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Bush's War Powers

    Questioned about warrantless eavesdropping, President Bush said this morning that he hasn't been "circumventing" the 1978 law that he has been ... well, circumventing. He admits he hasn't abided by the law, but "circumventing" is a word he's not ready to embrace.

   "FISA's still an important tool. It's an important tool, and we still use that tool. But, also -- and I looked. I said, 'Look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law?' And people said, 'It doesn't work in order to be able do the job we expect to us do.' And so, that's why I made the decision I made. And, you know, 'circumventing' is a loaded word. And I refuse to accept it, because I believe what I'm doing is legally right."

   As a public service, we offer some alternative words that the president might use:







   Actually, "circumventing" isn't a terribly loaded word, especially compared to some of the alternatives. You could argue that it is a very precise, and fairly neutral word, with no implication of wrongdoing. One online dictionary defines "circumvent" as "to make a circuit around" or "to manage to get around especially by ingenuity or stratagem."

   But perhaps this discussion reveals a grander presidential prerogative. Perhaps he is sending the signal that, since 9/11, he has had not only the Constitutional and statutory power to eavesdrop on conversations without a warrant, but also to decide the correct definitions of words. HE NOW HAS POWER OVER LANGUAGE ITSELF. This is the ultimate expansion of presidential authority. (And if he says "Mission Accomplished," then by gosh, it is.)

   [Mid-afternoon digression: We must all hail Oprah Winfrey for admitting a mistake in her handling of the James Frey matter. (And thanks to the Boodle for pointing it out this morning.) "I regret that phone call," she said on her show this morning. "I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe." I had thought that the admission of error had become a lost art. Suddenly the universe seems a little more in balance. Oprah for President!]

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 26, 2006; 11:20 AM ET
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