Ever since Mitt Romney came onto the political scene as a serious (ahem) presidential candidate it seems like we've heard a lot more talk about the famous White Horse prophesy of Joseph Smith. There is no exact quote from the Prophet, but the jist of it is that one day the Constitution will hang by a thread, and the nation itself will be in peril, and will be saved by the elders of the church.
With Pres. Obama now in charge of the nation there has been no shortage of idle chatter that the Constitution will soon, if not already, be hanging by the thread and need saving by someone like brave Mitt Romney. I enjoy the mental picture of hero-esque Mitt Romney on a valiant white steed, hair perfectly coiffed, sword in hand, riding in from the East to save the Constitution.
But I don't want to make the impression that it is a silly prophesy, or that there is no need to be vigilant in protecting the Constitution. In fact, these last few years we've come closer than ever before. We just learned that in 2002 the Bush administration, at the urging of (surprise!) Dick Cheney, considered sending the military to Buffalo, New York to make domestic arrests of suspected terrorists.
The Bill of Rights, which is part of the Constitution, protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizures," which has been universally interpreted to ban the use of military for domestic purposes, like making arrests. There is also the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as law enforcement. There is also the very spirit of Democracy and Freedom itself which informs normal Americans' fear of tyranny and unrestrained executive power.
Now, I've been to Buffalo and I consider it to be part of America. I also think that if the military showed up in my neighborhood to arrest a neighbor I might have some serious doubts about the health of our Constitution and our nation. For once we can praise the good sense of Pres. Bush who nixed the idea and sent the FBI.
As far as recent Constitutional thread-hanging, lets not forget the holding of American citizens in Guantanamo without charges or trial (Fifth and Sixth Amendments), or Richard Cheney claiming that the vice president is not part of the executive branch (Article II) or really the legislative branch (Article I) with the implication that the Constitution does not apply to him (seriously, gasp), or warrantless wiretaps (Fourth Amendment), or any of a number of other offenses against our core document.
Bush's snippings of the proverbial fibers from which the Constitution is suspended are just the latest in a long line of anti-Constitutional laws passed in times of war from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the suspension of habeus corpus; from the oppression of freedom of speech to the internment of Japanese Americans.
Here is the difference I see, though. In the previous cases (we're talking the War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars) the wars were discrete engagements with clear goals and obvious starting and ending points. The war on terror, as defined by the Bush administration, was open-ended and poorly defined. Bush was not the political equivalent of the Anti-Christ, intent on destroying America, but he, and more overtly Cheney, laid the blueprint for how it could be done.
First, identify a legitimate threat of terror or some other nefarious non-state actor. Second, exploit Americans' fear of this threat. Third, declare a war against it with poorly defined boundaries, goals, and strategies. Fourth, enact tyrannical anti-Constitutional laws in the name of protecting Americans from this threat. Fifth, pour a martini, sit back, and enjoy the fruits of unfettered power.
We are still at a point where we see unconsitutionality and call it out and fix it. We are still vigilant. I have no doubt that the day will come when the Constitution and the nation are threatened from within, but we are nowhere near that point now, we are further away from that point than we were in the previous eight years, and Mitt Romney will not be riding in on a White Horse any time soon.