Home / Abu Gonzales / "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

"If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

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Benjamin Wittes urges Alberto Gonzales to resign “to make possible a serious discussion of the future of FISA.” I think — at least in a fantasy world in which Congressional Democrats didn’t live in a permanent fetal-position defensive crouch on foreign policy and civil liberties issue — something like the opposite is true. As awful as his ongoing presence in office is in every other respect, Gonzales is serving a salutary purpose: a reminder that arbitrary executive power cannot be limited to wise, virtuous, and self-abnegating leaders but will sometimes be in the hands of people like Alberto Gonzales and George Bush. If you don’t want to give Gonzales de facto unlimited powers to engage in warrantless surveillance of any communication allegedly involving one individual outside the United States, then you shouldn’t give it to anybody. To respond that grants of arbitrary power would work more effectively with better people in office is no response at all unless a way of inserting a “only when there’s an administration we like” proviso, and certainly the United States Constitution is not based on the premise that the executive does its best work when exempted from any scrutiny from other institutions. Indeed, this of course goes beyond Gonzales — I wouldn’t want a Clinton or Obama administration to have these powers earlier.

Having said that, it’s not clear exactly what harm Gonzales is doing to Wittes’s objectives, given that (as he concedes) the Dems gave Bush everything they wanted anyway. You would have to be extraordinarily optimistic to think that the legislation will improve (from an anti-arbitrary power perspective) after it sunsets during a presidential election year.

Dahlia Lithwick has more.

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