Déjà Vu


MoveOn has a new ad comparing Bush’s constitutional scandals with Nixon’s, and it contains one of the best morphs I’ve ever seen. Not technically the best, not even all that conceptually inventive, but somehow still it’s pretty amazing.

I spent a few minutes trying to find juuuust the right frame at which the face seems to be equal parts Nixon and Bush. Creepy, right?

In a series of positively Nixonian arguments, The Bush Administration and their surrogates have been trying to justify their NSA wiretapping, their secret detentions, and their de facto torture policies by citing examples throughout history where other Presidents and governments have “bent the rules” a little bit to more effectively combat the extraordinary threats that have faced our nation. Specific examples have included Lincoln suspending habeas corpus, FDR’s WWII internment of Japanese Americans, and the Alien & Sedition Acts.

And they’re right: many other Presidents have done similar things, sometimes pretty egregiously unconstitutional violations. But there are two big differences:

  1. Many of those historic violations are now largely considered to have been dead wrong. For example, the Japanese American internment camps and the Alien & Sedition Acts are usually cited as examples of where America made a huge moral mistake and lost sight of our constitutional compass. And they usually leave out more obviously dishonorable events like the illegal wiretapping of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders.
  2. The threats under which these historical violations ocurred were far, far greater than the threat posed by international terrorism. I don’t mean to underestimate the threats posed by terrorism and radical Islam, but is it worse than, say, the Soviet Union? The Nazis?

Al Gore put it best a few weeks ago in his amazing Martin Luther King Day speech on this very subject:

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment’s notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

Seriously. It’s not 1789. It’s not 1812. It’s not 1942. It’s not even 1969. We are a better nation now, stronger in our convictions and our values, and more pre-eminent in the world theater than ever before. There is no excuse for letting fear undermine our core beleifs.