One of these common “roots” is the assumption that the executive branch gets to be the final arbiter of the limits of its own power. This single assumption ties together a number of the administration’s most troubling policies. For instance, according to the administration, it alone decides how detainees will be treated in wartime. It alone decides what constitutes torture. It alone decides who is deemed an “enemy combatant.” It alone decides who will be wiretapped. It alone decides whether it will follow the requirements of the Patriot Act. It alone decides whether America can legally go to war. It alone decides when documents are declassified. It alone decides when the Geneva Convention should be followed.(Emphasis mine)
The tie that binds each and every one of these positions is that, in each one, the executive alone gets the final say on the scope of its power.
Although the “final arbiter” assumption explains a lot, it doesn’t explain everything. In fact, I think the “final arbiter” assumption is itself a symptom of an even more fundamental and flawed assumption held by the administration. And that assumption is the unyielding certitude of its own correctness and goodness. That arrogance, to me, is original sin of the administration – and the source of its most disturbing and often disastrous policies.
Think about it – most everything that you don’t like about the Bush administration can be traced back to their belief that they’re always right – and very right – about everything. Most obviously, the belief in their own goodness and correctness explains why they think they get to be the final arbiters of their own power.
It follows naturally. If you know, know that you are on the side of angels (or perhaps more accurately, that the angels are on your side) then these rules and laws are simply impediments to the cause of rightousness. Of course, you could be wrong.
One of the most dangerous failings one can have is hubris - forgetting for a moment that you don't know everything or could simply have miscalculated. This isn't exactly new, by the way. As Publius puts it:
Of course, history has shown all too clearly that executives are often wrong. In fact, when you really get down to it, the evolution of Western law has been an ongoing response to executive wrongness. The Magna Carta was about constraining the executive and subjecting its actions to the public will. The United States was created in part because of perceived abuses of the executive. Finally, even though our Constitution created a stronger executive (compared to the Articles), it still takes an obsessive number of steps to limit the power of the executive – even in wartime.A conscious decision was made to limit the powers of the executive, so that we would not have to trust in the good will of an executive to respect individual freedoms. And if such freedoms need to be reordered in light of current concerns, we have processes in place to accomplish that reordering.
Alternatively, we can choose to live in a world where this astonishing piece of logical gymnastics is reconcilable with any reality in which we live:
The President believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think that's why it's important to draw a distinction here. Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest, is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious. And there is a distinction.Coincidentally and conveniently, the public interest always seems to coincide with certain political interests and opposing political interests inherently compromise our national security (see above re: certitude). Or, shorter Scotty Mc-C: "I'm right and you are wrong. By definition."
Now, there are Democrats out there that fail to recognize that distinction, or refuse to recognize that distinction. They are simply engaging in crass politics. Let's make clear what the distinction is.
If that's so, why bother?