This evening the Republican presidential candidates held their second televised debate. I suppose I should acknowledge that although I haven't settled on a candidate myself (I like to give them all a chance to persuade me), I'm highly unlikely to vote Republican. There are things about each of the ten Republican contenders that give me pause, although Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) probably is the least offensive. Of course, he has no chance of winning the primary.
A development that has surprised me has been the extent to which Rudy Giuliani, perhaps more than any of the other Republican candidates, worries me. He worries me in part because I think he can win the election. Even more so, he worries me because he shows so little regard for the rule of law. Before this campaign, my understanding of Giuliani was that he was, by Republican standards, a moderate -- someone who would have appeal to some conservative-leaning Democrats. And maybe that's true; he does (sort of) support a woman's right to an abortion, for example.
Giuliani said something in tonight's debate that troubles me. I don't remember exactly what Brit Hume's question was -- it was a clownishly absurd question, because it asked the candidates to imagine a scenario that would almost certainly never occur -- but he asked Giuliani if he would support waterboarding and other "interrogation" techniques that the Justice Department defines as torture. Giuliani's response: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Presumably, "every method they can think of" would include waterboarding and other forms of torture. This, of course, would be a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and, consequently, of U.S. law.
This isn't the first time Giuliani has endorsed going outside the law in the name of national security. He has said he would support suspending habeas corpus -- a Constitutionally guaranteed right -- for U.S. citizens in the so-called war on terrorism, but promised to do this sparingly. So, he promises to break the law only occasionally. Do you trust him to define "sparingly" in whatever way he wants? I don't. That's why we have laws, and that's why we require the President (in theory) to abide by those laws. Richard Nixon's famous defense -- "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal" -- doesn't fly with me.
This should be an obvious point, but based on the applause Giuliani's comment generated at the debate, I don't think it is: the President of the United States should obey the laws of this country. We are a nation of laws, as the cliche goes. In this election cycle, I will support a candidate who pledges to defend our nation's Constitution, especially after eight years of Bush administration attacks on this founding document. The U.S. Constitution should not be treated by the President as some sort of inconvenient hindrance to our security or to his own political agenda; rather, it should be seen as the very basis of what makes this country free and secure. So, attention candidates: if you want my vote, convince me that you'll defend the Constitution. All of it.