It is clear that the American Constitution is in grave danger. It is time to make the defense of the Constitution a national theme for all candidates in this year’s electoral contests.
The threat to the Constitution from President Bush, his administration, and an accomplice Republican Congress is all too obvious. In clear violation of established law and centuries-old political precedent, they have wiretapped American citizens; imprisoned citizens without warrants, charges, or means of redress; sanctioned and abetted the torture of foreign nationals; ignored clear Congressional legislative intent with the likes of 750 signing statements; disabled Congressional oversight of their actions; undertaken an assault on the press’ right to publish the truth; and suppressed dissent and public-minded information disclosure within the Executive branch itself.
This abuse and overreach of Presidential power directly challenges the “checks and balances” at the core of our constitutional design. It proposes a government fundamentally different from that declared by the Founding Fathers.
The administration aggressively defends its actions on the grounds of national security and “unitary” executive power. It argues that we are in a state of war, of indefinite duration, which gives the Commander in Chief extraordinary autonomous powers. It argues, too, that the President has final control over all employees of the Executive branch – including those with no military function – and extending to the control of information they are permitted to provide to the public. As the Decider, President Bush decides what the public can or cannot know.
Simply put, to accept these arguments would be to accept the end of our democracy.
Central to the defense of this nation is defense of its constitutional values as well as its physical security. To sacrifice the Constitution in the name of “national defense” would be a grave mistake, for it destroys the very nation worthy of defense in the first place. This country has faced perils no less than today’s – including those vanquished in a Civil War and World War II – without abandoning that conviction. To abandon it now would disgrace us before those who fought and sacrificed and gave us the gift of this nation.
Nor does prudence recommend this course. As we have relearned in recent years — in instances as diverse as the Iraq War, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and Medicare reform — a President who can suppress “unwanted” information breeds dangerous incompetence, and a government that acts on bad information becomes a bad government.
The actions of the Executive branch have a real and powerful impact on our lives. We simply cannot afford a “unitary executive” who silences independent voices, lets politics determine science, threatens our first amendment rights, withholds critical information from even enforcement personnel, and elevates personal loyalty to him above the duty to inform the public.
The American people’s most powerful weapon in defending the Constitution is their vote in Presidential elections. But we cannot afford to wait until 2008. The danger to our Constitution is clear and present. Hence our call to all patriots to put the issue before the public in this November’s elections and ask of all candidates, “Do you accept or condemn the President’s assault on our Constitution?”
Some will object that using an election to defend the Constitution threatens to debase it to an instrument of partisan politics. The objection is misplaced. In fact, an electoral contest over Constitutional first principles will not debase those principles, but elevate the discourse, meaning, and substance of the contests themselves. There is no better use of parties, elections, and our votes.
Some will shrink from defending the Constitution out of fear that the public is not interested in such a discussion or lacks a real commitment to constitutional government–that it’s a losing issue. They should have more faith in the American people. Given a clear choice, Americans will choose defenders of the Constitution over those who would destroy it. But the choice must be put clearly before them.
Declare our current crisis, and invite those who would serve as our elected representatives to defend the Constitution against our current President and an accomplice Republican Party.