Column No. 22 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - July 22, 2004

Note to the reader (again): As we now approach the Democratic National Convention itself, I am devoting a series of columns to what are primarily campaign matters, rather than the more historical and theoretical issues I usually deal with.  It happens that I have been away during most of this period.  Thus, not only this set of five columns (running through August 5), but also the one for August 12, has been prepared in advance.  It is possible that some of what I will have to say here will be overtaken by events.  But hopefully, whether or not that happens, you will find these thoughts to be of use as our attention turns to the principal challenge facing the pro-democracy forces, not in Iraq, but here at home: how to defeat George Bush and assure the election of John Kerry.

I should note that some of these thoughts have appeared in one form or another in past columns.  If that be the case, obviously I like them a lot.  So please bear with me.

Constitutional Issues (again)

Consider the following:

Memo on Interrogation Tactics Is Disavowed: Justice Document Had Said Torture May Be Defensible by Mike Allen and Susan Schmidt, Washington Post Staff Writers, Wednesday, June 23, 2004; Page A01:

President Bush's aides yesterday disavowed an internal Justice Department opinion that torturing terrorism suspects might be legally defensible, saying it had created the false impression that the government was claiming authority to use interrogation techniques barred by international law.  . . .

A Feb. 7, 2002, memo signed by Bush said that he believed he had “the authority under the Constitution” to deny protections of the Geneva Conventions to combatants picked up during the war in Afghanistan but that he would “decline to exercise that authority at this time.”

And then:

Will The Commissioners Cave? by Ray McGovern, Tompaine, June 21, 2004:

That Troublesome Constitution Again.

Most observers are familiar with the rhetorical landscape with which Bush and Cheney persuaded a large majority of Americans that Iraq played a role in the attacks of 9/11, and many shrug this off as familiar spin by politicians inclined to take liberties with the facts.  So far little attention has been given to the fact that a constitutional issue is involved.

On March 19, 2002, the day the war began, President Bush sent a letter to Congress in which he said that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” If the staff’s finding that there is “no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” is allowed to stand, the Bush administration will be shown to have gone afoul of the Constitution yet again.

And then, what powers were the Georgites looking for in the cases in which the Supreme Court decided that, yes indeed; even persons deemed “enemy combatants” by the President have some rights to due process under the law?  Among powers earlier claimed by the Regime are that the Administration can simply declare anyone it wants to be labeled an “enemy combatant” as one.  It can then, they have claimed, deprive such a person of any legal rights whatsoever and detain such a person indefinitely. Further, the Administration argued that, even if there were to be some kind of habeas corpus hearing, the “some evidence” standard, ordinarily used only in administrative, not judicial procedures; would, nonetheless be applied.  Finally, they claim the power to ablate all provisions of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a jury trial in criminal cases, for such “enemy combatants.”

That’s what the Georgites want, and all that is standing between us and them (polarization, anyone?) right now is a slim majority of the Supreme Court.  In a future column I will return to this issue to speculate on just why they want these powers.  Hint: it ain’t to fight terrorism.

Issues that Could be Brought Into the Campaign

Here are some thoughts devoted to dealing with issues vital for the future of our country that do not usually get addressed by Democratic candidates.  Democrats are used to setting up laundry lists of programs, to solve this problem or that.  Such lists are important.  But to win the election (both by showing how truly different in kind, not just in degree, the Senator Kerry is from Bush), perhaps some of the items on this list do need be dealt with.

1. The role of the Christian Right in the Bush Administration, and its influence on policy.  In this regard, of course, the whole issue of separation of church and state and why it is absolutely essential to insure freedom of religion and to insure that religion, real religion, will remain central in our highly diverse culture, must be dealt with.  An important twist in this is how, in public, the Administration appears to keep Christian rightists at arm’s length.  The Georgites even have a special person, one Timothy Geoglein (D.D. Kirkpatrick, White House Aide Takes on Role as Bush’s Eyes and Ears on the Right, New York Times, June 28, 2004, p. 1, assigned as a go-between to the Religious Right for Rove and Bush.  Isn’t that odd, for an Administration so openly pro-Christian Rightist in its policies?  Could they be ashamed of something?  And why, do you think, have Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, (Gary) Bauer, et al., been so quiet during the Georgite Reign?  Do they know something that we don’t know, perhaps about the private commitments that the Georgites have made to them?  I think they do, and I think that it would do the Kerry Campaign well to get the whole matter of the possible secret deals and commitments out on the table and challenge the Georgites with it.

2.  Further on he issue of Georgite secrecy.  Much documentation is available to show that this Administration is the most highly secretive in American history, from the famous Cheney energy meeting records to Ashcroft's policy of actively challenging any FOIA request, to cite only two of many examples – much of the data of this type being very familiar to readers of TPJ.  But consider this, what about the national agendas of political parties?  Should such agendas be kept secret? In the 2000 Presidential campaign, Bush gave one secret speech.  No tape or transcript has ever come to light (and the Bush campaign adamantly refused to make either available to inquiring reporters) of the speech he made to an organization called the Conference on National Policy.  The CNP, at last look (and it is difficult to find out about it – only the barest essentials are available the web through Google, and they are rather dated), is the organization of all the Right, Far-Right and Religious Right organizations in the US, to my knowledge excluding only the openly racist and anti-Semitic ones for cosmetic reasons.  At last look, its President was Ed Meese (remember him?)  How about a challenge to the Georgites to reveal, this time around, what they are promising to the organizations of the CNP?

3.  There is the whole question of "big government."  Republicans are no more against it than are Democrats.  The two parties just have different views as to in which arenas government should be big and which small.  The Republicans, especially the Georgite wing, love big government: in dealing with personal belief on religious matters, such as when life begins; on the issue of sexual identity and rights; the denial of civil rights and liberties to certain persons; the use of the criminal justice system to deal with certain segments of the population in matters of recreational drug use; and the use of the military.

We know what Democrats are for, or should be for, big government to deal with big problems of an economic and social nature.  That famous Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, ran as a third-party candidate in the 1912 Presidential election. In it, TR (who would now be considered a left-wing Democrat) among other things proposed a national health insurance plan that was well to the left of anything presently even being considered by Sen. Kerry. On the issue of “big government,” TR had this to say (R. Brookhiser, The Making of the President, 1912, New York Times Book Review, May 9, 2004, p. 10, not available online): Big Business requires Big Government.  Perhaps it is time to get this one out in the open.

4.  On regulation.  In this country, people are all in favor of environmental/physical regulation when it is presented in local terms: the latest preventable fire disaster, toxic waste leak, construction site collapse.  They are all in favor of economic regulation when it is presented in personal terms: what happened to the 401k’s at Enron.  Regulation is primarily responsive, not proactive – responsive to real or potential violations that can result in major economic or personal damage.  The development of what in The New Americanism I called "the local problems bank" could be very helpful in this regard.

And Once again, So Plato said it before Burke Did

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  -Edmund Burke

"The penalty that good men pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by men worse than themselves." -- Plato (with thanks to Murray Jason)