Thursday, February 19, 2004

Me vs. Joseph M. Reynolds

After reading "Crushing discourse -- Taste of power corrupts Bush" by Joseph M. Reynolds on the ProJo's web site, I felt compelled to reply. Here is my response letter to the editors at the Journal, in total:

In his piece "Crushing discourse -- Taste of power corrupts Bush" of 2/19/2004 on the Journal's editorial pages, Joseph M. Reynolds asserts that there is a "trend toward excecutive sovereignty that President Bush is facilitating, as he runs roughshod over not just his political foes but also the branches of government that exist to check excecutive power." Further, Mr. Reynolds warns that President Bush's "method of governance" is "a method that is eradicating the sacred American tenets of judicial autonomy and citizen review." He claims the President has labeled those who oppose him politically as "unpatriotic" and "weak on terrorism." These are all very serious charges, none of which Mr. Reynolds supports with facts, only with his own assertions.

The cornerstone of his piece at first appeared to be the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi. Unfortunately, it was subsequently revealed that Mr. Reynolds use of the Hamdi case was merely window dressing and Mr. Reynolds did not see the need to truly delve into the particulars of the case. This is too bad, because there is a genuine question at the heart of the issue. Does an American citizen, captured while fighting against his country in the field of battle have the same rights of legal representation as if he had been caught robbing the corner store?

The President and his administration, as well as the U.S. Military, believe that a prisoner of war, regardless of citizenship, does not have the same rights as a citizen charged with a criminal act. Others argue that he does have those rights, that he is not an "enemy combatant" but more of an accused criminal, and some even argue that those rights should be extended to non-citizens, such as those currently held in Guantonamo for fighting against the U.S. This is an important argument and the fact that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Hamdi's petition points to potential resolution of the debate.

However, Mr. Reynolds seems most eager to point out that the Court did so "over the objections of the Bush administration and its henchman, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft." As this is the first instance of many assertions made by Mr. Reynolds acusing President Bush of a power grab, it appears as if it is not Hamdi's case in particular that is important. Rather, Hamdi's case is important only in that provides Mr. Reynolds with an opportunity to show that the President is bent on establishing some sort of autocratic rule.

Perhaps this lack of focus on the real debate at the heart of the Hamdi case, combined with the priority that Mr. Reynolds places on asserting that the President is being corrupted by power, is why Mr Reynold's ends up contradicting himself. Later in his piece, Mr. Reynold's asserts that the President is somehow "eradicating the tenets of judicial autonomy," forgetting that he led off his piece with an instance of the Supreme Court proceeding with hearing Hamdi's case despite the Bush Administration's objections. If the President is intimidating the judicial branch to such a degree, how come the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case over the objections of the all-powerful and unchecked President? This internal contradiction in his piece probably explains why Mr. Reynolds cleverly removes any need to provide real supporting data when he states that his piece "does not call for anything specific" because "we haven't reached a point at which there are proposals to debate." Would that be because debate requires that facts be put forth instead of unsubstantiated polemics?

To summarize, Mr. Reynolds, while writing in a fine style with plenty of bold words and impressive literary styling, has warned the reader about a power hungry President with dreams of monarchy. This same President is supported by such "henchman" as John Ashcroft and runs roughshod over the judiciary (as shown by the Supreme Court having agreed to hear a case over the "monarch's" objections). Additionally, as Mr. Reynolds asserts, the "king" attempts to quash political opposition by calling those who oppose him "unpatriotic," yet somehow Mr. Reynolds managed to bravely shed light on the President's autocratic aspiration by utilizing the "free press."

Mr. Reynolds states that his column "calls for conversation" and that "[t]he need is dire." Mr. Reynolds states his hope for a Presidential election filled with true, ideological debate rather than "the catch-phrase-driven, image-conscious politics that have poisoned too many contests." A very interesting proposal given the imagery laden, factually challenged piece to which Mr. Reynolds had just subjected his readers. He calls for a Presidential debate filled with ideological substance over style. He did so in a piece full of literary style and little factual substance.

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