“If James Madison and the rest of the people who were at the constitutional convention came back to the US they wouldn’t recognise it,” said a man we met last night at the Watergate.
“They’d be appalled. They put all that work into the US Constitution…using every trick they could think of to limit the power of the executive branch. Because they knew that if you let the executive branch get away with it, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a tyrant. It doesn’t matter whether you call it a king or a dictator…or an emperor…once you put too much power in one man’s hands, you will corrupt the man who has the power…and destroy the society that gave it to him.
“That was the whole point of the constitution. It was to limit power. They put in checks and balances…and the Bill of Rights. They thought about it. They figured it out. They wanted to be sure that the US really was different. The people were meant to be sovereign. They were meant to be in control.
“And the role of the government…and the only role of the government…was to protect the liberty and sovereignty of the people. And they knew too that the main threat to individual liberty was the government. That’s why you needed warrants…you need to have a trial by a jury of your peers…you needed habeus corpus. They built all these protections into the system to protect the individual from the government. They weren’t there to protect the individual from Al Qaida or from China. They were there to protect the individual citizen from the government.
“And now, with this anti-terrorism bugaboo all of those protections have gone away. The president has the power to put any American citizen in jail – for life. No charges. No witnesses. No hearing. No trial. No nothing.
“He can have you tortured. He can have you killed.
“I mean, President Obama has powers that King George would have envied. And he got those outrageous powers without a word of protest. Nobody said anything. Congress said nothing. The people said nothing.
“Yeah…I guess that’s what you mean about Americans going to hell. I guess they deserve to go to hell. But, of course, that’s exactly what we’re trying to stop…
“And now the prez has more power than Louis the 14th… And he was supposed to be an absolute monarch I mean, Louis had to pay for his wars. He had to pay for his public buildings. He had the nobility against him much of the time. He had much of Europe against him.
“America was lucky. It was far from Europe. It was protected by oceans from foreign domination. Every backwoodsman had a rifle and he knew how to use it. You know that when King George sent troops to put down the revolution a letter appeared in the London paper. It came from a man who had lived in the colonies. He told his countrymen that if they were shipping out to fight the Americans they should be sure to write their Last Wills and Testaments before they left. Because the Americans all had guns and knew how to use them.
“And that is also why the new government of the US went to such lengths to try to curb the power of the army. There was to be no standing army. The whole idea was a nation of free men. Armed and ready to protect themselves. And the constitution was very clear, if the president wanted to make war he had to convince congress not only to approve it…it also had to raise an army and raise the money to pay for it.
“But now the president can make war on whomever he pleases with no act of Congress. He doesn’t even have to ask the congress for money. There’s so much money sloshing around in the Homeland Security and Pentagon budgets that he can make war on anyone.
“The apologists for this kind of thing say the president will only use his new powers for good causes. But that’s not what history tells us. Even if one or two presidents resist…and govern more or less benevolently, like Caesar Augustus…it won’t be long before we get a Caligula, a Nero, or a Gingrich…
“So now we send out drones and hit squads to kill people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And soon – it is just a matter of time before the power corrupts the US president, if it hasn’t already – that the drones and hit squads target Americans on American soil.”
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