Friday, June 06, 2008

McCain on Warrantless Surveillance: the more he McFlip-Flops, the more he’s McSame

Memo to John McCain: Republicans run to the right in the primaries, and to the left in the general.

That would be the usual pattern, anyway, but this is not a usual year, and because John McCain stands for little more than getting himself elected, he is still trying to shore up his rightwing base long after he clinched the Republican nomination. Which leads to articles like this:

Adviser Says McCain Backs Bush Wiretaps

WASHINGTON — A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

Mr. McCain believes that “neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the A.C.L.U. and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin wrote.

OK, then, if you vote for McCain, you are voting for four more years of the Bush Administration’s illegal domestic surveillance programs. That seems clear enough. Except that just six months ago, McCain said something kind of different.

In an interview about his views on the limits of executive power with The Boston Globe six months ago, Mr. McCain strongly suggested that if he became the next commander in chief, he would consider himself obligated to obey a statute restricting what he did in national security matters.

Mr. McCain was asked whether he believed that the president had constitutional power to conduct surveillance on American soil for national security purposes without a warrant, regardless of federal statutes.

He replied: “There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.”

Following up, the interviewer asked whether Mr. McCain was saying a statute trumped a president’s powers as commander in chief when it came to a surveillance law. “I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law,” Mr. McCain replied.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that while the language used by Mr. McCain in his answers six months ago was imprecise, the recent statement by Mr. Holtz-Eakin “seems to contradict precisely what he said earlier.”

While McCain’s imprecise language probably represents his incomplete understanding of the issues at hand, McSame’s recent voting record pretty much tells you where his ambitious, pandering, and (for a man who’s been through so much) remarkably empty heart lies:

In February, for example, Mr. McCain voted against limiting the Central Intelligence Agency to the techniques approved in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which complies with the Geneva Conventions. Mr. McCain said the C.I.A. needed the flexibility to use other techniques so long as it did not abuse detainees.

He also voted for legislation that would free telecommunications companies from lawsuits alleging that they illegally allowed the N.S.A. to eavesdrop on their customers’ phone calls and e-mail without a warrant. The legislation would also essentially legalize a form of surveillance without warrants going forward.

As the Times article notes, the folks at the National Review are thrilled no end that McCain has obliterated any daylight that might have existed between himself and George W. Bush. And, as Glenn Greenwald says in the same article, the new McCain spying doctrine is a “complete reversal” designed to “shore up the support of right-wing extremists.”

The misadventures of some McCain surrogates over recent weeks (again, detailed in the article) seem to show that their standard-bearer lacks a clear understanding of all that the current illegal surveillance debate encompasses—or likely doesn’t care to know much beyond whatever it takes to get McCain’s big money telecom donors off the hook. But the “evolution” of McCain’s position on warrantless wiretaps does teach an important lesson about McCain’s broader instincts: First, check with the interested corporate lobbyists; if still in doubt, just do the same as Bush.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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