John Edwards' dark leftist America

Our country's leftist radicals would provide habeas corpus, obtain warrants before eavesdropping and ban torture.


Glenn Greenwald
October 12, 2007 1:25PM (UTC)

(updated below - Update II)

Bill O'Reilly devoted the beginning of his show last night to warning Americans about the dangerous radicalism of John Edwards, proclaiming that "John Edwards has no chance to become president because he's simply too far-left for most Americans." After highlighting all the scary, fringe positions Edwards holds, O'Reilly summarized what the Far-Left America would look like once John Edwards got done with it:

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[W]ould you support President John Edwards? Remember, no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists, no branding the Iranian guards terrorists, and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant.

Who could even fathom an America plagued by habeas corpus, search warrants, and a military that fails to beat, freeze and mock-execute its detainees? And nothing is more sacred to core American values than branding other countries' armies as "Terrorists" ("The [Revolutionary] Guard is the SS of Iran").

O'Reilly has aptly highlighted here the new ideological divide in our political culture -- one is now on the "Left," usually the "Far Left," if one supports what were previously the defining attributes of basic American liberties, while one is "Serious" and "Responsible" and "Centrist/Right" only if one is too sophisticated and "tough" to actually think that such effete and abstract things matter. Under the cover of darkness, late at night, John Edwards must be reading filthy leftist tracts like this:

The observations of the judicious Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital: "To bereave a man of life, [says he] or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.

What shrill and irresponsible language Leftists always use. And Edwards, along with the Far Left minions he leads, obviously considers this subversive America-hater to be some sort of prophet:

The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume . . . .Freedom of the person under the protection of the habeas corpus I deem [one of the] essential principles of our government.

Sadly, today's Far Left is not the first un-American political faction trying to subvert freedom with their Edwardsian "warrant" fixation. This form of anti-Americanism was actually spawned by anticipatory Far Left America-haters who sought to undermine America before it was even born:

Over two centuries ago, Lord Mansfield held that common-law principles prohibited warrants that ordered the arrest of unnamed individuals who the officer might conclude were guilty of seditious libel. "It is not fit," said Mansfield, "that the receiving or judging of the information should be left to the discretion of the officer. The magistrate ought to judge; and should give certain directions to the officer." Leach v. Three of the King's Messengers, 19 How. St. Tr. 1001, 1027 (1765).

Lord Mansfield's formulation touches the very heart of the Fourth Amendment directive: that, where practical, a governmental search and seizure should represent both the efforts of the officer to gather evidence of wrongful acts and the judgment of the magistrate that the collected evidence is sufficient to justify invasion of a citizen's private premises or conversation. Inherent in the concept of a warrant is its issuance by a "neutral and detached magistrate." Coolidge v. New Hampshire, supra, at 453; Katz v. United States, supra, at 356. The further requirement of "probable cause" instructs the magistrate that baseless searches shall not proceed.

These Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillances may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive [407 U.S. 297, 317] Branch. The Fourth Amendment does not contemplate the executive officers of Government as neutral and disinterested magistrates. Their duty and responsibility are to enforce the laws, to investigate, and to prosecute. Katz v. United States, supra, at 359-360 (DOUGLAS, J., concurring).

But those charged with this investigative and prosecutorial duty should not be the sole judges of when to utilize constitutionally sensitive means in pursuing their tasks. The historical judgment, which the Fourth Amendment accepts, is that unreviewed executive discretion may yield too readily to pressures to obtain incriminating evidence and overlook potential invasions of privacy and protected speech. . . . .

The Fourth Amendment contemplates a prior judicial judgment, 18 not the risk that executive discretion may be reasonably exercised. This judicial role accords with our basic constitutional doctrine that individual freedoms will best be preserved through a separation of powers and division of functions among the different branches and levels of Government. Harlan, Thoughts at a Dedication: Keeping the Judicial Function in Balance, 49 A. B. A. J. 943-944 (1963). The independent check upon executive discretion is not [407 U.S. 297, 318] satisfied, as the Government argues, by "extremely limited" post-surveillance judicial review. 19 Indeed, post-surveillance review would never reach the surveillances which failed to result in prosecutions. Prior review by a neutral and detached magistrate is the time-tested means of effectuating Fourth Amendment rights. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 96 (1964).

Granted, that was written by some unelected Nixon-appointed Supreme Court judge trying to destroy America by ruling that the Constitution barred Richard Nixon from eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of Americans without advance, individualized judicial warrants. But the central point is still undoubtedly true -- namely, the pro-warrant Far Leftism which our nation's warriors must now battle has been threatening America not merely for decades, but for centuries. Worse still, even the most radical parts of the Far Left agenda -- such as the pro-Terrorist Rights doctrine opposing "coercive interrogations" -- has long lurked on the radical fringes in America, such as here and here.

Fortunately, there is widespread recognition of the dangers about which O'Reilly warns. As our Congress works heroically to make permanent the vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers it vested in the President two months ago and to protect the corporations which allowed warrantless surveillance in violation of the Leftist doctrine called "law," it is clearly understood in the Beltway that only the fringe Leftists -- the shrill partisan "activists" -- actually subscribe to this radical new agenda of "warrants," as well as the accompanying extremist doctrines such as the "rule of law"; "lawyers" for those we imprison permanently; and prohibitions on freezing people and keeping them cold and naked and chained to the floor.

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So for now, the Republic is safe from this Far Leftist agenda, thanks to the joint efforts of our media elite and responsible Congressional sheperds. But vigilance is always required. Far Leftist leaders like John Edwards are openly agitating for "no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant." If they have their way, America will be set back decades, even centuries, to that dark and shameful period when the above-quoted roster of Far Leftist radicals ran amok.

UPDATE: To emphasize: the point here is specific neither to Bill O'Reilly nor John Edwards. As O'Reilly warned:

"Talking Points" believes most Americans reject that foolishness. And it has become a problem for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Senator Obama is much closer to the Edwards view than Senator Clinton is, but the Democratic party can easily be branded as soft on terrorism. It's tough to make distinctions in this area.

And the political and media establishment generally shares O'Reilly's view that those who are so shrilly devoted to ideas such as warrants and habeas corpus and interrogation standards are, by definition, "leftists" and extremists.

It is also vital to note that Far Leftists have not only long crusaded for radical liberties such as "warrants" and "due process" but have also spouted the same dangerous foreign policy views now common among today's anti-war radicals, those Far Leftists trying to impede ongoing war with Iraq and a new glorious war with Iran. This dirty America-hating dovish radical, for instance, railed like an unhinged maniac -- with amazing specificity -- against exactly the same actions which the Irresponsible Far Leftists of today condemn.

UPDATE II: To underscore the key point here -- that O'Reilly's views of "leftism" and radicalism are shared generally by the Beltway establishment -- look at those two endlessly instructive columns on FISA by that bellweather of Responsible Serious Beltway Centrism, David Ignatius. In both columns, Ignatius rails against the two intractable, "absolutist" partisan sides which are blocking a fair, bipartisan solution. One excessively partisan side is Bush/Cheney, for refusing to allow FISA to be amended to make their warrantless eavesdropping legal. The other excessively partisan side are those who oppose amending FISA to legalize the President's warrantless eavesdropping activities.

The only responsible, centrist approach is from those who beg the White House to be allowed to re-write FISA to make legal the President's warrantless eavesropping activities. Those who opposed legalizing the President's NSA program -- on what ought to be the uncontroversial ground that warrants should be required for eavesdropping -- are "playing partisan games," "pursuing absolutist agendas," and impeding important centrist solutions.

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Thus, put another way, in the Ignatius/Beltway world, if you believe that the Government should have to get warrants before eavesdropping on the conversations and reading the emails of Americans, then you are -- for that reason alone -- a radical, shrill, obstreperous fringe partisan interfering with the Serious, responsible policy-makers in the Beltway. Seriously, that is literally what they believe, the prevailing Beltway view.

Read the Ignatius columns if you have doubts. Or watch over the next few weeks as the Congress rejects as "too liberal" the requirement of warrants and thus vests the President -- again -- with the power to eavesdrop on our conversations and read our emails with no warrants. Literally, what was once an unquestioned hallmark of the American form of government -- a belief in the requirement of warrants before the Government could intrude into our communications -- is now, in our Serious Beltway discourse, a fringe, Far Leftist view of shrill, obstructionist partisans.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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