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January 16, 2006

Gore's Five Starting Points and Ending the Politics of Fear

Former Vice President Al Gore's speech today in D.C. was great. Although a bit long for my tastes, it outlined well the long list of disturbing and possibly criminal activities for which the Bush administration has been responsible in recent years. Gore focused much of his fire on the domestic spying in which Bush's NSA continues to engage, and he linked to the speech to this Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reminding his audience that King was himself the victim of an extensive (and illegal) campaign of spying and attempted character assassination by the FBI.

Gore also pulled no punches toward Congress, indicting the members of both houses for their passivity and complicity in the gradual dissolving of the checks and balances set out in the Constitution. He concluded with a list of five steps that should be taken immediately to begin to stop the runaway train of executive abuse of power:

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We have had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President.

Second, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrongdoing -- especially where it involves the abuse of Executive Branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

As predicted, Gore did not call for impeachment, and although I continue to think that the NSA's domestic spying alone not only justifies but requires that admittedly extreme level of censure, if Gore's five demands were met in good faith I believe they would provide a good measure of the accountability current events demand.

In addition to his five demands, Gore made at least one more critical point about the risks and dangers that supposedly justify all the unconstitutional actions the administration has recently taken (domestic spying, torture, holding U.S. citizens and others w/out any due process, etc.):

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, “Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.”

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 simultaneously?

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.

So true. And while it may also be true that the dangers posed by terrorism are different in some ways from those we have faced before, they are not so different as to justify abandoning the values, principles, and laws that have brought us more or less safely through the trials of the past. Perhaps Jonathan Alter was correct when he said that talking about impeachment at this point is just a distraction; instead, we must call upon our elected leaders to live up to their oaths of office, maintain the checks and balances of our Constitutional system, and face up to the accountability built into that system. If impeachment ends up being part of the process, so be it.

Posted January 16, 2006 05:04 PM | general politics

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Now if only he'd used the i-word.

Did anyone in the crowd remember that this is the guy whose last foray into electronic civil liberties was the Clipper Chip? And where was Gore when the EU was investigating ECHELON? You'd almost forget that Gore was vice-president for eight years.

Well, I suppose that before he was a firebrand, he was thoroughly forgettable.

Posted by: A. Rickey at January 17, 2006 05:52 AM

I like the speech, and I'm wondering when the Clipper Chip and Echelon were used to prosecute people and were declared to be within the executive power.

However, what does
"when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously"
mean? I know my high school wasn't good, but did they fail to teach me that the World Wars actually happened at the same time instead of being 20 years apart? And even if they had been at the same time, wouldn't that still be only one World War?

Posted by: PG at January 19, 2006 03:44 AM

Yeah, that "simultaneously" comment struck me as odd, too. I assume it was just a mistake...

Posted by: ambimb at January 22, 2006 09:59 PM

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