David Brooks, NY Times columnist and PBS political analyst, asked readers this week to play a little game of "You're the president." He believes that "FISA shortcomings," in his words, practically forced the Bush administration to evade legal and legislative oversights when it designed its secret program of spying on Americans.
Brooks' game defines four choices, none of them perfect, from which the president chose the only acceptable option, according to Brooks. After long and hard thought, intensive research, and consultation with "conservative" legal advisors, the following options were the only ones that Brooks -- and apparently the entire Bush administration -- could imagine:
- "Ask Congress to rewrite the FISA law...." Bad idea, says Brooks. The president cannot trust Congress to rewrite the law in a way that would give him the unfettered power he needs to keep us safe in the brave new world of the 21st Century.
- "... Avoid Congress and set up a self-policing mechanism using the Justice Department and the NSA Inspector general," (whatever "self-policing" means). The problems there, according to Mr. Brooks? That would be "legally dubious"; some intelligence bureaucrat might leak the secret spy program in hopes of throwing a presidential election; and again, the president can't trust Congress to keep a secret spy program secret.
- "... Informal congressional oversight." Another terrible idea, says Mr. Brooks. The president does not trust Congress. Why risk having some congressman (liberal traitor, in all likelihood) blab that the executive branch is spying on the public? Someone might question who is being monitored and how that information is being used.
- That left the president one last, dreadful option, in Brooks' opinion: "Face the fact that we will not be using our best technology to monitor the communications of known terrorists. Face the fact that the odds of an attack on America just went up."
Wow! Thanks, David. You certainly simplified things for anyone unable to think of alternatives to one-man rule: Trust the president to operate in secret. Or die.
To steadfast Bush supporters, the job of keeping America safe is complicated because the president can trust no one outside his inner circle -- not the courts, not the bureaucratic spies themselves, not the Congress, and least of all, the people. The thought never occurs to them that putting blind faith in any president -- especially this one -- is not an option for the ones of us who value both liberty and security.
Don't you find it curious, Mr. Brooks, even hypocritical, that the so-called conservative wing of American politics places great faith in George W. Bush the man, but little trust in the people and the rule of law? You do remember, do you not, the cry for "the rule of law" that still echoes from Republican gamers who struggled mightly to bring down another president? You do understand the significance of that little piece of paper, the U. S. Constitution?
Because "You're the president" is a game designed for the simple-minded, I'll keep my play calling simple as well. You failed to include the one option which is not optional at all, but a mandatory rule the president -- any president, even one you trust -- must respect if the country is to remain secure against threats, both foreign and domestic: Obey the law.