I'm not sure which notion is more disturbing: that President Bush doesn't understand why people are bent out of shape about revelations that he personally approved domestic spying, or that he gets it and simply doesn't care. In his radio address today, Bush acknowledged that he had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and sympathizers after the 9/11 attacks, and had reviewed and reauthorized the policy every 45 days since then. (I imagine Bush applied the same level of deep thought and serious consideration to these reviews as he did when considering clemency pleas for the Texecution of the Week during his tenure as Governor of Texas.) But he didn't answer the more important question:
Mr. Bush did not address the main question directed at him by some members of Congress on Friday: why he felt it necessary to circumvent the system established under current law, which allows the president to seek emergency warrants, in secret, from the court that oversees intelligence operations. His critics said that under that law, the administration could have obtained the same information.
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Friday that "there is no doubt this is inappropriate" and that he would conduct hearings to determine why Mr. Bush took the action.
The president said on Saturday that he acted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks because the United States had failed to detect communications that might have tipped them off to the plot. He said that two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, "communicated while they were in the United States to other members of Al Qaeda who were overseas. But we didn't know they were here, until it was too late."
To anyone but the totally credulous, the reason why he didn't bother to obtain the warrants should be very clear: This administration does not recognize the legitimacy of any limit on its powers. Big Swinging Dick Cheney has made it very clear that he believes the executive branch has near-absolute freedom of action: its powers justify (to name but a few) changes to the U.S. policy on torture, deceiving Congress about the real cost of a prescription drug benefit, and illegally reallocating hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars from Afghanistan military operations to Iraq. Checks and balances are just as "quaint" as the Geneva Convention. In this particular instance, the one imaginable rationale for not getting the warrants--that the court doesn't act quickly enough--is proven false on first glance by Josh Marshall.
This principle of executive power--and, of course, the unending drive to put up political "wins" on the board--trumps all else for the Bush administration, including, evidently, national security considerations. (Again, this is no news coming from the folks who outed a covert intelligence operative working on WMD issues to "push back" against criticism of the Iraq War.) Yesterday, the Senate refused to end debate on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, with a few libertarian Republicans joining Democrats led by Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin citing civil liberties concerns that weren't sufficiently addressed in the bill's language. Feingold--the lone Senator to vote against the Act in 2001--has proposed a three-month extension to the current law so debate can continue; Senate Republicans, led by Bush ass monkey Bill Frist, have rejected this outright. Why? So Bush can make statements like this one:
The terrorists want to attack America again and kill the innocent and inflict even greater damage than they did on Sept. 11 - and the Congress has a responsibility not to take away this vital tool that law enforcement and intelligence officials have used to protect the American people... The senators who are filibustering the Patriot Act must stop their delaying tactics so that we are not without this critical law for even a single moment."
Extensions of legislation while Congress continues the discussion are utterly commonplace. To give one example on an issue I follow professionally, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families law that "ended welfare as we knew it" in 1996, originally expired more than four years ago. While the reauthorization debate has dragged on, Congress has extended the current law for three months at a time, something like 14 times now. On the Patriot Act, Bush could ensure that we are "not without this critical law" whenever he wants; presumably he believes that the current iteration of the Act is better than nothing. But he'd rather push for absolute victory, risking our security in the process, than compromise. The mind reels.
A final note: The Rude Pundit, who might soon be joining the restructured AIS blogroll, has a very succinct take on Bush's position regarding the surveillance (and from which I stole this post title:)
Here's Bush's vicious radio talk today, where he mentioned 9/11 about nine times, in haiku form:
L'etat c'est moi, 'kay?
Once you accept that, you fucks,
We'll all get along.