PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don’t think it’s exactly wiretap, it’s eavesdrop on them.

MATTHEWS: What’s the difference?

BUCHANAN: Well, the difference is you’re not putting a wire, going over somebody’s stuff. What they’re doing is picking this stuff out of the air and going through it. It’s eavesdropping. Yes, he’s got the inherent constitutional right to do this, we’re in a war.

And in addition to that, the president has come out and openly defended it. He talked to Congress. I haven’t heard a single Democrat come out and say, “Mr. President, what you did is illegal, it’s criminal, stop it right now.” So the president has won this argument. ~Hardball, MSNBC

Via Scott Horton at Antiwar Blog.

Ramesh Ponnuru was, of course, terribly mistaken when he argued that the point of consensus for conservatives was protecting the Constitution. Quite the opposite might seem to be the case. Oddly, what inexplicably seems to bring together conservatives of many different stripes is deference to presidential power. As I have already suggested, for strict constructionists there can be no such thing as implied or inherent powers. These are as elastic, vague and fictive as anything that might emerge from a “living Constitution.” Such simple perversions of the Constitutions are, in fact, the beginning of usurpation, whether it is Hamilton’s abuse of the “necessary and proper” clause or Justice Marshall’s arbitrary invention of judicial review or any number of other creations that find no warrant in the fundamental law.

It stands to reason that if the president did have such inherent powers, he would have them not only in wartime but at all times. It would mean that he would, for ‘national security’ purposes, be perfectly legally justified to spy on anyone he deemed to be a threat, overseas or here in America; indeed, he would be justified in routinely violating protected rights of those whom he deemed dangerous, citizen or not, just as he has done with Jose Padilla and, apparently, as he believes he can do at will because he is the “commander-in-chief.” That is where the road of “inherent powers” leads, and it is the road to despotism.

Regardless of how “targeted” or “limited” any given program may be, Mr. Bush’s actions in the NSA case derive from a belief that citizenship provides no fundamental guarantees from arbitrary government detention, surveillance or seizure of property when it serves the national interest according to his definition thereof. That is plainly tyrannical. Enthusiasts for inherent presidential powers should ponder just what it is they are endorsing.

Regardless, whatever powers the officers of the United States have or do not have, they are not free to violate guaranteed rights when they deem it necessary. They do not get to make that decision. In other words, they are not free to break the law, but this is precisely what Mr. Bush did when he authorised warrantless surveillance inside this country, which is to say warrantless searches. Officers, like all other citizens, are, theoretically, subject to that law, which is supposed to be what distinguishes free men from subjects of another man. It is the difference between living in any kind of republic and an autocracy, and all together too many conservatives and pseudo-conservatives are abandoning whatever republican spirit they have left to serve as apologists for a usurper. Some, such as Mr. Buchanan, are doing this in a sincere conviction that it is what is necessary for the security of this country, but there can never be enough security to make living under an autocrat acceptable. Foreign enemies will come and go–the usurpations of all our tyrants remain with us and continue to bind us far into the future.