Buzz, 1-18: Living in the Real World
Gore: "'We the People' Must Save our Constitution"
On Monday, Martin
Luther King, Jr. Day, in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, former
U.S. vice president Al Gore delivered the following speech, as published
Monday on Commondreams.org:
Congressman Barr and
I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together
today with thousands of our fellow citizens -- Democrats and Republicans
alike -- to express our shared concern that America's Constitution
is in grave danger.
In spite of our differences
over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the
American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk
by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking
expansion of executive power.
As we begin this new
year, the executive branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping
on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that
it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established
law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.
It is imperative that
respect for the rule of law be restored.
So, many of us have
come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our
fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences and join with
us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved.
It is appropriate that
we make this appeal on the day our nation has set aside to honor
the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who challenged
America to breathe new life into our oldest values by extending
its promise to all our people.
On this particular Martin
Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the
last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped
-- one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications
were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period. The
FBI privately called King the "most dangerous and effective Negro
leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal."
The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail
him into committing suicide.
This campaign continued
until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a
long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance
designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of
Dr. King's life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions
The result was the Foreign
Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly
to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented
to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause
for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term
in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a
workable and valued means of according a level of protection for
private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.
Yet, just one month
ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this
long settled law, the executive branch has been secretly spying
on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping
on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other
Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported
that the president decided to launch this massive eavesdropping
program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit
such domestic intelligence collection."
During the period when
this eavesdropping was still secret, the president went out of his
way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that,
of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying
on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards
were still in place.
But surprisingly, the
president's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover,
as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by
the press, the president not only confirmed that the story was true,
but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale
invasions of privacy to an end.
At present, we still
have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we
do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion
that the President of the United States has been breaking the law
repeatedly and persistently.
A president who breaks
the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our
Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government
of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure
of government they had enshrined in our Constitution -- our system
of checks and balances -- was designed with a central purpose of
ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams
said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial
powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government
of laws and not of men."
An executive who arrogates
to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives
of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes
the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution
-- an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom
they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation
of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same
hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed,
or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
Thomas Paine, whose
pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly
described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make
certain that "the law is king."
Vigilant adherence to
the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America.
It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional
structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their
indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction
of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately
determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret
The rule of law makes
us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied,
reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are
designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be
reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.
A commitment to openness,
truthfulness and accountability also helps our country avoid many
serious mistakes. Recently, for example, we learned from recently
classified declassified documents that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution,
which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false
information. We now know that the decision by Congress to authorize
the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information.
America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding
both of these colossal mistakes in our history. Following the rule
of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.
The president and I
agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There
is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in
the wake of the attack on September 11 and that we must be ever-vigilant
in protecting our citizens from harm.
Where we disagree is
that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government
to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us
weaker and more vulnerable.
Once violated, the rule
of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater
the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes
for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As
the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role
and is able to control access to information that would expose its
actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches
to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened
and we become a government of men and not laws.
The president's men
have minced words about America's laws. The attorney general openly
conceded that the "kind of surveillance" we now know they have been
conducting requires a court order unless authorized by statute.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act self-evidently does not
authorize what the NSA has been doing, and no one inside or outside
the Administration claims that it does. Incredibly, the Administration
claims instead that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when
Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September
This argument just does
not hold any water. Without getting into the legal intricacies,
it faces a number of embarrassing facts. First, another admission
by the attorney general: he concedes that the administration knew
that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that they
consulted with some members of Congress about changing the statute.
Gonzalez says that they were told this probably would not be possible.
So how can they now argue that the authorization for the use of
military force somehow implicitly authorized it all along? Second,
when the authorization was being debated, the administration did
in fact seek to have language inserted in it that would have authorized
them to use military force domestically -- and the Congress did
not agree. Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Jim McGovern,
among others, made statements during the authorization debate clearly
restating that that authorization did not operate domestically.
When President Bush
failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted
when they passed the Authorization to Use Military Force, he secretly
assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was
a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: "To find
authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a
particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect
the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of
authority between President and Congress."
This is precisely the
"disrespect" for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the
steel seizure case.
It is this same disrespect
for America's Constitution which has now brought our republic to
the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution.
And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of
the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the
Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in
both political parties.
For example, the president
has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent
power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines
to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American
citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer
-- even to argue that the president or his appointees have made
a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.
The president claims
that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest
of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them
about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing
their families that they have been imprisoned.
At the same time, the
executive branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority
to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute
torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities
located in several countries around the world.
Over 100 of these captives
have reportedly died while being tortured by executive branch interrogators
and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious
Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture
estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent
of any charges.
This shameful exercise
of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed
since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary
War and has been observed by every president since then -- until
now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International
Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against
The president has also
claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign
countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on
our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for
the cruelty of their techniques for torture.
Some of our traditional
allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our
nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan -- one of those nations
with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons -- registered
a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty
of the new U.S. practice: "This material is useless -- we are selling
our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful."
Can it be true that
any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If
the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are
committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?
If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison
citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't
The Dean of Yale Law
School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the executive branch's
claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the president
has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power
to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to
license summary execution."
The fact that our normal
safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion
of executive power is deeply troubling. This failure is due in part
to the fact that the executive branch has followed a determined
strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing
to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to
frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to
restore our constitutional balance.
For example, after appearing
to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation
of torture, the president declared in the act of signing the bill
that he reserved the right not to comply with it.
Similarly, the executive
branch claimed that it could unilaterally imprison American citizens
without giving them access to review by any tribunal. The Supreme
Court disagreed, but the president engaged in legal maneuvers designed
to prevent the Court from providing meaningful content to the rights
of its citizens.
A conservative jurist
on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the executive
branch's handling of one such case seemed to involve the sudden
abandonment of principle "at substantial cost to the government's
credibility before the courts."
As a result of its unprecedented
claim of new unilateral power, the executive branch has now put
our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America's
representative democracy are far higher than has been generally
These claims must be
rejected and a healthy balance of power restored to our republic.
Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo
a radical transformation.
For more than two centuries,
America's freedoms have been preserved in part by our founders'
wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government
into three co-equal branches, each of which serves to check and
balance the power of the other two.
On more than a few occasions,
the dynamic interaction among all three branches has resulted in
collisions and temporary impasses that create what are invariably
labeled "constitutional crises." These crises have often been dangerous
and uncertain times for our republic. But in each such case so far,
we have found a resolution of the crisis by renewing our common
agreement to live under the rule of law.
The principle alternative
to democracy throughout history has been the consolidation of virtually
all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group
who together exercise that power without the informed consent of
It was in revolt against
just such a regime, after all, that America was founded. When Lincoln
declared at the time of our greatest crisis that the ultimate question
being decided in the Civil War was "whether that nation, or any
nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure," he was
not only saving our union but also was recognizing the fact that
democracies are rare in history. And when they fail, as did Athens
and the Roman Republic upon whose designs our founders drew heavily,
what emerges in their place is another strongman regime.
There have of course
been other periods of American history when the executive branch
claimed new powers that were later seen as excessive and mistaken.
Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and
Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political
When his successor,
Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses he said: "[The essential
principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which
has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution
and reformation... [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error
or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the
road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."
Our greatest president,
Abraham Lincoln, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Some
of the worst abuses prior to those of the current administration
were committed by President Wilson during and after WWI with the
notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids. The internment of Japanese
Americans during WWII marked a low point for the respect of individual
rights at the hands of the executive. And, during the Vietnam War,
the notorious COINTELPRO program was part and parcel of the abuses
experienced by Dr. King and thousands of others.
But in each of these
cases, when the conflict and turmoil subsided, the country recovered
its equilibrium and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring
cycle of excess and regret.
There are reasons for
concern this time around that conditions may be changing and that
the cycle may not repeat itself. For one thing, we have for decades
been witnessing the slow and steady accumulation of presidential
power. In a global environment of nuclear weapons and cold war tensions,
Congress and the American people accepted ever enlarging spheres
of presidential initiative to conduct intelligence and counter intelligence
activities and to allocate our military forces on the global stage.
When military force has been used as an instrument of foreign policy
or in response to humanitarian demands, it has almost always been
as the result of presidential initiative and leadership. As Justice
Frankfurter wrote in the Steel Seizure Case, "The accretion of dangerous
power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from
the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions
that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."
A second reason to believe
we may be experiencing something new is that we are told by the
administration that the war footing upon which he has tried to place
the country is going to "last for the rest of our lives." So we
are told that the conditions of national threat that have been used
by other presidents to justify arrogations of power will persist
in near perpetuity.
Third, we need to be
aware of the advances in eavesdropping and surveillance technologies
with their capacity to sweep up and analyze enormous quantities
of information and to mine it for intelligence. This adds significant
vulnerability to the privacy and freedom of enormous numbers of
innocent people at the same time as the potential power of those
technologies. These technologies have the potential for shifting
the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the
freedom of the individual in ways both subtle and profound.
me: the threat of additional terror strikes is all too real and
their concerted efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction does
create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the executive
branch with swiftness and agility. Moreover, there is in fact an
inherent power that is conferred by the Constitution to the president
to take unilateral action to protect the nation from a sudden and
immediate threat, but it is simply not possible to precisely define
in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when
it is not.
But the existence of
that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive
power grab lasting for years that produces a serious imbalance in
the relationship between the executive and the other two branches
There is a final reason
to worry that we may be experiencing something more than just another
cycle of overreach and regret. This administration has come to power
in the thrall of a legal theory that aims to convince us that this
excessive concentration of presidential authority is exactly what
our Constitution intended.
This legal theory, which
its proponents call the theory of the unitary executive but which
is more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens
to expand the president's powers until the contours of the Constitution
that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all
recognition. Under this theory, the president's authority when acting
as commander-in-chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed
by the judiciary or checked by Congress. President Bush has pushed
the implications of this idea to its maximum by continually stressing
his role as commander-in-chief, invoking it has frequently as he
can, conflating it with his other roles, domestic and foreign. When
added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war,
the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into
the future as we can imagine.
This effort to rework
America's carefully balanced constitutional design into a lopsided
structure dominated by an all powerful executive branch with a subservient
Congress and judiciary is -- ironically -- accompanied by an effort
by the same administration to rework America's foreign policy from
one that is based primarily on U.S. moral authority into one that
is based on a misguided and self-defeating effort to establish dominance
in the world.
The common denominator
seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control.
This same pattern has
characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the
executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent
with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from
all executive branch employees.
For example, CIA analysts
who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama
bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure
at work and became fearful of losing promotions and salary increases.
Ironically, that is
exactly what happened to FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed
with J. Edgar Hoover's view that Dr. King was closely connected
to Communists. The head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division
said that his effort to tell the truth about King's innocence of
the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated and
pressured. "It was evident that we had to change our ways or we
would all be out on the street.... The men and I discussed how to
get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious
matter. These men were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes,
children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing
money on their homes, as they usually did. ... so they wanted another
memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in."
The Constitution's framers
understood this dilemma as well, as Alexander Hamilton put it, "a
power over a man's support is a power over his will." (Federalist
Soon, there was no more
difference of opinion within the FBI. The false accusation became
the unanimous view. In exactly the same way, George Tenet's CIA
eventually joined in endorsing a manifestly false view that there
was a linkage between al Qaeda and the government of Iraq.
In the words of George
Orwell: "We are all capable of believing things which we know to
be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently
twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually,
it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time:
the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps
up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."
Whenever power is unchecked
and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses.
In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes.
Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.
Last week, for example,
Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the administration's eavesdropping
on American citizens by saying that if it had conducted this program
prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the
Tragically, he apparently
still doesn't know that the administration did in fact have the
names of at least two of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had
available to them information that could have easily led to the
identification of most of the other hijackers. And yet, because
of incompetence in the handling of this information, it was never
used to protect the American people.
It is often the case
that an executive branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power
responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be
given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask
accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.
Moreover, if the pattern
of practice begun by this administration is not challenged, it may
well become a permanent part of the American system. Many conservatives
have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this president
means that the next president will have unchecked power as well.
And the next president may be someone whose values and belief you
do not trust. And this is why Republicans as well as Democrats should
be concerned with what this president has done. If this president's
attempt to dramatically expand executive power goes unquestioned,
our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost. And
the next president or some future president will be able, in the
name of national security, to restrict our liberties in a way the
framers never would have thought possible.
The same instinct to
expand its power and to establish dominance characterizes the relationship
between this administration and the courts and the Congress.
In a properly functioning
system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire
to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper
spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the
rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard
to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes
by keeping controversies out of its hands -- notably those challenging
its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing
judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its
support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.
The president's decision
to ignore FISA was a direct assault on the power of the judges who
sit on that court. Congress established the FISA court precisely
to be a check on executive power to wiretap. Yet, to ensure that
the court could not function as a check on executive power, the
president simply did not take matters to it and did not let the
court know that it was being bypassed.
The president's judicial
appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will
not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all
learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive
-- a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more
properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his
confirmation or not -- and I do not -- we must all agree that he
will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive
power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference
to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial
deference to executive agency rulemaking.
And the administration
has supported the assault on judicial independence that has been
conducted largely in Congress. That assault includes a threat by
the Republican majority in the Senate to permanently change the
rules to eliminate the right of the minority to engage in extended
debate of the president's judicial nominees. The assault has extended
to legislative efforts to curtail the jurisdiction of courts in
matters ranging from habeas corpus to the pledge of allegiance.
In short, the Administration has demonstrated its contempt for the
judicial role and sought to evade judicial review of its actions
at every turn.
But the most serious
damage has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline
of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost
as shocking as the efforts by the executive branch to attain a massive
expansion of its power.
I was elected to Congress
in 1976 and served eight years in the house, eight years in the
Senate and presided over the Senate for eight years as vice president.
As a young man, I saw the Congress first hand as the son of a senator.
My father was elected to Congress in 1938, 10 years before I was
born, and left the Senate in 1971.
The Congress we have
today is unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served.
There are many distinguished senators and congressmen serving today.
I am honored that some of them are here in this hall. But the legislative
branch of government under its current leadership now operates as
if it is entirely subservient to the executive branch.
Moreover, too many members
of the House and Senate now feel compelled to spend a majority of
their time not in thoughtful debate of the issues, but raising money
to purchase 30 second TV commercials.
There have now been
two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what
an oversight hearing is. In the '70s and '80s, the oversight hearings
in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the executive
branch to the fire -- no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight
is almost unknown in the Congress today.
The role of authorization
committees has declined into insignificance. The 13 annual appropriation
bills are hardly ever actually passed anymore. Everything is lumped
into a single giant measure that is not even available for members
of Congress to read before they vote on it.
Members of the minority
party are now routinely excluded from conference committees, and
amendments are routinely not allowed during floor consideration
In the United States
Senate, which used to pride itself on being the "greatest deliberative
body in the world," meaningful debate is now a rarity. Even on the
eve of the fateful vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Senator
Robert Byrd famously asked: "Why is this chamber empty?"
In the House of Representatives,
the number who face a genuinely competitive election contest every
two years is typically less than a dozen out of 435.
And too many incumbents
have come to believe that the key to continued access to the money
for re-election is to stay on the good side of those who have the
money to give; and, in the case of the majority party, the whole
process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his
So the willingness of
Congress to challenge the administration is further limited when
the same party controls both Congress and the executive branch.
The executive branch,
time and again, has co-opted Congress's role, and often Congress
has been a willing accomplice in the surrender of its own power.
Look for example at
the Congressional role in "overseeing" this massive four year eavesdropping
campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill
of Rights. The president says he informed Congress, but what he
really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member
of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top leaders
of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed that
they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the intelligence
committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to VP Cheney and
placed a copy in his own safe.
Though I sympathize
with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed,
I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats
as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for
not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider
a grossly unconstitutional program.
Moreover, in the Congress
as a whole -- both House and Senate -- the enhanced role of money
in the re-election process, coupled with the sharply diminished
role for reasoned deliberation and debate, has produced an atmosphere
conducive to pervasive institutionalized corruption.
The Abramoff scandal
is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of
the entire legislative branch of government.
It is the pitiful state
of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of
our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach
by our executive branch which now threatens a radical transformation
of the American system.
I call upon Democratic
and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of
office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along.
Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government
you're supposed to be.
But there is yet another
Constitutional player whose pulse must be taken and whose role must
be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that
has emerged with the efforts by the executive branch to dominate
our constitutional system.
We the people are --
collectively -- still the key to the survival of America's democracy.
We -- as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here" -- must examine our own
role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay
and degradation of our democracy.
Thomas Jefferson said:
"An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public
The revolutionary departure
on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief
that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate
authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably
from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher
John Locke: "All just power is derived from the consent of the governed."
The intricate and carefully
balanced constitutional system that is now in such danger was created
with the full and widespread participation of the population as
a whole. The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely-read
newspaper essays, and they represented only one of twenty-four series
of essays that crowded the vibrant marketplace of ideas in which
farmers and shopkeepers recapitulated the debates that played out
so fruitfully in Philadelphia.
Indeed, when the Convention
had done its best, it was the people -- in their various States
-- that refused to confirm the result until, at their insistence,
the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent forward
And it is "We the people"
who must now find once again the ability we once had to play an
integral role in saving our Constitution.
And here there is cause
for both concern and great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and
political essays has long since been replaced by television -- a
distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain
and sell more than it informs and educates.
call during the Civil War is applicable in a new way to our dilemma
today: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our
Forty years have passed
since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal
source of information. Its dominance has become so extensive that
virtually all significant political communication now takes place
within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements.
And the political economy
supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different
from the vibrant politics of America's first century as those politics
were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance
of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.
The constricted role
of ideas in the American political system today has encouraged efforts
by the executive branch to control the flow of information as a
means of controlling the outcome of important decisions that still
lie in the hands of the people.
The administration vigorously
asserts its power to maintain the secrecy of its operations. After
all, the other branches can't check an abuse of power if they don't
know it is happening.
For example, when the
administration was attempting to persuade Congress to enact the
Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and Senate
raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But, rather
than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the administration
withheld facts and prevented the Congress from hearing testimony
that it sought from the principal administration expert who had
compiled information showing in advance of the vote that indeed
the true cost estimates were far higher than the numbers given to
Congress by the president.
Deprived of that information,
and believing the false numbers given to it instead, the Congress
approved the program. Tragically, the entire initiative is now collapsing-
all over the country -- with the Administration making an appeal
just this weekend to major insurance companies to volunteer to bail
To take another example,
scientific warnings about the catastrophic consequences of unchecked
global warming were censored by a political appointee in the White
House who had no scientific training. And today one of the leading
scientific experts on global warming in NASA has been ordered not
to talk to members of the press and to keep a careful log of everyone
he meets with so that the executive branch can monitor and control
his discussions of global warming.
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
We have a duty as Americans
to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty
and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current
circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution
against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on
the part of the executive branch and the president's apparent belief
that he need not live under the rule of law.
I endorse the words
of Bob Barr, when he said, "The -president has dared the American
people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution,
I hope they will."
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.
Freedom of communication
is an essential prerequisite for the restoration of the health of
It is particularly important
that the freedom of the Internet be protected against either the
encroachment of government or the efforts at control by large media
conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.
I mentioned that along
with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here
today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a
golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established
and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it
in this hall.
As Dr. King once said,
"Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace
its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive
to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the
darkness that seems so close around us."