Prof. Jonathan Turley: "Stop Being a Country of Chumps!"

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“Wherever the real power in a government lies, there is the danger of oppression.”

— James Madison [1]

Baltimore, MD – On September 18, 2006, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) held a very informative program to honor the 219th anniversary of the birth of the U.S. Constitution. One of the featured speakers at the splendid event, entitled “Constitution Day at MICA,” was Professor Jonathan Turley of the George Washington U.’s School of Law, in the District of Columbia. He’s a nationally recognized expert on Constitutional law, national security and terrorism-related legal issues.

Professor Turley began his lecture by recalling the struggle to create the Constitution. He called it “a novel experience” and praised its prime architect, James Madison of Virginia, for his genius and tenacity in writing it. [1] “The Constitution,” he continued, “is a common article of faith that binds us, no matter how hateful the debate, because we have a common legacy found in that document. That is why, it drives me crazy when the President (George W. Bush) says: ‘This is our defining moment.’ We had that defining moment in the 1700s, when we agreed to a Constitution that bound us all and it required a leap of faith.

“I happened to believe we are living through a crisis of faith,” Professor Turley emphasized. “There are people in our government, who for some reason, have lost faith in their heritage…There is only one rule, in the Madisonian system, that can never be broken. And, that rule is: you cannot go outside the rules…Madison built a system that is idiot proof. God knows we have tested that. We have had morons for president and we are still here. It is a system designed to survive…You have to take the leap of faith. President George Bush is a relativist…He’s a legal relativist. He believes the law is a technicality…He always has. It doesn’t make him evil. It just makes him a man of zeal.”

Background on the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the site of the conference: It predates the American Civil War. It was founded in 1826, just nine years after Madison finished his second term as president. It is the oldest college of arts in the country and is located on Mount Royal Avenue in the “Monumental City,” near the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Bolton Hill neighborhood. During WWII, MICA helped to facilitate the training of students to work in jobs, requiring expert drafting and drawing skills, in the important aircraft and maritime sectors, related to the war effort. The organizer for the “Constitution Day” program was MICA’s Robert Merrill, a Professor of Literature and Humanities, who also gave an inspiring keynote address at the affair.

After 9/11, Professor Turley said the Bush-Cheney Gang spoke of the Constitution “as if it were the threat! Why,” he wondered, “after 200 years, this loss of faith in our system? I suggest it is because this administration intentionally set a course before 9/11 to reinvent the presidency…to have an uber presidency…After 9/11, they could have asked to hang Americans on meat hooks and Congress would have granted it. They were getting everything they wanted–immediately…Why wouldn’t the Bush administration go to the Congress and ask for the authority of a military tribunal?”

Professor Turley further asks: “Why would the President assert the authority to create a legal system, that he alone designed–a prison system, that he alone ran–a court system that he created by his own rule and through this, people could be held indefinitely–even put to death–at his discretion? Why would you do that? I think it is all about reinventing the office of the presidency…The checks and balances in the Constitution…designed by Madison…keep ambitions in check-and it [the Constitution}is stable…What has occurred in the last few years is the greatest threat to the separation of powers in the history of this government…Meanwhile, Congress has completely failed to exercise oversight…We’re afraid and when you’re afraid, the Constitution becomes an abstraction…It is treated as a piece of paper…Our worst injuries [as a country] in history have all been self-inflicted…Sending Japanese-Americans [during WWII] into camps, the Palmer Raids and arrests [during WWI]..We always hear about how bad they are [the terrorists], but we never hear about: ‘Who we are!..’ Now, we are even having a debate [in the U.S. Congress] about embracing torture, like waterboarding.”

Professor Turley also lamented: “We have a two-party system, which isn’t enough. They have a monopoly on power. We have one party running on: ‘We’re the lesser of two evils.’ No other ideas beyond that. And, the Republicans are running on: ‘Vote for me, or die!’ And, it isn’t just the Republicans…The Democrats have the same flaws. Hillary Clinton [U.S. Senator, NY-Democrat], voted for the Patriot Act and for most of this [anti-civil libertarian] stuff. She has only rediscovered civil liberties when it became popular to do so, as did the rest of them.”

C. “Chuck” William Michaels of Baltimore, an attorney, was the other panelist, with Professor Turley, in the segment of the conference which dealt with “Executive Power and the Separation of Powers” doctrine. He’s the author of the very popular book, “No Greater Threat,” which is now in its second printing. It deals with the passage by the U.S. Congress and baleful effects of the draconian USA Patriot Act. Elaine Cassel, a professor at MICA, and an author of the “War on Civil Liberties,” served as the moderator. A second panel considered the topic, “International Law and the U.S. Constitutional Democracy.” Participating in that segment were: author and attorney Ann Fagan Ginger, who edited “Landmark Cases Left Out of Your Casebooks;” Green Party activist Asa Gordon; and ACLU and Human Rights’ attorney, Jamil Dakwar. Herbert Foerstel, author of “Refuge of a Scoundrel,” served as the moderator for that part of the program.

Finally, Professor Turley summed up his insightful and compelling presentation by saying: “The Republic has within it the seeds of its own destruction…If [the people] look the other way, do nothing, then we will be redefined. We will no longer be the people we were…One of my biggest fears is that my generation will give away the legacy that we got from the generation that came before us. And that we will untether our civil liberties from the system that was created in the brilliance of the 18th century…We have to stop being a country of chumps…We need another political party. We’re certainly choosing between the lesser of two evils, and as the saying goes–‘You are guaranteed evil!'” [2]

Notes:

[1]. “James Madison, a Biography” by Ralph Ketcham. An indefatigable public servant, all 5’4” of him, and a lover of the Classics, Madison also spearheaded the adoption, after another very difficult legislative and political battle, of the Bill of Rights. See for details of that herculean effort, “James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights,” by Richard Labunski.

[2]. You can view some of Professor Turley’s remarks, at the MICA-sponsored conference, here:
http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=liamh2
or here:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?
docid=6744105461240781186&q=william+hughes

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