The occasion of a new year invariably elicits a spirit of reflection, a spirit heightened if one spends its passing holed up with flu severe enough to bring the whole “death panels” issue into stark relief. It’s in that spirit that I offer the following observations.
There are many aspects of American and western culture that contribute to what we often term “exceptionalism” — that which has made American economic, legal and political infrastructure so superior to other systems.
A key aspect is the concept of the rule of law. It is the idea that society operates on the basis of a codified set of laws that most distinctly sets the United States, and to certain extents other western nations, apart from the rest of world. On much of the planet, justice and governance are rather more arbitrary, based on the whim of either a political ruling class or mob.
But here, decisions are, generally speaking, made in accordance with laws generated by duly elected bodies under the aegis of a framework — the Constitution. It is under this light that many of our current contentions ought to be examined.
Take, for instance, the Edward Snowden situation. It’s tempting for many on the right to join with their contemporaries on the left and New York Times editorial page in hailing Snowden a “hero” for exposing all sorts of evil-doing within the National Security Agency.
The fact is, Snowden is no such thing. Never mind that most of his “revelations” didn’t remotely concern any illegal activities at the NSA. The program most commonly cited as Snowden’s greatest exposé — the gathering of metadata — is is overseen by Congress and approved by the FISA courts in accordance with the law. All of the NSA searches were conducted with a warrant (in accordance with the law) signed by a federal judge (in accordance with the law) who was ratified by the Senate (in accordance with the law).
Should it be determined the law no longer serves its intended purpose — due to advances in technology, for example — and the people wish the law changed to reflect such an adjustment, then that law should be changed. That should occur by electing people who will advocate for and enable the desired change, operating within the legal framework established and perfected over the ages. What shouldn’t happen is taking a huge chunk of America’s intelligence secrets, pasting them all over the Internet and then running into the arms of communist China and Vladimir gawd-how-I-miss-the-old-days Putin’s Russia.
However, the respect for the concept of rule of law applies to other, primarily domestic, issues as well — most notably President Barack Obama’s growing obsession with executive power, most recently manifested in his handling of the Obamacare meltdowns.
In response to serial problems experienced with the rollout of the health care law, the president has taken it upon himself to react by decree — unilaterally declaring certain parts of the law null and void and making adjustments to the law on the fly. It’s exceedingly ironic that only a few short months ago the clarion cry from the left, in response to Republican calls for repeal, was the Affordable Care Act was The Law Of The Land and therefore presumably eternally sacrosanct. Perhaps the president wasn’t privy to the message.
Very few will argue by now the law is flawed. Conservatives will continue to argue the scope and concept of the program itself is faulty while liberals insist the problems lie in the details — the hundreds of details buried in the 2,000 plus pages — and that these are what need to be dealt with.
Fine. But there’s a mechanism in place to attempt to do just that. Laws dealing with health care, like those dealing with national security, should be enacted or changed according to a set procedure, not the mere will of any person or group.
Granting Snowden amnesty would be as much an affront to the western idea of rule of law as the president’s now-routine stretching of the limits of executive power — whether concerning the ACA, environment and energy policy or selective enforcement of immigration and drug laws.
The president should leave law-making to Congress. And Snowden should be returned home where, thanks to the system to which he brought such harm, he will be granted his full constitutional rights prior to trial.