Thursday, December 22, 2005

Restoration of the Old Order

The Financial Times is, like the Economist and the Republican Street Journal, a Tory paper. But the FT seems to remember the roots of Toryism better than the pure free market theoreticians, red in tooth and claw, who constantly fulminate against government, any government, in the pages of the latter publications. The original Tories of 1678 were those who resisted a fundamental change in the British constitution that would have excluded James II from becoming King when Charles II died. In other words, they were formed to protect the constitution as it was, not as it might become.

Faster than a televangelist stripping down in a whorehouse, the defenders of (unlimited but Republican-only) presidential power at the Economist and the Republican Street Journal have cheerfully abandoned "strict constructionism" in their interpretation of presidential prerogative. But the FT keeps the old faith, as shown in its Wednesday leader, Extraordinary Claim of Executive Power, whose subhead reads, "Congress must reassert its authority over war on terror."

This is not a question of what powers US law enforcement and intelligence agencies may need to combat the threat from terrorism. It is a question of who should authorise any necessary curtailment of liberties established in the constitution and elaborated by legislation and precedent.

The problem with renewing the Patriot Act is that the administration has not vindicated the trust legislators placed in it. Mr Bush can hardly demand expansion of state powers as necessary in the war on terror, while reserving the right to operate beyond them.

[Congress] must reassert its sole right to frame the rules that govern the relationship between government and citizen or risk sliding into constitutional irrelevance.

The FT is a lot sterner in defense of liberty than any of the alleged liberal media in the US have dared to be. The wingnut cablesphere cannot be expected to understand that they really don't want a President Hillary Clinton exercising the uninspected powers Bush is claiming. But it's nice to see a conservative institution taking a stance based on principle rather than on convenience, or lockstep presidential defensiveness.

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