The National Security Agency has been examining a couple of trillion phone call records in what seems a perfectly legal, constitutionally allowable program that invades no one’s privacy and could save your life, so here’s what we should do: Impeach President Bush.
After all, the program could be abused. Yes, it’s true that no one is listening into phone calls. No one will learn that John Doe is having an affair with Mary Smith. But someone could someday, right? There could be abuse.
OK, I concede that virtually every program in government could also be abused. The Internal Revenue Service has intimate details on American families that this program will never come close to having, and that information could be abused. Even the U.S. military could be abused. Why, someday, the generals might march their troops over to the Capitol and arrest every member of Congress in sight.
So I have to admit that the potential for abuse and actual abuse are two very different things, on the order of night and day. Logic tells us that much. But let’s not get too logical when there’s a chance to bash Bush and his administration.
And if there is abuse, why, that could be illegal — that could be unconstitutional. Then we would really have a case against Bush, wouldn’t we? Most experts quoted in newspapers say the program is probably legal, based on what is now known. But maybe, just maybe, we will learn more, and maybe it will be awful, and then we will have this guy Bush dead to rights, and anyway, why wait for evidence? Let’s just assume the worst.
We can strengthen the case for impeachment by saying what a lot of people with no background in intelligence-gathering are saying — that the program will achieve nothing beneficial for the nation. And isn’t there at least some small chance they know far more than those who have spent their lives in the field and have been running the program?
I know the other side of it, namely that this program is helping to protect us against terrorist attacks. We all know Islamic extremists want to kill big bunches of us, and it seems evident that this program could show how an overseas al-Qaida member is making calls to phone line B, which also contacts C and D, who seem to be contacted by everyone the al-Qaida member calls. Investigating computer-disclosed patterns could lead to the prevention of some future 9/11. But we don’t know that for sure, and in the meantime, there’s an administration to kick.
Oh, and while we are spitting in Bush’s face, let’s have a round of applause for USA Today and wish it well when the next Pulitzer Prizes are awarded. Thanks to its story, this program is no longer secret. That fact may render the program wholly ineffective, making the nonexperts right as Americans get murdered. But USA Today gets slaps on the back, even if the people providing the information were breaking the law.
Darn, I hate it when this happens, but I just changed my mind. I don’t think we should impeach or even criticize Bush for this program. I think we should instead criticize the critics whose arguments don’t hold up except as demonstrations of political grandstanding in some cases, paranoia in others and pure hogwash in all of them.
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.