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The Mother Of All Credibility Gaps


by Sanford Levinson
I quote below the response of Mark Levin, blogging at the National Review site, to the announcement by the Bush administration that it will, after all, submit requests for surveillance of telephone conversations to the FISA Court after arguing, since December 2005, both that the president has inherent authority to order such surveillance and, even more to the point, that the 1978 surveillance apparatus leaves us in peril in the "global war on terror":

Is there no principle subject to negotiation? Is there no course subject to reversal? For the Bush administration to argue for years that this program, as operated, was critical to our national security and fell within the president's Constitutional authority, to then turnaround and surrender presidential authority this way is disgraceful. The administration is repudiating all the arguments it has made in testimony, legal briefs, and public statements. This goes to the heart of the White House's credibility. How can it cast away such a fundamental position of principle and law like this?

I don't share Mr. Levin's politics, but I do think that he raises an important point about whether this administration can meet the most minimal test of what might be termed "integrity." Some of us are old enough to remember the devastating "credibility gap" during the Vietnam war. Perhaps we no longer expect presidents (of either party?) to be reasonably honest, but, with regard to national security, isn't there something especially scandalous about arguing that A is "required" to defend basic national security and then saying, like Emily Litella (or was it Roseanne Roseannadanna?), "Never Mind." Bob Dole asked in 1996 "where is the outrage?" (though I forget right now what he thought we should be outraged about). Shouldn't there be ever deepening outrage at an administration that cannot be trusted to tell us the truth (where "truth" need mean nothing more than "one's genuine belief about the state of the world") about the most fundamental issues of our society? And, I will ask rhetorically, isn't it a scandal that the Constitution provides us no way of evicting someone so completely untrustworthy from the White House? Who even within the Republican Party can possibly be glad to have Bush as the "Great Decider" for another 735 days?

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