Friday, April 7, 2006

Stop the presses! A citizen criticizes the President!!

David at Dialog International posts today about Citizen Harry and the President, Citizen Harry being the guy who told Bush in Charlotte on Thursday that he should be ashamed of himself for his official misconduct.  David's post features a comparison of Citizen Harry's photo at the event with Norman Rockwell's iconic painting "Freedom of Speech".  David's comment:

Citizen Harry was booed by the right-wing evangelical audience at Charlotte, but he was speaking for millions and millions of his fellow citizens.  We dream of having the opportunity to address the president face to face, but not many of us could be as calm and articulate as Harry Taylor.  Thanks Mr. Taylor, you are a true patriot.

He also provides a space to send thanks to Harry.

The hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, made it's own report on the event: Bush defends war, is chided by critic by Jim Morrill 04/07/06.  Despite the spin that Bush is being so courageous by talking the occasional real question, plenty of Republican faithful were clearly on hand:

The [Iraq] war is one reason Bush's job rating has sunk in North Carolina, a state he twice carried by wide margins. A new poll by a conservative Raleigh think tank found 46 percent approve of his performance, while 42 percent support his handling of the war in Iraq.

Most of Thursday's audience, organized by the Charlotte World Affairs Council, was clearly supportive. They applauded, for example, when Bush said "removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing for world peace and the security of our country."

"Citizen Harry" had challenged Bush specifically about his illegal warrantless wiretapping program.  The money quote in Bush's response was, "Would I apologize for that?  The answer - answer is, absolutely not."  He didn't bother to elaborate on his unilaterial Executive theory of the Presidency under which the Chief Executive can  violate any law he chooses as long as he claims the action is related to "national security".

Bush's full answer, from the official White House transcript:

THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to start off with what you first said, if you don't mind, you said that I tap your phones - I think that's what you said. You tapped your phone - I tapped your phones. Yes. No, that's right. Yes, no, let me finish. [As always, you wonder if he was saying "let me finish" to someone in the audience or to one of his staff talking to himself through an earpiece.]

I'd like to describe that decision I made about protecting this country. You can come to whatever conclusion you want. The conclusion is I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program, and I'll tell you why. We were accused in Washington, D.C. of not connecting the dots, that we didn't do everything we could to protect you or others from the attack. And so I called in the people responsible for helping to protect the American people and the homeland. I said, is there anything more we could do.

And there - out of this national - NSA came the recommendation that it would make sense for us to listen to a call outside the country, inside the country from al Qaeda or suspected al Qaeda in order to have real-time information from which to possibly prevent an attack. I thought that made sense, so long as it was constitutional. Now, you may not agree with the constitutional assessment given to me by lawyers - and we've got plenty of them in Washington - but they made this assessment that it was constitutional for me to make that decision.

I then, sir, took that decision to members of the United States Congress from both political parties and briefed them on the decision that was made in order to protect the American people. And so members of both parties, both chambers, were fully aware of a program intended to know whether or not al Qaeda was calling in or calling out of the country. It seems like - to make sense, if we're at war, we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution, on a very limited basis, a program that's reviewed constantly to protect us.

Now, you and I have a different - of agreement on what is needed to be protected. But you said, would I apologize for that? The answer - answer is, absolutely not. (Applause.)

Of course, Bush's answer completely ducks the actual issue.  I wish our "press corps" would note that more often when he says this stuff.  The issue is not with the surveillance program in itself, though we've had indications already that it may have gone well beyond law-enforcement purposes into partisan political espionage.  The issue is that the President is doing this in deliberate violation of the law, specifically the FISA act.

The excuse that he talked to members of Congress about it is insultingly bad.  Since the information given to them was considered so confidential that Attorney General Abu Gonzalez uses that as a reason not to talk publicly about what the program does in even broad outline, those members of Congress who heard about it would have risked breaking the law to expose it.  In this instance, the implications for not just democracy but also for the rule of law are so serious, that it doesn't necessarily speak well of informed members of either party that they didn't risk breaking the law to expose this conduct much earlier.  But in any case, FISA doesn't say that it's okay for the President to tap phones as long as he tells a few members of Congress about it.  It says he has to get a warrant from the FISA court set up for this purpose.

The Observer report notes, "Not all the 10 questions he took Thursday were tough."  I'll say!  For example:

"I wanted to say to you, Mr. President, that on the war on terror, Social Security, the tax cuts, Dubai Ports, immigration, you have shown immense political courage," one woman said. "And also I wanted to know, what else would it take for me to get my picture taken with you?"

A man rose to tell the president that "many men and women in this room and around our region ... continue to pray for wisdom and encouragement for you and strength during these times."

Those weren't the only questions that sounded like they had been scripted by a FOX News commentator:

Q Yes, sir. Actually, I'm bringing a statement to you for a friend. Sahara Bozan (phonetic) is a young Iraqi woman who just came to America last year. She grew up under Saddam, and she actually worked for the U.S. forces during the war as an interpreter. I talked to her this week. She wanted to make sure that she knew -- that you knew that her family that's still there is grateful, that she thinks that even though there may be terrorists still going on, that they are safer now than they everwere before. And her goal is to one day meet you to thank you in person, because you have changed their lives. Even though we might not see that in the press, their lives are much better today than they were three, four years ago.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.

Q So she wanted to thank you. (Applause.)

It's a genuinely sad thing, really sad, when the very fact of a citizen criticizing the President to his face is front-page news.

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