Conservatism is About Limits

So at the rally, in addition to being able to speak to most of the other principals, I had the honor of speaking to David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union. I always like chatting with conservatives like Mr. Keene, because they tell it like it is. As he said, he doesn't believe that there's any ill-will on the part of those in the administration who worked on post-9/11 counter-terrorism policies. On the contrary, he said, it's men and women who feel like they have a job to do, and whatever makes that job easier is the side they're going to take.Though I think there are other ideological things going on here---most notably a push by certain conservative lawyers and academics to rejig the allocation of power among the three branches of government---I take his point. Notwithstanding that, I do believe, however, that the hardcore group of policy makers who masterminded the torture and detention policies at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, and who forced the Military Commissions scheme first through secret channels to a presidential military order and then, when that was invalidated by the Court, down Congress's throat were being other than diligent. That stuff smacks of wrath and malice.That said, Mr. Keene made another point, one which I think renders motive sort of irrelevant in terms of who did what and why.Conservatism is about limits, he said. It's about recognizing that this is a complex society we live in with manifold and competing interests and needs, some of which are inconsistent, and some of which are in tension. There's no question that liberty and security are in tension; that's as old as humanity, let alone the United States. And yet, are they mutually exclusive? Perhaps, if one were to be completely honest, there are extreme situations where they might be such grave tension that one needs to err on the side of safety.But, that's not now. Indeed, our Constitution expressly provides for such contingencies. Congress can suspend habeas corpus to meet emerging threats---but only during rebellion or invasions. During the constitutional debates, the framers changed the term "make" to "declare" when delineating Congress's authority to initiate military conflict. Why? To ensure the president the ability to respond to "sudden attacks." I mean, hell, the Third Amendment, which prohibited the forced quartering of soldiers in our homes foresaw armies marching across our countryside.The Constitution is a flexible document, and it is designed to allow us to meet threats to our security with necessary force and unified resolve. Yet, in its flexibility, it imposes essential limits, limits that this administration has overridden consistently and unapologetically. And that is truly where the Bush administration (and, the Washington Post tells us, especially Vice President Dick Cheney) part company from traditional conservatism. You see, habeas corpus, Gitmo, torture, due process---these are about limited government. And what is conservatism about, if not limited government?

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Connecticut Man1

I have posted on this a few times today. I hope that your effort helps to bring more attention to this.

Where in the World is habeas Corpus?

I checked over at Buzzflash and there wasn't anything on it, so I put that diary up... Buzz it if it you want. Or put up something of your own and I will Buzz it!

Connecticut Man1

OOPS! Broken link... I think?
Where in the World is Habeas Corpus?


The Bush administration is probably as far from traditional conservatism as any in history. From its beginning the Bush administration's policies have flown in the face of conservative tenets -- (1) fiscal conservatism; (2) separation of moral ideology and state, an example of which is separation of church and state (see government investment in faith-based programs, DOJ's new focus on "religious discrimination," new legislation of morality, etc.); (3) hiring based strictly on qualifications (see recent NY Times pieces on how DOJ has been hiring students for its "honors program" based mostly on ideological/religious bent); (4) limited government; (5) free market policies (those of the Bush administration are more like selective corporate welfare); etc. I think we're seeing a real divergence between "conservatives" and "Republicans" -- sometimes I wonder where all the real conservatives went.

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