama, who said in 2007: “The notion…that the president can continue down a failed path without any constraints from Congress whatsoever is not warranted by our Constitution.”
Checking and balancing the Obama administration on its use of drones is also a matter of principle. That is why it is not just appropriate but necessary for Democrats to ask the right questions, raise the right concerns and mount the appropriate constitutional challenges to administration policies.
Give Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, high marks for making the same demands for transparency from Democrat Barack Obama that he would make of a Republican president. “Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to kill them…,” says Wyden. “[This] idea that security and liberty are mutually exclusive, that you can only have one or the other, is something I reject. So we’re now going to have to begin the heavy lifting of the congressional oversight process by examining the legal underpinnings of this program and to make very clear I am going to push for more declassification of these key kinds of programs. And I think we can do that consistent with national security.”