Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On progressive patriotism.

As part of my Fourth of July festivities yesterday, I went with some family and friends to Long Beach to watch the fireworks display on the Harbor next to the Queen Mary. As we arrived at the parking lot for the event, I noticed some familiar bumper stickers.

I saw "America: love it or leave it" more than a few times. There were other jingoistic decals expressing similar sentiments, as well as the more common associations of our country with a dominant religious creed--crosses in the colors of the American flag, and various other items.

It got me to thinking: what is the nature of patriotism? What is the nature of progressive patriotism? These are all questions that have been asked before--but I'm going to throw my hat into the ring nonetheless.

Every July 4th, we gather by custom to celebrate the birthday of our nation. But when we do, we're not merely celebrating the existence of our country because it's our country and we live here. We are, in fact, celebrating the creation of an idea that didn't really exist before our country's birthday came along. We celebrate the grand experiment of government by the consent of the governed.

The majority of us now consider the inherent superiority of this concept to be self-evident; but back in the days of its inception it was considered dangerous. Radical. Treasonous.

But despite the risks, our Founders had the courage to implement these ideals and give their lives for them if need be--and they did so out of an inalienable dedication to the idea of progress. They did so out of a firm, unwavering belief that humanity deserved better than to live under despotism; that their fellow countrymen should be citizens rather than subjects; that government should be accountable, not autocratic.

They risked their lives precisely because they thought that progress was not just possible, but necessary.

Can you imagine what any of us would say about someone who said to the revolutionaries of the day, "The Colonies: love 'em or leave 'em!"? Someone who said, "well, if you hate England so much, just move into Indian territory and see how they treat you!" We would call this person a freedom-hating royalist Tory unfit to associate with freedom-loving idealists. Well, the same thing holds true today.

There are those in our country today who are familiar and comfortable with the idea of unrighteous dominion. There are people who believe that the heart of patriotism can be found in the idea of unquestioning obedience to the leadership and the symbols of one's country. These people will engage in the most fervent forms of "patriotic" support--but it is not designed to be a way of expressing love for one's country. It is designed, rather, as a way of shirking the larger and more uncomfortable moral questions of the day. It may be loyal, but it is hardly patriotic.

True patriotism--a true love for one's country and the ideals it represents--is, and always will be, accompanied by critique and complaint. By dissent. By a desire to set wrongs right. It is founded on a belief that there is never such a thing as good enough. That as long as there is one person in our country who is hungry, our mission is not done. If there is one person who cannot afford health insurance, then we can do better. If there is one child living in poverty, we have failed somewhere along the line.

True patriotism is progressive patriotism. It is founded on the idea embodied by Thomas Jefferson that enlightenment is a continuous process:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.

As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners of opinions change, with the change in circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

True patriots understand that critique and disapproval are necessary parts of engendering improvement. Imagine, if you will, two fathers (or mothers--same example). One father refuses to critique or discipline his child because the child is his and he must stand by it, right or wrong. The other father offers critique where appropriate, encouragement where appropriate, and scolding where necessary.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind--not even the most jingoistic conservative you could imagine--about whose child will end up being the better citizen. Well, maintaining a country is like raising a child. Like children, our country is always growing. It is evolving. And we are not merely citizens of our country--we are its parents as well. Its caretakers. And doing a proper job of parenting requires time, attention and care. In the same way that we demand to know where our teenager is going late at night, we have to demand to know what bills our government is passing late at night.

The abolitionist Wendell Phillips said,

Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty.

Over 150 years thereafter, NRA head Wayne LaPierre said something similar:

Freedom is never an achieved state; like electricity, we've got to keep generating it or the lights go out.

There are those who say that constant critique, constant attention and constant vigilance is unpatriotic and hurts our country. But such attention should not only be tolerated--it should be required of all those who value not only what their country is now, but indeed, all who value their vision of what our country can be in the future.

Sometimes, our country starts "acting out" and needs a little "tough love." And that, my friends, is the highest form of patriotism--progressive style.

[Cross-posted from MyLeftWing]

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bush Administration admits deceiving Congress!!

Well, not in so many words. But this statement is an undeniable, if not implicit, conclusion of the arguments brought by the Administration's Solicitor arguing before the Supreme Court in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, as well as the reaction to the verdict of certain right-wing legal "luminaries" such as John Yoo.

I turned on the TV late Saturday evening and flipped to C-SPAN. They were playing audio of the oral arguments in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld SCOTUS decision. At the time that I tuned in, the Solicitor (the Administration's attorney) was arguing his position before the Justices. The fact that I was watching C-SPAN on a Saturday night in Los Angeles most definitely puts me in spoon or no spoon's Saturday Night Loser club--but there are certain sacrifices one must make for one's country.

I don't know if there is a transcript available of these proceedings--I haven't been able to find one. But I can recount the events fairly accurately in general terms. Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens took turns picking apart various points of the Solicitor's position. Scalia would interject with some points occasionally--sometimes asking for clarification, sometimes interrupting to come to the defense of the Solicitor when he was unable to successfully withstand the critiques of the other Justices. Thomas and Alito made no interjections or questions in the time that I was listening. (Roberts was not present, as he recused himself from the case due to conflict-of-interest. That's why the eventual vote was 5-3.)

The most interesting source of contention came between the Solititor and Justice Stevens. The Solicitor argued that the writ of Habeas Corpus had been suspended by Congress upon passage of the AUMF, even if Congress was unaware that it had done so. Stevens was aghast at the suggestion, and countered that the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus during a time of Insurrection, Invasion or Rebellion was one of the most drastic measure a Congress could undertake and it was absurd to claim that Congress could accidentally, unknowingly or unintentionally suspend the Writ.

When it came down to it, the Solicitor's argument defending the Administrations ability to hold these tribunals without specific authorization from Congress was horrifying on its face. The argument was essentially this--this is not a quote, this is merely an encapsulation:

The Administration has the authority to conduct these tribunals without the expressed consent of Congress because the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress conferred upon the administration the right to do so, even if Congress did not expressly intend that to be the case.

The Supreme Court took a different view. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Stevens, concluded that nowhere in the legislative history of Congress were changes to the laws governing military tribunals granted or intended to be granted to the Administration; that "Article II on steroids" is not sufficient legal justification; and that the Administration must seek explicit legislative approval from Congress for any changes to the law governing military tribunals. Quoting that source of evil, The New York Times:

In 2004, the Supreme Court endorsed a part of this argument, but Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority in Hamdan, was having none of it. There is, he said "nothing in the text or legislative history" of the authorization "even hinting that Congress intended to expand or alter" existing laws concerning military trials.

Now, let's take a look at the very telling reaction that former administration lawyer John Yoo had concerning the SCOTUS decision. I went into this in a little detail in my post on MyLeftWing about this issue. Let's review some of Yoo's statements about the issue, shall we? The interview I just linked to provides many startling quotes by Yoo, but I think one of them is the most telling of all:

"I worked on the authorization," he added. "We wrote it as broadly as possible. In past wars, the court used to let the president and Congress figure out how to wage the war. That's very different from what's happening today. The court said, 'If you want to do anything, you have to be very specific and precise about it.' "

Do you see what Yoo is arguing here? The AUMF was written so broadly for a reason! He's saying that from day one, the administration intended to use the AUMF to justify NSA wiretapping, indefinite detention, and all the other unconstitutional programs that have come under recent scrutiny--even if Congress had no idea that this is what the Administration was intent on doing. And John Yoo is devastated that specific approval must now be given by Congress because he knows that there is no way in Hell that Congress would grant specific approval for all of the programs that the administration is currently claiming are legal based on the AUMF.

The argument in the Supreme Court--the meat of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision--was about whether or not the Administration had successfully deceived Congress into unknowingly giving it legal approval for all of the otherwise illegal programs it wished to undertake.

The Supreme Court smacked them down and said that the intent of Congress is the final arbiter, and that intent must be made manifest for any program to be legal.

In my opinion, this is why the Majority decision "so lacks the traditional deference to the President," in the words of John McGinnis, Professor of Law at Northwestern. The Supreme Court should rightfully have no deference to an Administration that is so disrespectful of the other co-equal branches of our Government that it was willing to argue that it had successfully deceived Congress into unknowingly granting it dictatorial powers.

There is at this point only one thing left for Congress to do in the face of an Administration that has no respect for the other branches of Government:

I call on the Congress to repeal the AUMF as a protest against the Administration's intent to deceive the Congress and render it insignificant.

Even Republican Congresscritters should be outraged at what has happened. They should be appalled that the Administration is arguing that they can be deceived into granting powers without expressed intent. If they had any pride, they most certainly would be.

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos]