As the President readies himself to go to the map for his right to order torture in violation of America’s laws and international commitments, it’s worth putting this in some context. It’s extremely rare for the Bush administration to pick big fights with congress. When the House and Senate were preparing to send him a campaign finance reform bill he regarded as unconstitutional, he tried to get his allies to kill it. But when they couldn’t, he signed it. When it looked like congress might pass a patients’ bill of rights he tried — and succeeded — in getting House allies to kill it, but indicate that he would sign it if it passed. He hasn’t vetoed any bills. He comes from an ideological tradition nominally committed to small government, but has been willing to increase spending by leaps and bounds.
When it comes to this issue, though, no compromise can be brooked. Bush wants to order intelligence agencies to violate all the country’s traditions and several of its laws in order that they might torture people. To that end, he’s willing to say that if he can’t torture people he just won’t interrogate them at all. Abraham Lincoln, while suspending the writ of habeus corpus, wondered rhetorically, “shall all the laws go unenforced except this one?” Bush’s view seems to be something like the reverse. Unless the one law against torture goes unenforced, his plan is to let them all slide. Then something terrible might happen and we’ll all have learned our lesson.