Monday, May 22, 2006

Why Bush isn’t as out of line as most liberals think

Much has been written about the Bush administration’s supposed infringements of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terrorism. In a future post I will discuss that so-called War. However, I think it is useful to compare Bush’s actions with the actions of other wartime presidents.

Consider what the Bush administration has done:


Electronic eavesdropping

Collection of telephone records

Suspension/elimination of civil liberties for “enemy combatants”, a legal category that no one had ever heard of before the Bush administration

The Patriot Act (which was actually passed by Congress)


Much of this are of dubious legality.

However, consider what other Presidents did in time of war. First, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Not even Bush dared do that – when the Supreme Court ruled against him, he dared not defy its ruling. But Lincoln did just that! The Supreme Court’s final word on that issue set a very high barrier to any President ever to try that again.

Now fast forward to the 20th century. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson jailed dissidents such as Eugene Debs under the Espionage Act of 1917, the very same law that is today being used to prosecute two former employees of AIPAC. Debs had been one of Wilson’s opponents in the 1912 Presidential election. Could you imagine Bush prosecuting Ralph Nader today? And what immediately followed the war was the worst Red Scare in U.S. history. Under the direction of then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J. Edgar Hoover, warrantless searches, confiscation of mail, destruction of property, deportations of legal immigrants (many to Soviet Russia where they were eventually shot by Stalin), and mass roundups of suspected leftists became the norm in America. Joe McCarthy was mild by comparison – all he did was cost people their jobs. Even Bush has not dared do this. And most of the worst excesses of the Palmer Raids took place in 1919-1920, after the war had ended. Anyone see a parallel between the Red Scare then and the Islamic Scare today?

Franklin Roosevelt also supported massive violations of civil liberties, most notably the internment of Japanese-Americans and the confiscation of their property. But he also used the IRS to target at least one prominent political opponent, publisher Moses Annenberg (who was an inviting target in part because he didn’t have a particularly clean past), engineered the replacement of Henry Ford with his grandson, Henry Ford II, as head of Ford Motor Co., and seized many of the assets of Montgomery Ward, replacing its chairman, Sewell Avery, who was also a political opponent.

Thus Bush’s actions are not excessive compared to at least three wartime presidents. There is, however, the question of whether the United States really IS at war now. That question will be addressed in a future post.

15 Comments:

Blogger Ezzie said...

Very nice post, Charlie. I knew it was you from the start. :)

5/22/2006 2:16 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I have several points.

1) The so-called "War on Terror" will never end, unlike the civil war and the World Wars. Therefore, any civil liberties which are suspended for the duration are suspended forever.

2) The presidents you mention presided over very different wars than the current "War on Terror." You're ignoring Viet Nam, Korea, and Desert Storm, all of which are more comparable to the current war in Iraq than are the civil war and WWI and WWII. While some of America's citizens are threatened by terrorists to be sure, neither Iraq nor al-Qaeda is in the same league of threat as the Germans and Japanese or the entire South rebelling.

3) It's also important to remember that Bush's dismantling of civil liberties isn't nearly the biggest complaint liberals have against him. As you allude to, all Democratic senators save Feingold voted for the USA Patriot Act. Much bigger are misleading us to start the war and the incompetence in running it. Not to mention tax cuts for the rich and the host of other domestic issues.

4) Four wrongs don't make a right.

5/22/2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

1) It will be less pressing, and the necessity for those restrictions will lessen. Furthermore, name me one civil liberty that has been suspended?

2) Completely disagree. What threat did Germany have to the US? Even Japan? Al-Qaeda killed far more Americans than the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor, no? And the North could simply have let the South secede without bloodshed.

3) Tax cuts have sent this economy into steady growth while creating larger tax revenues. It's hard to complain about anything in the economy.

4) All four were right. :)

5/22/2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

1) How do you know it will be less pressing? It seems to me that weapons are only going to get more dangerous and plentiful, so the odds of a terrorist getting a nuclear or biological weapon only increase with time.

2) Germany threatened to take over all of Europe which was certainly against our interest. Also, many of the countries they invaded were strategic allies. Not to mention the fact that they killed tens of millions of people. There was also fear that they would get the nuclear bomb. At Pearl Harbor, Japan killed over 2300 Americans and injured another 1200 or so, so it's in the same ballpark as 9-11. They also pretty much wiped out our pacific fleet.

I agree the North could have let the South secede, but all-out civil war is still in a totally different class than the war in Iraq or against terror.

3) You forget the deficit. We're living on borrowed money. I, too, can do great economically by buying everything on credit. I'd have 100% of my take-home income, all kinds of material goods, and I'd only have to pay a couple of hundred bucks to the credit card companies each month! What a bargain!

Also, under the last five Republican presidents, income growth is much lower for every family below the top quintile than during the last five Democratic presidents. The top quintile does the same under both.

4) Really? Jailing dissidents was right? Internment camps were right? I might agree that Lincoln was right, but circumstances don't get more extenuating than the Civil War.

5/22/2006 6:59 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

1) I think the spread of democracy etc. will actually curtail the support for terror. However, if you are right, then the curtailing of such liberties may be necessary to an extent. They've been quite careful in how much they've done, contrary to the perception of the liberal left.

2) I think the threat Iraq posed was just as dangerous, based on what we knew. And the ability of terrorists to carry out attacks on US soil is probably more serious than what the US was losing in European interests. They did not know about the tens of millions dead until after the war.

3) Credit spending is more serious, true, but the numbers aren't much higher than they normally are (contrary to popular belief). The deficit is actually shrinking, despite outrageous spending, thanks to the increased tax revenues - check my post from about 10 days ago.

And other people have dissected the stuff in your post and knocked it apart.

4) Sorry - was just arguing without really thinking on that one. :)

5/22/2006 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...the North could simply have let the South secede without bloodshed."
Not after the South commenced hostilities by bombarding Ft. Sumter, Ezzie.

5/22/2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I'm talking way before that.

5/22/2006 10:20 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'What threat did Germany have to the US? '

Germany declared war on the United States.

'Even Japan? Al-Qaeda killed far more Americans than the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor, no?'

Death toll at Pearl Harbor: 2390
Death toll from 9/11 attacks: 2986

You can judge whether it is "far more".

Compare to the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862:

Union casualties 12,401 (2,108 killed, 9,540 wounded, 753 captured/missing)

Confederate casualties 10,318 (1,546 killed, 7,752 wounded, 1,018 captured/missing)

'I think the threat Iraq posed was just as dangerous'

Iraq was a threat to its neighbors -- hey, it invaded two of them for no reason. But it was never a direct threat to the US and the Islamic terrorists hated Saddam Hussein as much as they hated us.

Besides, thinking you can control a lawless country of 24 million people with just over 100,000 soldiers was delusional.

5/22/2006 10:39 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Germany declared war on the United States.

Wasn't that only after the US did so?

You can judge whether it is "far more".

Note that the former required a nice chunk of the Japanese military; the latter just 19 individuals.

But it was never a direct threat to the US and the Islamic terrorists hated Saddam Hussein as much as they hated us.

Based on the intelligence, Saddam wasn't a threat to US interests? Israel at the least?

5/23/2006 1:05 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'Wasn't that only after the US did so?'

No. I have read that Roosevelt was very upset that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor as he really wanted the US to get into the European war and didn't care as much about what the Japanese were doing in China. He was worried that he might not get the Congress to pass a declaration of war against Japan's ally, Germany. Hitler (and Mussolini, too -- Italy also declared war) saved FDR the trouble.

'Note that the former required a nice chunk of the Japanese military; the latter just 19 individuals.'

Technological advances! Remember that a large (for the time) aircraft, a B-25 bomber, struck the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945. "Only" 14 people were killed and the building re-opened a few days later.

'Saddam wasn't a threat to US interests? Israel at the least?'

Remember that Iraq and Israel are still in a state of war dating to 1948. (They never agreed to an armistice.) So I agree that Israel is threatened by Iraq -- but the threat is one that has been there for 58 years. And there is a much greater threat to Israel from Syria and Lebanon. We haven't invaded either one lately.

5/23/2006 11:09 AM  
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