- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

For all the divisiveness about the president and the Constitution, it’s good to have the document in the news again. As Daniel Webster said of it, “Miracles do not cluster. Hold on to the Constitution and the republic for which it stands.” Among those now most urgently holding on are certain conservatives who support the president in the war on terrorism but question his assumption of unilateral powers.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, in urging Congress to hold its recent hearings on the scope and depth of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveilling, spoke to the crucial restoration of the separation of powers:

“No one would deny the government the power it needs to protect us all, but when that power poses a threat to the basic rights that make our nation unique, its exercise must be carefully monitored by Congress and the courts.”

In reporting what should be a nonpartisan issue on the separation of powers, Cybercast News Service on Jan. 18 also carried a comment by Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, on why gun owners are particularly concerned with the NSA wiretapping program: “If the law is not reformed, ordinary Americans’ personal information could be swept into all-encompassing federal databases encroaching upon every aspect of their lives.”

That this is already happening, not only to gun owners and not only in federal databases, has been carefully and rivetingly documented in Robert O’Harrow’s “No Place to Hide.” This book is a manual of privacy self-defense for all “ordinary” Americans.

And the conservative Free Congress Foundation — of which Paul Weyrich is chairman and CEO, and to which I am indebted for a weekly update on our diminishing privacy — makes a liberty-saving point in questioning the care and accountability of the FBI’s targeting groups such as Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: “Make no mistake, the Free Congress Foundation is adamantly opposed to the agendas of both groups and has little respect for their tactics. They push the boundaries. However, put another administration in power — one bent on enforcing political correctness — and it will no longer be Greenpeace or PETA that is under the microscope. It will be property-rights groups, pro-lifers, defenders of traditional values, Second Amendment stalwarts.”

Conservatives such as Mr. Keene, Bob Barr and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, are taken to task for what the National Review calls “the strangest company they are keeping” in working to hold on to the Constitution.

My goodness, writes Byron York in the Feb. 13 National Review: “in October 2003… Keene and Norquist appeared at a panel discussion of the Patriot Act — moderated by the left-wing actor Alec Baldwin — sponsored by the liberal activist group People for the American Way.”

I appeared at an annual meeting of the American Conservative Union on a panel discussion of the Patriot Act, with Mr. Barr as my partner, criticizing that far-too-hastily passed legislation. Subsequently, I wrote about Mr. York’s admirable, invaluable reporting on the distortion of federal judicial nominee Charles Pickering’s record by Sen. Charles Schumer and his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As a critic of the Patriot Act, I hope I didn’t mar Mr. York’s credibility at the National Review by praising him at the time.

Webster declared, “If the American Constitution shall fail, there would be anarchy throughout the world.” He was unable to foresee the murderous terrorism now spreading throughout the world — and how easy it was for the Organization of Islamic Conference, at its December summit in Mecca, to set the stage for the manipulated, destructive mass demonstrations against the cartoons of Mohammed that had appeared months before — without any such multination furor.

Instead of keeping lists of who appears with whom at various meetings, it would be much more restorative of constitutional values if conservatives, liberals and independents were to unite in a campaign to strengthen the currently lamentable state of teaching the history and contents of the Constitution throughout all levels of our educational system.

How many colleges, for instance, have as many courses, if any, on that founding explanation of why we are Americans, as does the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan? And I would start in the lower grades around the country with how we gained, and have kept, our liberties. Not jingoistic stories, but the actual tumultuous history of our Constitution.

And, by the way, are key presidential advisers Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld constitutional scholars? The president needs one.

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