February 07, 2006
Russ Feingold gave a kick-ass speech in the Senate today on President Bush's illegal wiretapping program. CSPAN-2 carried it, and hopefully they'll post the video online. It's well worth watching. In the meantime, the text is online here. I urge you to read it in full, but here's an excerpt:
[L]ast week the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address, where he spoke of America's leadership in the world, and called on all of us to "lead this world toward freedom." Again and again, he invoked the principle of freedom, and how it can transform nations, and empower people around the world.
But, almost in the same breath, the President openly acknowledged that he has ordered the government to spy on Americans, on American soil, without the warrants required by law.
The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then he admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment — to be free from unjustified government intrusion.
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA's domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.
The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed.
Congress has lost its way if we don't hold this President accountable for his actions. [...]
To find out that the President of the United States has violated the basic rights of the American people is chilling. And then to see him publicly embrace his actions — and to see so many Members of Congress cheer him on — is appalling.
The President has broken the law, and he has made it clear that he will continue to do so. But the President is not a king. And the Congress is not a king’s court. Our job is not to stand up and cheer when the President breaks the law. Our job is to stand up and demand accountability, to stand up and check the power of an out-of-control executive branch.
That is one of the reasons that the framers put us here — to ensure balance between the branches of government, not to act as a professional cheering section.
Feingold then examined each of the White House's justifications and claims regarding the legality of the wiretaps, and demolished them one by one. He resumed with this:
None of the President's arguments explains or excuses his conduct, or the NSA's domestic spying program. Not one. It is hard to believe that the President has the audacity to claim that they do. It is a strategy that really hinges on the credibility of the office of the Presidency itself. If you just insist that you didn't break the law, you haven't broken the law. It reminds me of what Richard Nixon said after he had left office: "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal." But that is not how our constitutional democracy works. Making those kinds of arguments is damaging the credibility of the Presidency.
And what's particularly disturbing is how many members of Congress have responded. They stood up and cheered. They stood up and cheered. [...]
In a nation built on freedom, the President is not a king, and no one is above the law. [Emphasis added]
That's what a patriot sounds like. That's what the rest of the Democrats ought to sound like. That's how it's meant to be done.
Today, I'm very proud to say that I'm from Wisconsin, and Russ Feingold is my Senator.