Saturday, September 8, 2007

Edwards' "City upon a Hill" terrorism speech

John Edwards recently spoke at Pace University in New York, laying out his strategy for combating global terrorism.

Among the wonkish (but smart) plans of establishing CITO (Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization) and a "Marshall Corps" of 10,000 civilian volunteers who would work to alleviate poverty conditions, a Edwards struck a broader theme that reminded me of a speech given almost 400 years ago.

John Winthrop, a New England Puritan leader of the would-be Massachusetts Bay Colony, warned his congregants that the eyes of the world would be upon them:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken...we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God.We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

Then president-elect Kennedy spoke with similar language in an address to a joint session of the Massachusetts "General Court:"

But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.

"We must always consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill--the eyes of all people are upon us."

Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us--and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill--constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities

For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arabella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.

Kennedy quoted Pericles' address to the Athenians, reminding them that they were a model for others, and to conduct themselves accordingly. America has forgotten this historic and sacred duty in the past seven years. We have conducted ourselves poorly, as reactionary thugs, not as visionary leaders. It's ironic that Reagan, the supposed hero of the Republican party, spoke of a "shining city upon a hill," yet his heirs have abandoned the responsibility that city entailed.

Edwards noted that the ideological war with Al Qaeda would be won only by convincing those in the middle of the ideological spectrum - and most at risk of supporting terrorism - that America offers a better, more hopeful vision.

Yet we also should have a broader, deeper goal—to prevent terrorism from taking root in the first place. Millions of people around the world are sitting on the fence. On the one side are bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and on the other side is America. The question is which way they will go. If they perceive America as a bully, it will drive them in the other direction. If, on the other hand, they see us as the light, the country they want to be like, the country that's creating hope and opportunity, it will pull them to us like a magnet.

We have to be that light again. We need to do everything we can to prevent this generation of potential friends from becoming a generation of enemies.

This speech was a big step for Edwards. His focus on poverty and his "two Americas" theme are undeniably important, but until now he hadn't made the case that that effort was important to middle class Americans, and not just on moral grounds.

In the years after the second World War, America was a visionary leader, extending a hand to the very societies we had vanquished, pulling them up and helping them to rejoin the community of nations. The Marshall Plan has had lasting impact, and it's no coincidence that Edwards named his civilian corps the "Marshall Corps." This is what America needs.

At the end of his speech, Edwards called on the students in his audience to dedicate themselves -- and make the necessary sacrifices -- to this broad, noble fight. Let's hope his words don't go unheard.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Principled Conservative

NYT profiles former DOJ White House legal adviser

I found the principled conservative with whom Bush could replace Gonzales. The problem, according to the Times, in its profile of Jack Goldsmith, is that there is no way Bush could hire him.

Goldsmith, a law professor at Harvard, is the former head of the office of Legal Counsel, which advises the White House on, inter alia, the extent of executive powers. As Jeffrey Rosen, the author of the Times piece and friend of Goldsmith, writes:

"[T]he office has two important powers: the power to put a brake on aggressive presidential action by saying no and, conversely, the power to dispense what Goldsmith calls “free get-out-of jail cards” by saying yes. Its opinions, [Goldsmith] writes in his book, are the equivalent of “an advance pardon” for actions taken at the fuzzy edges of criminal laws."

So essentially, Goldsmith's opinions were the behind-the-scenes supports for some of the Bush gang's most nefarious and notorious policies, including the torture of detainees in the "war on terror."

Goldsmith, according to the profile, wasn't entirely all thumbs when it came to a rational analysis of a proposed exercise of executive power. Rosen describes in the article one instance in which Goldsmith didn't give his blessing to a proposed policy:

"Several hours after Goldsmith was sworn in, on Oct. 6, 2003, he recalls that he received a phone call from Gonzales: the White House needed to know as soon as possible whether the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes protections that explicitly cover civilians in war zones like Iraq, also covered insurgents and terrorists. After several days of study, Goldsmith agreed with lawyers in several other federal agencies, who had concluded that the convention applied to all Iraqi civilians, including terrorists and insurgents. In a meeting with Ashcroft, Goldsmith explained his analysis, which Ashcroft accepted. Later, Goldsmith drove from the Justice Department to the White House for a meeting with Gonzales and Addington [then Cheney's chief legal adviser]. Goldsmith remembers his deputy Patrick Philbin turning to him in the car and saying: 'They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.'"

"They've never been told no." A more succinct indictment of the Bush administration's excesses has yet to be written. That sentence captures the arrogance with which Bush and his cronies have squandered American prestige and the good will of the immediate post-Sept. 11 environment by eschewing entirely the rule of law. The Bushies counted on Americans to trade a essential liberties for a little temporary safety. Maddeningly, that's exactly what we did, every time the issue came up. And Bush's team knew it.

“We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” Goldsmith recalls Addington telling him in February 2004."

The "unitary executive" theory of presidential authority espoused by the Bush gang has effectively squandered America's reputation with the rest of the world. The go-it-alone approach with which they approached their Iraq boondoggle has mirrored in their approach to domestic politics:

“The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith concludes in his book.

Ironic, since for seven years, Bush had an extremely acquiescent legislative branch, ready to roll over at the very threat of being made to appear "soft on terror."

The results of Bush's attempt to solidify the power of the executive branch have in all likelihood backfired with staggering brilliance. Rosen notes that future presidents, as opposed to enjoying more expansive executive authority, will find themselves hemmed in by ever more skeptical legislative and judicial branches:

“I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it,” he said softly. “The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.”

It will be interesting to see, in only a couple of short years, what a federalist government premised on separation of powers looks like. Thanks to Bush, we're virtually assured that's what's coming.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Standing for principle

DOJ lawyers refusing to work on Guantanamo detainee appeals: report

Jurist reports that up to 1/4 of DOJ civil appellate attorneys are refusing to represent the government in Guantanamo detainee appellate proceedings. I'm guessing that these are not the political hires Monica Goodling bragged about.

The article notes that DOJ doesn't have a formal structure to allow lawyers to recuse themselves from cases because they disagree with the legal arguments in those cases. So in all probability, their jobs are in jeopardy. A salute to them, then, for standing for principle even when the personal cost is likely to be great.