The Democratic congressional leadership lamely led by Sen. Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is squandering its chance to repair what this administration has continually done to not only our personal constitutional liberties but also to our credibility around the world. We are decreasingly seen as a nation that can do justice at home and abroad while fighting the deadly scourge of international terrorism. Instead, Pelosi and Reid are on a treadmill of demanding troop withdrawals from Iraq while there is evident progress there against its internal and external enemies.
It is too late to follow the advice of John Adams: "Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people." There are now more than shoots. But in a nation that remains open to dissent against an administration that has acquired so much unitary executive power the antithesis of democracy that our Founding Fathers tried hard to prevent it is not too late to organize to reclaim our heritage.
For example, on March 20, in its founding statement, the American Freedom Agenda stated: "We are conservative scholars, activists and writers. We do not favor a crippled executive or enfeebled government." However, "in a time of danger, checks and balances make for stronger government because the people will more readily accept a muscular authority if barriers against abuses are strong ...
"Today, the clear and present danger to conservative philosophy is the White House."
The proclaimers and organizers of the American Freedom Agenda include former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, a pillar of privacy rights and other individual guarantees under the Constitution; Richard Viguerie, a resourceful spreader of the message of limited government; and John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, whose ceaseless flow of written and radio commentary makes it appear that he is channeling James Madison.
The admirably determined and energetic initiator of the American Freedom Agenda is Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan Justice Department as assistant director of the Office of Legal Policy and as an associate deputy attorney general. He would have been my choice as successor to the clueless Alberto Gonzales, but the crucial priorities of the American Freedom Agenda make it clear that George W. Bush would rather have left the position open if Bruce Fein had been the only possibility.
In order to reclaim the respect of our allies against our murderous enemies, the American Freedom Agenda would roll back the White House's "end runs around due process" by curbing the president's authority, on his say-so alone to "arrest, imprison indefinitely, torture and transport to foreign dungeons those he deems 'enemy combatants' outside our legal system."
And, here are at home, it would curb the president's "inherent constitutional power" (as he misreads that founding document) to: "tap phones, read e-mails, open mail and even break and enter without warrants or judicial review" as well as:
"improperly use 'signing statements' to ignore the law, employ secret evidence and evidence obtained by torture; and frustrate proper congressional oversight through excessive claims of national security."
In that latter pledge, Fein and his colleagues are much too kind to Congress, which has continually permitted itself to be frustrated by, for one example, not conducting a single investigation, with subpoena powers, into the accountability all the way up the chain of command of the CIA's rampant lawlessness under the special approval of the president. This has created, among other U.S. and international war crimes, the disappearance of an untold number of "ghost prisoners" in the CIA's secret prisons and who knows where else. (What say you, Attorney General Michael Mukasey?)
Having brought John Adams into this conversation, I am glad the American Freedom Agenda reminds us of another acutely contemporary observation by Adams:
"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."
Also in its founding statement, the Agenda includes my favorite warning from, I believe, the wisest man to ever sit on the Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
For those wanting to join the American Freedom Agenda, the address is: 910 17th St., NW Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20006, or www.americanfreedomagenda.org.
Will any of the presidential candidates of either party come on board?
My fellow Boston Latin School alumnus Samuel Adams, a fomenter of the American Revolution, insisted: "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards." That's what the American Agenda is about.