Check out this search result I got on Daily Kos when I typed in the words “John Yoo.” Just the titles tell you the kind of demonic role this UC Berkeley law professor plays in the minds of the left’s leading blogger and his acolytes:
Well, in case you’re interested in what somebody like that thinks about civil liberties, Professor Yoo has a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s how it ends:
The threat of an out-of-control, Nixonian executive seeking to harass its political enemies is not what looms before us today. Legitimate political activities and speech by American citizens are not being suppressed. Three elections have occurred during the war on terrorism, with the last one switching control of Congress to the opposition party. Free speech and creativity have exploded on the Internet.
Civil libertarians suggest that any wartime reduction of civil liberties creates a “ratchet” effect that will permanently diminish freedoms in peacetime. Others say that panic always leads government to go “too far.” Some claim that majorities will always abuse power to oppress minorities. Historical precedents provide some support for these claims.
But civil liberties have expanded in peacetime and contracted during emergencies throughout our history. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, but also liberated the slaves and expanded individual rights against the states. Civil liberties surged in the decades after World War II. Wars sometimes lead to social and economic upheavals that expand individual freedom. Wartime governments have also moderated discriminatory policies to rally all sectors of the nation. War expands executive power. But it does so for a reason — because wars need to be won. Hate, opportunism or greed toward minorities occur outside of war as well. Slavery and Jim Crow were the products of peace, not war.
John Yoo does not scare me as much as he does Kos and many others. Some of what he has to say makes sense. I don’t think the left is really listening to him; click on the links above and you won’t find much intellectual meat; just “gotcha”-style rantings.
But it does strike me as both ironic and misleading that he would use the adjective “Nixonian” to draw a contrast between the powers he claims for the Executive Branch now and the evil doings of past presidents (he also points out that presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FDR committed worse transgressions against civil liberties).
Let’s buy Yoo’s point, just for the sake of argument: Bush is not Nixon. However, the rap against Bush isn’t so much what he’s doing with his presidential authority; it’s the sheer amount of authority he has claimed. Bush might not have the evil, vindictive qualities of Tricky Dick, but after January 2009, someone else is going to be president, and then later somebody else. Will none of them be “Nixonian?”
*Update, 2/12/07: Professor Yoo must not have had many papers to grade last week. He coauthored an op-ed in today’s NY Times, which draws the only conclusion one can fairly draw from Congress’ willingness to oppose the escalation/redeployment/surge in Iraq, but only symbolically:
The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky. That way they get to prepare for the next election while pointing fingers of blame and spinning conspiracy theories. It is odd to see the Democratic Party turning toward isolationism, bonding with paleoconservatives, and so bitterly averse to the ideals of democratic nation building.
War is not about instant gratification in a hail of klieg lights, our truncated Gulf war notwithstanding. In an interdependent, globalized world, we can’t shrug our shoulders and shirk in the war on terrorism. America made a fundamental change in foreign policy after the 9/11 attacks: to support and spread democracy. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, should understand this well. She made her national reputation as a junior representative in the 1980s criticizing the Chinese dictatorship after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the public would soon tire of war and engage in overheated accusations of bad faith. It is quite right that Congress review, and consider, from its unique perspective, what changes, if any, it now wants to make. If Congress really believes the Bush administration has set us on the wrong course, it can act tomorrow to cut the sinews of war in Iraq. But its failure to do so seems an acknowledgment that the consequences would be far worse than what we face now.