Dispatches from the Creation Wars

American Freedom Agenda

I got a call from Jim Babka of Downsize DC the other day and he mentioned the announcement of the American Freedom Agenda by a group of prominent conservatives. It’s an interesting group: Bruce Fein, former DOJ official under Reagan and prominent legal scholar; David Keene of the American Conservative Union; Bob Barr, former Georgia Congressman; and Richard Viguerie, who may not be a well known name but is probably the man most responsible for the election of Ronald Reagan and the formation of the modern conservative movement.

What makes it all the more interesting is the position they are taking: they are pushing a raft of reforms that would push back Bush’s “unitary executive” agenda and restore checks and balances to government. They are taking a strong stand against a wide range of Bush policies – the warrantless wiretapping program, the use of presidential signing statements as de facto vetoes, extraordinary rendition, the use of torture, the military commissions act, and much more. They are asking 2008 presidential candidates to sign the Freedom Pledge, the text of which I will paste below the fold:

I, (candidate), hereby pledge that if elected President of the United States I will undertake the following to restore the Constitution’s checks and balances, to honor fundamental protections against injustice, and to eschew usurpations oflegislative or judicial power.These are keystones of national security and individual freedom:

1. No Military Commissions Except on the Battlefield. I will not employ military commissions to prosecute offenses against the laws of war except in places where active hostilities are ongoing and a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony and to prevent local anarchy or chaos.

2. No Evidence Extracted by Torture or Coercion. I will not permit the use of evidence obtained by torture or coercion to be admissible in a military commission or other tribunal.

3. No Detaining Citizens as Unlawful Enemy Combatants. I will not detain any American citizen as an unlawful enemy combatant. Citizens accused of terrorism-linked crimes will be prosecuted in federal civilian courts.

4. RestoringHabeas Corpus for Suspected Alien Enemy Combatants. I will detain non-citizens as enemy combatants only if they have actively participated in actual hostilities against the United States. I will urge Congress to amend the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to permit any individual detained under the custody or control of the United States government to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal courts.

5. Prohibiting Warrantless Spying bythe National Security Agency in Violation of Law. I will prohibit the National Security Agency from gathering foreign intelligence except in conformity with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and end the NSA’s domestic surveillance program that targets American citizens on American soil for warrantless electronic surveillance.

6. Renouncing Presidential Signing Statements. I will not issue presidential signing statements declaring the intent to disregard provisions of a bill that I have signed into law because I believe they are unconstitutional. Instead, I will veto any bill that I believe contains an unconstitutional provision and ask Congress to delete it and re-pass the legislation.

7. Ending Secret Government by Invoking State Secrets Privilege. I will not invoke the state secrets privilege to deny remedies to individuals victimized by constitutional violations perpetrated by government officials or agents. I will not assert executive privilege to deny Congress information relevant to oversight or legislation unless supreme state secrets are involved. In that case, I will submit the privilege claim to a legislative-executive committee for definitive resolution.

8. Stopping Extraordinary Renditions. I will order the cessation of extraordinary renditions except where the purpose of the capture and transportation of the suspected criminal is for prosecution according to internationally accepted standards of fairness and due process.

9. Stopping Threats to Prosecuting Journalists under the Espionage Act. I will urge Congress to amend the Espionage Act to create a journalistic exception for reporting on matters relating to the national defense. As a matter of prosecutorial discretion, until such an amendment is enacted I will not prosecute journalists for alleged Espionage Act violations except for the intentional disclosure of information that threatens immediate physical harm to American troops or citizens at home or abroad.

10. Ending the Listing of Individuals or Organizations as Terrorists Based on Secret Evidence. I will not list individuals or organizations as foreign terrorists or foreign terrorist organizations for purposes of United States or international law based on secret evidence.

I will issue a public report annually elaborating on how the actions enumerated in paragraphs 1-10 have strengthened the ability of the United States to defeat international terrorism, secure fundamental freedoms, and preserve the nation’s democratic dispensation.

It’s an extraordinary list of grievances and they are right on every one of them. It’s interesting that these are all virtually identical to the positions taken by the ACLU and most liberals and libertarians over the last few years, so it is certainly refreshing to see such prominent conservatives agreeing with those positions and joining the fight against the unconstitutional policies of the Bush administration. Is it possible that Bush has gone so far that he has actually managed to unite liberals, conservatives and libertarians in support of the Constitution? One can only hope.

Comments

  1. #1 Robert
    March 27, 2007

    I admit that when I saw the name that I assumed some kind of doublespeak. That usually seems to be the case when someone names a group after freedom or truth.

    But reading that actually brought a little bit of hope that maybe things aren’t as f***ed up as they seem to be. I wonder what the white house reaction will be?

  2. #2 coturnix
    March 27, 2007

    A very hopeful sign.

  3. #3 Fastlane
    March 27, 2007

    This is a nice turn of events. It’s good to see ‘real’ (meaning old school) conservatives finally stepping up and taking responsibility for what the party used to stand for. I’ve been registered as a erpublican since I was old enough to vote, but I can’t remember the last time I voted for one in a national election (some of the local repubs are ok).

    FWIW, I like to think of republicans as how Goldwater envisioned them (then again, he lost his presidential bid, so maybe that’s not really representative of what most of the party thinks they should be).

    Cheers.

  4. #4 Dave
    March 27, 2007

    The Repubs are desparate to separate themselves from Bush, I think many of them see their party on the rocks, so I’m not terribly surprised. They discovered long ago that to-do lists are rhetorically effective (e.g. the contract with america). I think it is a starting point that both parties and all ideologies should adopt.

    Cheers,

    Dave

  5. #5 Bob C
    March 27, 2007

    Maybe I’m being too cynical, but it looks as if they are considering the strong possibility that a Democrat will be elected president next. This would remove from the Democrats the aggrandized (and probably illegal)powers now exercized by the current administration, while having no effect on Bush at all.

  6. #6 TomMil
    March 27, 2007

    Bob C,

    I don’t know. These guys seem to be for real. I admit it’s hard not to be cynical these days. How many times can you hear that “up is down” before you just refuse to listen to someone with an “R” after their name? If I were a Republican of the Libertarian variety, what was being done in the name of my party by these neo-cons would be hard to handle.

  7. #7 Perry Willis
    March 27, 2007

    Skepticism is always warranted, but I know enough about what some of these gentlemen think and say in private to believe that this isn’t just a ploy aimed at a future Democratic president. I’m pretty sure all of the guys involved really believe this stuff, and are pretty disgusted with the Bush administration.

    I think rank-and-file conservatives, liberals, and libertarians would be pretty surprised at how much common ground they have if they could put aside partisan tribalism and the electoral contest long enough to actually talk to each other. And listen too.

  8. #8 Dono
    March 27, 2007

    The way I see it, this Freedom Pledge accomplishes the same thing that the presidential oath of office is supposed to.

    Bush abused and disregarded that oath; I can’t imagine any Democratic president acting the same way.

  9. #9 G Barnett
    March 27, 2007

    There is a slight difference between this pledge and the Oath of Office; this one comes with a built-in, easy-to-tally score card. Overall, though, they should have similar meanings.

    The best part of this is seeing if any of the Republican candidates will sign it, as doing so would essentially be a public repudiation of the Bush administration.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    March 27, 2007

    Bob C wrote:

    Maybe I’m being too cynical, but it looks as if they are considering the strong possibility that a Democrat will be elected president next. This would remove from the Democrats the aggrandized (and probably illegal)powers now exercized by the current administration, while having no effect on Bush at all.

    Even if this was the case (and the fact that Bruce Fein, at least, has been blasting Bush’s unconstitutional behavior from the moment he took office suggests otherwise) would that be a bad thing? I don’t want a Democratic president having unconstitutional authority any more than I want a Republican president to have it.

  11. #11 Poly
    March 27, 2007

    What has happened is that these people were purged from any positions of power in the Republican Party, which has become a party of marginalized extremism. Even the word “conservative ” has been coopted by that parallel repugniverse. It is unlikely that these people will be let back in by the current Republican power structure.

    So they find themselves out of power with nowhere to go. All I can say is that they deserve it.

    While I appreciate their belated enlightenment, it was they themselves, and folks like them, who short-sightedly facilitated and enabled the current Republicans to put us into the situation we now find ourselves. Maybe if they had been open to other viewpoints before this, and not assumed attitude of know-it-all arrogance, we wouldn’t be here.

    We don’t need yet another hubristic bunch of previously dimwitted elites scolding the country with yet another ‘agenda’. Why should we listen to them at all? If those are their true sentiments, there are plenty of existing organizations close enough to those sentiments that they can work through – if they are willing to swallow their pride for once.

  12. #12 Stuart Coleman
    March 27, 2007

    That’s great, but do you think it’s going to make a dent in the trend of ever-expanding government and ever-expanding executive power? I’m not entirely sure that anything is going to reverse those trends. It’d be a fantastic victory for liberty and America if we did, but I’m not holding my breath.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    March 27, 2007

    Poly wrote:

    What has happened is that these people were purged from any positions of power in the Republican Party, which has become a party of marginalized extremism. Even the word “conservative ” has been coopted by that parallel repugniverse. It is unlikely that these people will be let back in by the current Republican power structure.

    So they find themselves out of power with nowhere to go. All I can say is that they deserve it.

    Perhaps you could be more specific. How, when and by whom was Bruce Fein “purged” from positions of power in the Republican Party? He served in two Republican administrations and then went into academia. There is no “purge” that I’m aware of. Barr left the Republican party on his own and became a Libertarian. Keene has held many positions with prominent Republicans over the last 40 years, but I’m not aware that he was ever “purged” by the party. Viguerie remains an immensely powerful fundraiser for the party; again, no purge that I’m aware of. Is there anything specfic you can offer here?

    While I appreciate their belated enlightenment, it was they themselves, and folks like them, who short-sightedly facilitated and enabled the current Republicans to put us into the situation we now find ourselves. Maybe if they had been open to other viewpoints before this, and not assumed attitude of know-it-all arrogance, we wouldn’t be here.

    Again, perhaps you can be more specific. In the case of Fein, at least, there is no belated enlightenment; he has been blasting Bush’s unconstitutional behavior from the moment it started. He’s a true conservative intellectual who cares more about what’s right than about what is politically expedient. I think the same is true of Keene. Barr and Viguerie I’m a bit more skeptical about. But I find this notion that they’ve somehow been “purged” from the Republican party and that’s why they’re doing this to be quite silly.

  14. #14 Nomen Nescio
    March 27, 2007

    i want a couple more items added onto that list, although technically i suppose they wouldn’t address the liberties of private citizens directly.

    eleventh, no presidential pardons for members of an immediately previous administration for any crimes thay committed, allegedly committed, or may have committed, while members of said administration.

    twelfth, full and public investigations, without political interference of any kind, of any and all crimes credibly alleged to have been committed by members of any administration, starting with the most recent such.

    after all, what’s the point of asking only future presidents to play by the rules if all past ones are to get away with their bastardry?

  15. #15 Jeff Hebert
    March 27, 2007

    Ed Said:

    I don’t want a Democratic president having unconstitutional authority any more than I want a Republican president to have it.

    100% agreed. This isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a partisan issue; no President, regardless of what letter is after their name, should have this kind of power.

    That’s one reason I think the timing on this is excellent. Get the Democrats on board now, while they think it hurts Bush, and the Republicans on board now while they’re afraid a Democrat will win, and this has a chance of having an impact of some sort. Otherwise, whichever party wins is going to put it on the back burner, much as the Democrats did their “Minority Bill of Rights” push (much to my chagrin).

    If this waited until after the election it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. I’ve put notice on this up at my blog as well, so hopefully both people who read it will take up the cause :-)

  16. #16 mg
    March 27, 2007

    You should forward this to Gribbit. There’s a good chance his head would explode.

  17. #17 Poly
    March 27, 2007

    Brayton said:

    Perhaps you could be more specific. How, when and by whom was Bruce Fein “purged” from positions of power in the Republican Party?…There is no “purge” that I’m aware of.

    Sure.

    Bruce Fein’s bete noir in the Administration is David Addington, former Cheney legal advisor and now chief-of-staff to Cheney. Despite Fein’s numerous attacks on him and his legal theories, Addington is still very much an insider in the Republican power structure, and Fein is still on the outside looking in. If Fein’s opinion meant anything anymore to the current Republicans, why would Addington still be wielding power? Fein has no juice, even against the one person he most wants to see out of there.

    So who is in power, and who is out of it?

    Barr left the Republican party on his own and became a Libertarian.

    Really? Ex-Congressman Barr is “ex-” because he was overwhelmingly defeated in 2002 in a primary by Bush Republican John Linder. Linder is still in Congress. Barr didn’t become a Libertarian until 2004. Do the math.

    So who is in power, and who is out of it?

    Viguerie remains an immensely powerful fundraiser for the party; again, no purge that I’m aware of.

    The only people that Viguerie has raised money for lately is [1] Larry Klayman (Republican primary loser in Florida in 2004)and [2] Howard Phillips (Constitution Party overall loser forever). You have a very strange definition of “immensely powerful fundraiser”.

    We don’t even have to ask who is in here, because Viguerie is so far out of power in the current Republican party he is just invisible.

    Oh, and by the way, which one of the Republican presidential candidates has brought on board this “immensely powerful fundraiser”? Or is he too busy doing the fundraising for the RNC? I’ll wait for an answer.

    In the case of Fein, at least, there is no belated enlightenment; he has been blasting Bush’s unconstitutional behavior from the moment it started.

    Really? Is this the same Bruce Fein who said, “I voted for him (Bush) twice and praised many of his measures or appointments…”? Maybe he has a clone?

    If there was any “blasting (of) Bush’s behavior” being done, it obviously wasn’t significant enough to alter Fein’s votes and praises as late as 2004.

    I also find partial agreement with some of the comments above. Despite all their protesting to the contrary, these paleocons really have no problem with Bush – or any other Republican – wielding these powers. What they do have is a bowel-loosening fear of a Democratic president taking over with anything like the powers that they have enabled Bush to accrue.

    Bunch of hypocrites.

  18. #18 Ed Brayton
    March 27, 2007

    Poly wrote:

    Bruce Fein’s bete noir in the Administration is David Addington, former Cheney legal advisor and now chief-of-staff to Cheney. Despite Fein’s numerous attacks on him and his legal theories, Addington is still very much an insider in the Republican power structure, and Fein is still on the outside looking in. If Fein’s opinion meant anything anymore to the current Republicans, why would Addington still be wielding power? Fein has no juice, even against the one person he most wants to see out of there.

    Which is a fancy way of saying “Fein disagrees with the Bush administration.” Yeah, no shit. That’s the whole point.

    Really? Is this the same Bruce Fein who said, “I voted for him (Bush) twice and praised many of his measures or appointments…”? Maybe he has a clone?

    If there was any “blasting (of) Bush’s behavior” being done, it obviously wasn’t significant enough to alter Fein’s votes and praises as late as 2004.

    Because Fein is a hawk on foreign policy matters. But on constitutional matters, he’s been a very consistent critic of Bush. Is that a bad thing? You seem to have this ridiculous “all or nothing” idea that someone has to agree with you on every single issue in order to praise what they say on any one thing. I just don’t work that way. There is much about Fein to criticize, but when it comes to the legal and constitutional issues he has been consistently outspoken in his opposition to Bush’s policies. I think that’s a good thing. We should welcome his help and the credibility he brings as a conservative. Just because you’ve designated him a political enemy doesn’t mean that you have to read ulterior motives into every statement someone makes. Believe it or not, it is possible to have sincere disagreement on one issue with someone and sincere agreement on other issues.

    Despite all their protesting to the contrary, these paleocons really have no problem with Bush – or any other Republican – wielding these powers. What they do have is a bowel-loosening fear of a Democratic president taking over with anything like the powers that they have enabled Bush to accrue.

    Utter bullshit. If that was the case, you have a very difficult time explaining Fein’s volumes of writing against Bush’s use and abuse of those powers. The problem, as I said above, is that you’ve designated him a bad guy in your head so you just can’t imagine that he could be sincerely correct on one issue and sincerely incorrect on another. Everything has to be subscribed to ulterior motives for which you have no evidence. This is how the partisan-minded think about virtually everything. And it’s quite absurd.

  19. #19 Perry Willis
    March 27, 2007

    Bravo Ed. Right on.

    Partisanship is a pill we take to make ourselves appear less intelligent than we actually are.

  20. #20 THobbes
    March 27, 2007

    Partisanship is a pill we take to make ourselves appear less intelligent than we actually are.

    I love it! That should be on a billboard, bumper sticker, or t-shirt.

  21. #21 James
    March 28, 2007

    Would-be Republican presidents should pay cloase attention to this, and take that pledge eagerly.

    In many ways its easier for a political party to act against its reputation as voters colour their perceptions of political actions based on reputation. This means that Republicans are seen as stronger on national security, even when they’re not. This means that the Democrats have to work harder to appear tough on national security than the Republicans, just like Republicans have to woark harder to appear compassionate.

    By taking the pledge canny Republicans could outflank hawkish Democrats and build a bipartisan support base.

  22. #22 G Barnett
    March 28, 2007

    I think I’m gonna swipe that partisanship line to use as a .sig on another board, if ya don’t mind, Perry.

    It’s just too good to pass up.

  23. #23 Perry Willis
    March 28, 2007

    I’m glad you like it THobbes (how’s Leviathan doing?) and G Barnett. I’ve been using it for years to good effect.

    You’re welcome to use it G. Barnett, though it would be nice if you added –Perry Willis to the end of it. I would hate for my line to become famous, and not me with it.

    Happy hunting.

  24. #24 Poly
    March 28, 2007

    Ed wrote:

    Which is a fancy way of saying “Fein disagrees with the Bush administration.” Yeah, no shit. That’s the whole point.

    Nice try at ground-shifting. But it won’t work. That isn’t the point. We were talking about how Fein and his cronies have been far removed from any position of power (“purged”) by the current Republicans. You claimed they aren’t. I guess you now concede that they are.

    We weren’t yet getting to how insignificant they are in general. But if you want to talk about how utterly irrelevant Fein and the rest have become, I’ll be glad to do that.

    Ed continues:

    Utter bullshit. If that was the case, you have a very difficult time explaining Fein’s volumes of writing against Bush’s use and abuse of those powers. The problem, as I said above, is that you’ve designated him a bad guy in your head so you just can’t imagine that he could be sincerely correct on one issue and sincerely incorrect on another.

    Not as difficult a time as you think. So let’s talk specifically about Mr. Fein and how “sincerely correct” he has been to date with his “volumes of writing”.

    [1] However critical Fein was of Bush and those around him before the 2000 election, it didn’t stop Fein from supporting those same people to take control of the government in 2000. That would be hypocrisy #1.

    [2] However critical Fein was of the on-going policies of the Bush administration, it didn’t stop him from wanting them to continue with their control of the government in 2004. That would be hypocrisy #2.

    [3] Finally, Fein praised the Bushite foreign policies and war-mongering, as if those policies could somehow be bracketed from whatever else they were doing. But while Fein was spinning up this fable, the Bushites themselves were claiming that all their policies were part of the same program. Can’t have it both ways. Either they are all part of the same program as is claimed, or the policies as a whole are misleading and deceptive. Fein put on the blinders about this ‘tiny’ detail, of course. And that would be hypocrisy #3.

    It’s just amazing the efforts that some people will make to put lipstick on a pig. Maybe I’m easily amazed. At this point in time, Fein and these other characters are only wasting our oxygen with their blather – lucky for us that most of the country doesn’t give a s**t about what they say anymore.

    I wanted to say something about the p-word nonsense you folks are tossing back and forth here, but the array of tin-foil headgear is just too distracting.

  25. #25 Comrade O'Brien
    April 1, 2007

    Greetings Comrades!
    We’ve been protesting the Military Commissions Act since October. If you’re interested in joining us, find out more at http://ministryoflove.wordpress.com
    Regards,
    O’Brien

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