A remarkable ceremony took place at the Pentagon last week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld swore in the civilians who will be reviewing the judgments reached by military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Here is their oath of office: “Does each one of you swear that you will faithfully and impartially perform according to your conscience and the rules applicable to the review filed by a military commission all the duties incumbent upon you as a member of the review panel, so help you God?”
George H.W. Bush: "Listen to this now, two days after Congress followed my lead [and authorized the first Gulf War], my opponent said this, and I quote directly: 'I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made.' Now sounds to me like his policy can be summed up by a road sign he's probably seen on his bus tour: 'slippery when wet.'"
Compare to George W. Bush, the Younger: "My opponent and his running mate voted against this money for bullets, and fuel, and vehicles, and body armor. When asked to explain his vote, the Senator said, 'I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I
voted against it.'"
Is there constitutional substance to the “war on terror”? The rhetoric of war has paid political dividends for President Bush, but that does not make it a compelling legal concept. The classic war is between sovereign states. The conflicts with Afghanistan and Iraq were wars; the struggle against al-Qaeda is not. And in contrast to classical wars, the war on terrorism will never end. So if we choose to call this a war, we will never return to a legal world in which individual rights are respected as a matter of course.
This has been a momentous month for campaign finance reform. Although the McCain-Feingold law has now been upheld by the Supreme Court, the traditional public funding system has been killed by a remarkable alliance between Howard Dean, John Kerry and President Bush.
It is easy to wring one's hands, especially with a presidential campaign approaching, over the scandalous state of the public's knowledge about politics. But is there anything practical to be done? There is, and the answer can be found in a new and promising practice called Deliberative Polling. In Deliberative Polling, a scientific, random sample of citizens doesn't simply answer questions over the telephone. Instead, this group spends a weekend deliberating on major issues of public policy. Intensive deliberations would enable them to move beyond the sound bites, and they would leave with a more confident sense of their capacities as citizens.