Framed: Reaffirm Democracy
Support for the following government programs is recalled until further notice:
- Extra-judicial surveillance of American phone calls by NSA
- Federal control of National Guard
- FISA courts
- Holding U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge
- Inherent Presidential Constitutional authority to violate U.S. statutes or other provisions of the Constitution
- Military tribunals for non-military personnel and/or non-citizens
- NSA domestic spying
- NSA wiretapping
- Project Strike Back (FBI examination of college student financial records)
- SWIFT (banking surveillance)
- Terrorist Surveillance Program
- Torture ban
- Total Information Awareness
- Unitary executive
- USA Patriot Act
- Warrantless data mining
- Warrantless searches of persons or effects, wherever they may be
- Warrantless surveillance
The following terms and phrases are recalled until further notice:
The term “anti-terror” should not be used as a justification for working outside the law. No one has proven that it is necessary to work outside the law (including the most fundamental law, the Constitution) to protect the U.S.; and, it isn’t clear that if they did we would accept illegal means to protect anything other than the continued existence of our system of laws, something not even remotely threatened by terrorism.
The term “war on terror” is a wholly bogus term used to suggest that terrorism can be fought with military force. Defending us from terrorists is a normal function of government, a function that the Bush Administration failed to perform early in its first term when the U.S. was seriously attacked by terrorists, and has been shirking by waging war in Iraq.
The term “traitor” is often used to mean someone who disagrees with U.S. policy. This is a misuse of the term. A traitor to the United States is someone who takes action with the intention to directly and materially harm the country or to directly and materially benefit another country at our expense. A traitor to the military is someone who takes direct action with the intention of harming the military, military personnel, or military operations.
The phrase “damage national security” is often misused to suggest that opposition to immoral or illegal programs will cause attacks against the country. Everything that we do “damages national security” to the extent that all activity carries risks. Using national security as an argument against operating within the law is like saying that you should never drive because occasionally people are killed in automobile accidents. Our interests in having a free and open society trumps “national security” in all but those cases in which the continued existence of our government and laws is materially threatened.
The phrase “embolden adversaries” is used to suggest that debate about the wisdom of the administration’s policies will somehow encourage terrorists and other enemies to think that the U.S. is weak. This ignores one of the most important strengths of the U.S.: our ability to openly debate policy. Our system of encompassing political dissent widens the set of people with a stake in that system, making it more inclusive and more resilient. This allows us to respond to changes in the environment that would fracture and destroy other systems. Open debate in the U.S. makes us strong and it should do anything but “embolden” adversaries. In fact, it should make them think twice.
In addition, our system allows us to identify and remove leaders who commit immoral acts (war crimes, for example) because they can’t hide behind the cloak of righteousness. The world can all see this and compare it with the authoritarian systems of our adversaries. It makes their systems less attractive and ours more desirable. Finally, open debate provides a way to think through our policies and find new solutions that would not be available to systems with closed thinking. It makes our system less predictable, and thus harder to attack successfully.
DO NOT USE ANY OF THESE PHRASES. See the term:list for other questionable terms.
Example of use (don’t emulate):
- “We have confidence in the lawfulness of this program.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in response to the NSA wiretapping program being struck down in court in August 2006, reported by MSNBC.
- “[Classified government programs] were important for us to be able to confront an enemy in time of war. When people leak that kind of information, to me, that is traitorous activity.” Senator Rick Santorum, August 2006, reported by AP.
- “[The] Terrorist Surveillance Program” is “firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties.” White House spokesman Tony Snow, August 2006, reported by Reuters.
The Problem and the Solution
The neocons running the Bush Administration have taken his term in office as an opportunity to implement authoritarian measures. Each of these measures is designed to roll back the rights of individuals to privacy, freedom of expression, due process, presumption of innocence, and freedom from unwarranted government intrusion.
This is part of a pattern of entrenching unfairness in our society, which includes reorganization of the tax structure to favor the wealthy. The administration has also attempted to rig the economic system to favor the rich. In addition, Republicans have tried to weaken the public school system, an uninformed and misinformed public being easier to manipulate and control. To stay in office, they have taken what looks like concerted efforts to stack the ballot box in favor of Republicans.
All of these efforts are anti-democratic. The solution is to reaffirm democracy. We must ask people to reaffirm democracy by withdrawing support for the programs listed above and demanding that our government adhere to the strictest interpretation of the law, especially the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Anyone who will not rigorously defend the Bill of Rights is not fit to rule, and they should not be elected to any federal office.
The Cost/Benefits of Reaffirming Democracy
The main social cost of reaffirming democracy is that it can cause a reaction among authoritarians. This reaction enlivens them and causes them to heap opprobrium on anyone suggesting a change.
In addition, to get our message out, we will need to spend considerable time and money. This may mean providing very significant campaign contributions to candidates who will take on and further our message. It can also mean contributing to state initiatives that support our cases, including directives to make court cases to defend our rights and initiatives to limit state cooperation for these illegal programs.
The benefit of reaffirming democracy is that it provides a positive program for Democrats to run on. It creates a strategic point from which to attack neocon ideas, especially those regarding violation of Constitutional checks on power. It is hard to argue that anyone should not reaffirm democracy. Who would be against democracy? By framing this argument as being a defense of democracy, Democrats can be strong on defending the United States as a moral system. Defending democracy trumps defending national security because without democracy the country loses its moral right to exist.
Realigning the Frame
The security of the United States is not under any serious assault. What is under assault is our free and democratic way of life. While Al Qaeda has caused fairly significant damage to the country, nothing they’ve done has come close to threatening the existence of the United States. We retained the ability to reach out and destroy most of the Al Qaeda infrastructure that they set up.
Democrats are not against any and all surveillance. We are against unlawful surveillance. In particular, we oppose any surveillance that does not have a meaningful and effective oversight by both the legislative and judicial branches of government. We oppose any wiretapping, electronic snooping, physical searches or other forms of search not conducted under warrant from the judiciary and not subject to auditing by Congress. We also oppose any form of torture or other violation of due process in handling alleged and supposed criminals. All of these things are illegal under American law, and should cease without delay.
All surveillance pertaining to domestic security should be reorganized to conform to the Constitution. This may mean, in some cases, amending that document to take into account modern technology. The amendment process was designed to protect our rights, and refusal to pursue this process while stretching, bending or breaking constitutional restrictions is prima facie evidence of wrong-doing.
Furthermore, since the President has been knowingly breaking the law, any bill of impeachment against him should include violation of FISA and the Constitution as examples of “high crimes.”
What Progressives Value and Want
Fairness. The standards of conduct should work for all people. Neither males nor females should get preferential treatment by governments or institutions open to the public. Sustainability. Our beliefs and values about sex must be sustainable in the modern world. Consistency. The rules should be internally consistent so that they work regardless of the situation. This implies flexibility that takes into account real-life situations.
Notes on Challenges to Democracy
In the modern world, where electronic communication has replaced physical travel as the primary means of organizing, it is important to be able to see and understand communication among criminal elements. The Bill of Rights was not written with electronic communication or modern electronic computation in mind, nor was the Constitution written with understanding of the speed and scope of modern life. We need to find a new way to think about this and use the principles of the Bill of Rights to correctly set policy for electronic communication.
Constitutional principles should inform our thinking on these issues: (1) Probable cause, (2) Due process, (3) Privacy, (4) Freedom of expression, and (5) Balance of power.
For example, the rules for a “search” in the modern world must take into account that electronic systems have patterns that can become the basis for probable cause. What is the legitimate process for learning about probable cause? If the executive branch can look directly at the patterns in, say, a phone system, should we allow them to look for patterns they believe represent criminal activity? Is it okay for them to look at the content of messages (which ought to be presumed private) in order to look for patterns?
Perhaps it would be sufficient to have a separate entity look for these patterns, but only make this kind of evidence available to the executive branch if the FISA court agrees that it is sufficient probable cause that a crime is being committed. This balances power and protects privacy.
This represents a practical solution, where national security is served while our civil rights are protected.
Is the modern world significantly different from the world in which the Constitution was written with regard to physical searches? The only real difference is that modern technology and the size of modern crowds has made screening for weapons more important in certain circumstances. In those cases where significant numbers of people are gathering, especially when they are getting on airplanes, we need increased security. However, this new security should not come at the cost of completely abandoning our rights to privacy.
The fact that someone is flying does not constitute probable cause that they are about to commit a crime. We need to be careful about the kinds of rights we are willing to give up in order to travel. The right to travel is part of the right to peaceably assemble, a First Amendment right.
We need to amend the Constitution to state exactly what situations permit searches without warrants and to what degree. We need to have an exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows screening that creates probable cause for searches, and then conduct the rest of our security within the existing Constitutional framework.
Our immigration officials are currently holding U.S. citizens under arrest without benefit of legal council or a court hearing on suspicion that they may be associated with terrorists. We are also holding many people as “enemy combatants,” without benefit of legal council or trials. We have tortured some people in our custody, sent others to countries where we know they will be tortured, and suspended the rules for humane treatment of prisoners.
All of these actions are illegal. However, we can’t simply ignore people we capture during military actions or suspect of being in the process of causing us harm just because we don’t have the legal framework for dealing with them. We need a new category for prisoners that are not part of foreign military organizations that will effectively deal with them while protecting their human rights.
What we need, in essence, is a law that makes it illegal for non-U.S. citizens to do things that are intended to significantly and materially harm our citizens. We need process for bringing charges, having them tried in civilian federal courts with right to council and other due process. We have nothing to fear from using the legal system to process these people. We need to make allowance for the continued cover of our agents abroad. For this, we may need a private deposition process that allows people with national security clearance to get depositions from these agents that can be used in court. What is completely unfair (and ineffective, in its own way) is to have people tried in secret with secret evidence that they can’t refute. This not only leads to injustice, but to poor intelligence gathering because there is no effective auditing of that activity.
Treason and Dissent
Dissent is a normal, patriotic duty. It takes courage to dissent because dissenters usually suffer immediate condemnation by adherents to the prevailing view. Our system of government is based on dissent. We are able to have peaceful changes of power because we respect dissent and allow the public to decide the direction of the country at the ballot box.
The alternative system is the coup d'état. In this system, those who disagree with the policies of the government use armed rebellion to take over the government. Support for dissent reaffirms that the United States is a country of peace and a country ruled by law. Authoritarian attempts to stifle dissent are unpatriotic at best and could be seen as an attempt to overthrow the prevailing system of government.
Inherent Presidential Constitutional Authority
Let’s just deal with this. This is so logically flawed that anyone buying into it needs to be hospitalized for their brain damage.
If the President has an inherent power to do something, so does Congress and so does the judiciary. The Constitution gives all of them power. If it’s within the inherent power of the President to do something it’s within the inherent power of the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional. It’s only powers that are explicitly given by the Constitution that are inherently unconstrained.
Furthermore, when the Constitution explicitly limits the government’s power, it is not within the purview of any of the offices in that government to violate it. If the Constitution provides, for example, that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense, then it’s not up to the President to decide that some defendants don’t get to have legal counsel, even if they are suspected Al Qaeda operatives scooped up in Afghanistan.
What about the Commander in Chief power? Well, that would apply within the military. He gets to control the military. There’s no reason to believe that he’s allowed to “command” civilians. Maybe in a war zone, during time of military operations, he could argue that he gets a little expansion of power. That’s it.
- “Democrats will lose the war on terror.” I’m much more worried about the War for Democracy. Bush is losing the War for Democracy. The essential underpinning of our society—probable cause, due process, privacy, freedom of expression, and balance of power—are all being undermined by the administration.
- “Democrats are weak on national security.” Democrats are much smarter about national security than Republicans because they understand that military might is not the sole answer to our challenges. The President’s wars and domestic mismanagement have weakened the military and our economy. We need to restore our economic strength and redirect our military forces so that we can regain our strength for future challenges.
Counter—Phrases To Use in Place of the Banished Terms
These phrases are cleared for the list of policy terms. Feel free to add and elaborate.
- Replace “anti-terrorism” with “anti-terrorist work” because “work” is something that we all do. This takes the term away from militarism. It is akin to “police work,” which is what we need to contain terrorism. The British, by concentrating on espionage and police work, rather than military force, have been much more effective at spotting and foiling terrorist plots than the U.S.
- Always reply to implications that dissent is unpatriotic or treasonous. This is one place where we have to cross the transaction. Implying that dissenters are traitors is a parental statement that should be cut off with another parental statement: “Anyone who calls dissent into question is attacking our form of government.”
Please add your own indication of how to advertise the new frame.
World Without Law
(Video of a little girl, about four, walking with her toys)
VOICE OVER: SUPPOSE THIS IS YOUR CHILD. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOUR GOVERNMENT TORTURED HER?
(Video of a little boy, about four, walking with his toys)
VOICE OVER: SUPPOSE THIS IS YOUR CHILD. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOUR GOVERNMENT TORTURED HIM?
(Video of recognizably American landscape)
IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE GOVERNMENT VIOLATES ITS OWN LAWS, NO ONE IS SAFE FROM TORTURE.
(Video zoom on first page of Constitution)
CONTACT YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVE AND ASK THEM TO STOP THE PRESIDENT FROM VIOLATING THIS LAW.
Other Ad Ideas
Other possible ads would quote U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, who was the first to find the National Security Agency surveillance program unconstitutional. She said: “There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So, all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution. … The public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution.” [See Feds appeal ruling against wiretap program from MSNBC.]
Other Resources to Draw On
The following diaries on DailyKos may be helpful:
- The Radical Right's Quiet Revolution by One Pissed Off Liberal. Concerns the Alliance for Justice film Quiet Revolution, where actor Bradley Whitford documents the attack on the Constitution by radical neoconservatives.
- Understanding and Framing Electronic Surveillance by dbratl.
- Greenwald and Tribe on the NSA Ruling by mcjoan.
- Blanket Pardons Proposed for Illegal NSA Spying by georgia10.
- Federal Judge Rejects Radical Bush View of Constitution by mcjoan.
- Nixonesque by Hunter.
- US Treasury's SWIFT Program May Break European Laws by smokeymonkey
Remember: Neocon policies implemented by the Bush Administration are destroying democracy in our country. The war for democracy is being lost and it is only if all Americans reaffirm their commitment to democracy that we can hope to reverse those losses and put the United States back on course.
What does it mean to be “an American”? At its core, being an American means adhering to our ideals, as represented by the Bill of Rights. Anyone violating these principles has no moral authority to tell anyone else that they are unpatriotic.