Monday, April 2, 2007

Off The Table

When I teach Intro to American Politics, I occassionally feel the need to inform my students that certain issues are off the table. For example, the idea that a state can nullify a federal law with which it disagrees -- a main argument of some southern governors during the Civil Rights Era -- was actually settled by the Civil War a hundred years earlier. The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was wrong (despite the efforts of some of my students and a few modern pundits to defend it), which is why President Reagan publicly apologized for it in 1988. Similarly, the idea that an executive can imprison people indefinitely without access to a jury trial was settled by the Revolutionary War. That was something that only thuggish monarchs did. It was something that would not be tolerated in America.

Or so I thought. Please read Glen Greenwald's excellent column on this, in which he notes that the leading Republican candidates for president seem quite comfortable advocating a presidency with essentially limitless power. As Greenwald rightly asks:
What does it say about the current state of our political culture that one of the two political parties has all but adopted as a plank in its platform a view of presidential powers and the federal government that is -- literally -- the exact opposite of what this country is?
In a late update, Greenwald gets some help from Andrew Sullivan, who provides this helpful quote from Winston Churchill, spoken during World War II:
The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgement by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments whether Nazi or Communist.

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