Q&A Friday #56: Is George Bush Going To Read My Letters To Grandma?

Question:“WASHINGTON – President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.

This from the Daily News. Are we willing to allow the President this additional power? Has President Bush over used his signing powers? Is anyone fearful of the extent of government peeking into our lives? How far will we let them go?” — Let_It_Be

Answer: First of all, despite what the article says, this isn’t an “additional power.” The President already has the right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions:

“White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said today that the signing statement was meant merely “to clarify that he already has the authority” to open mail in certain emergencies.

“The president is not claiming any ‘new authority,'” the White House said in a new statement. “The signing statement merely recognizes a legal proposition that is totally uncontroversial: that in certain circumstances — such as with the proverbial ‘ticking bomb’ — the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches.”

Lawrimore said such presidential power would not infringe upon Americans’ privacy, because it “would only be used in extraordinary circumstances.”

The Dec. 20 signing statement said the president had the power to check mail “in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”

Moreover, George Bush doesn’t want to read your letters to Grandma and he’s not going to sign off on opening Nancy Pelosi or Michael Moore’s mail because it would leak out and he would get impeached. That goes for any Republican President.

Now, a Democratic President could get away with reading mail to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. Just look at all the FBI files that the Clinton Administration got away with looking through — and that was already illegal.

So, if say “President Hillary” wants to look at someone’s mail, she won’t need a signing statement because she’ll be confident that the Democrats in Congress will back her no matter what happens. That means there will be nothing for her to worry about. So, the whole, “What if the other side gets this power? Would you worry then?” argument really doesn’t come into play in this case.

Last but not least, this whole “controversy” is typical of the sort of minutiae people tend to get bogged down in today’s political environment. The President of the United States has the authority to pick up the phone, at any time of the day or night, and order a nuclear strike on another country. But, you have people sitting around fretting about his having the power to look at a letter in an emergency situation. It’s silly.

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