Even for a particularly fevered election season you would think that an MSNBC guy who wants to convince his audience that he's both morally and intellectually superior to the Fox crew would have the brains to understand that such a claim requires proof. Uh...apparently not.
Keith Olbermann, you see, doesn't like President Bush. So far so good. I love the President but this is a democracy, and if Bush-bashing is the way Keith thinks he can bring more eyeballs to his show and stop those 700 pink slips at his failing network, so be it. Maybe he really believes I have an undiscovered soft spot for his translation of the Angry Left "Bush lied" mantra into the more formal Olbermann-speak: "Your words are lies, Sir. They are lies that imperil us all."
Come to think of it, that last sentence has some bearing on what has emerged as Keith's strange defense of slavery. Why? Because in his haste to Bush-bash on the signing of the Military Commissions Act and what Olbermann calls "the death of habeas corpus" (meaning the denial of certain rights to terrorists), Mr. Olbermann uttered words that are, if I may borrow, "lies, Sir."
Olbermann charges George W. Bush has done something no one has managed to do before -- "killed the writ of habeas corpus." To illustrate the death of this ancient principle -- which he goes on to say "kills our Bill of Rights" Olbermann then goes back through a highly selective version of American history while making a very curious omission. An omission that makes one wonder just what really goes on in this guy's head.
One of the reasons black Americans are not slaves today, or even slaves living in another country called the Confederate States of America, is that President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
To his credit, before butchering his history Olbermann does tell his viewers exactly what the relevant phrase in the Constitution says. It reads, in its entirety, this way: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."
Lincoln saw rebellion in the 1860s -- but his critics disagreed. According to Lincoln's most famous biographer, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg, when the government picked up one John Merryman on charges of treason for using "arms belonging to the United States" to further "armed hostility against the Government," no less than the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger Taney, tried to block Lincoln. Taney, a Maryland slave holder who had authored the infamous Dred Scott decision that attempted to make slavery constitutional, stated Olbermann's view of Bush: "It is a plain case, gentlemen, [that] the President, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, cannot suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, nor authorize any military officer to do so."
Remember here that unlike Bush and the congressionally passed Military Commissions Act, Lincoln acted alone. And continued to do so, the military continuing to arrest people like the four police commissioners in Baltimore, avowed secessionists all, who tried to disband the police to thwart the Union effort. Lincoln, acutely aware of Taney's personal sentiments, took him on directly. He made it plain that he had suspended the writ of habeas corpus because "public safety" required it. Challenged the President: "[Should] the Government itself go to pieces, lest that one [law] be violated? Even in such a case I should consider my official oath broken, if I should allow the Government to be overthrown, when I think the disregarding the single law would tend to preserve it."
This infuriated the Keith Olbermanns of the day. Lincoln, charged Ohio's Democratic Congressman and premiere Lincoln-hater Clement Vallandigham, "entered this city [Washington] under cover of night and disguise." Meaning Lincoln was a coward. Sandburg picks it up this way, focusing on Vallandigham's loudly expressed views:
"On being sworn in, the President announced in the same breath that the platform of his party should be the law unto him; from that moment all hope of peaceful adjustment fled. 'Hate [said Vallandigham] sat enthroned, and the sacrifices of blood smoked upon every altar.' Habeas corpus and the guarantees of personal freedom vanished. 'The Attorney-General, first of all men, proclaimed in the United States the maximâ€¦Whatever pleases the President, that is law!'" Then, he demanded, "let slavery alone."
Lincoln refused. He would not budge on habeas corpus. Precisely like George W. Bush, he sought congressional authorization of his actions. Pennsylvania's anti-slavery Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Lancaster pushed through the Habeas Corpus bill of March 1863, the Military Commissions Act of its day. Saying "[I]n the midst of arms, laws are silent," Stevens stated flatly that the so-called "Peace Democrats" were really, in Sandburg's words, "counselors at law" for slave owners.
But as with the Bush-hating Olbermann the Lincoln-haters thundered on. Writing something termed "The Lincoln Catechism" one publisher penned lines like these:
Question: What is a President?
Answer: A general agent for negroes.
Question: What is the habeas corpus?
Answer: It is the power of the President to imprison whom he pleases as long as he pleases.
In his home state of Illinois Democrats prepared legislation that did precisely two things: restore the writ of habeas corpus and "bar Negroes from entering Illinois."
Ignoring cries that he was "Judas Iscariot" betraying the Constitution Lincoln kept his head. "The greatest care was taken by the President," noted his secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, "to restrain the officers acting under his authority from any abuse of this tremendous power. He watched over this with increasing vigilance as the war went on."
There is much more in the rich history of Democrats crying foul or failure to Lincoln's efforts in responding to rebellion and fighting slavery. Olbermann ignores this by memorably quoting no less than -- brace yourself -- Senator John Kerry as saying on the subject of Bush and habeas corpus: "Well, we're not in a rebellion nor are we being invaded." Quite aside from the idea that Kerry spent four months fighting and winning medals in South Vietnam yet didn't think it had been invaded by North Vietnam, one wonders whether either he or Olbermann have read the dictionary definition of "invade"?
Invade, says Webster, is "to enter forcefully as an enemy, go into with hostile intent." Not to put too fine a point on it, but go back and take a look at the pictures of those 9/11 planes in New York and Washington as they plowed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. That sure looks like "entering forcefully" with "hostile intent" to me.
Olbermann clearly has no intention of going there. To realize that simply because he is a black man Barack Obama would be in shackles rather than the U.S. Senate today if Lincoln had listened to the Keith Olbermanns of the era is something Olbermann either doesn't understand -- or understands exactly and hopes the rest of us will ignore. Protect habeas corpus at the price of accepting the slavery of African-Americans? Please.
Whether all of this amounts to lies of omission or commission to his viewers Olbermann is clearly guilty of, as he likes to say, "lies, Sir!"
The man who loves to feature his judgment of others as what he calls "The Worst Person in the World" retires the award for Worst Commentator in the Universe.
Either way, this kind of low rated silliness merits one response from viewers.
Do you really wonder why MSNBC is in free fall?
Jeffrey Lord is the author of The Borking Rebellion. A political director in the Reagan White House, he is now a writer in Pennsylvania.
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