Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
President Bush would have to answer yes.
Ben has provided a link-ful analysis of the illegal wiretap situation here. I won't reiterate what he said, so I'll just trust that you've gone there, read his comments, clicked on the links, etc. already.
If I recall correctly, wasn't it illegal surveillance that brought down Nixon?
Come to think of it, Bush and Nixon have a lot in common. Both had groundbreaking political strategists, both aimed their campaigns at those fearful of societal change, and both have a severe problem with paranoia. Bush's, though, is a bit more understandable - as Kurt Cobain once said, "It's not paranoia if they're really after you."
I have a habit of ascribing good intentions to people unless I am certain that the alternative is true. This may get me into trouble someday, but until it does, I'm going to keep doing it. So I assume that Bush is only doing what he thinks is necessary to protect Americans from terrorists. That doesn't make his actions good, just not evil.
Let's put everything we know together. Bush wants to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Not only that, but Bush believes that it is his divine calling to do so. Bush has a habit of ignoring evidence that contradicts his theories while emphasizing evidence that fits his theories (see: Iraq and al-Qaeda). Finally, Bush values secrecy. The warrantless wiretaps are an outgrowth of these perspective. Any qualms about the execution of such powers would have been immediately dismissed - a President's gotta do what a President's gotta do, he might say. The Administration simply would not have done the necessary work to find the 72-hour provision Ben mentioned, and even if it had, Bush would not have liked revealing his plans to anyone besides the Congressional leaders and members of his inner circle.
Take the Prize Cases mentioned by the Daily Kos guy. If you read it as if you were looking for justification for Bush's assertion of unfettered power, you could find it. The narrow application of these cases is not apparent to the Bush circle, who would place the Civil War and the War on Terror in the same category if it fit their needs.
So Bush has a predilection for unintentional intellectual dishonesty. But here's the final conclusion we can draw from the wiretap debacle: Bush simply does not understand the reasons behind the checks on executive power. He doesn't understand why such checks would even be there. He trusts himself to limit the use of tactics like warrantless wiretaps and indefinite detentions to terrorism suspects. And so many Americans - the kind that say things like "if you're not a terrorist you have nothing to fear" - trust him too.
It is not this President that I don't trust. It is all Presidents. It is all people who hold a position of power. And were I to hold such a position, I would not trust myself. We cannot entrust anyone - even the most seemingly trustworthy people - with even the hint of the ability to exercise unchecked power. That is why we have the Constitution. That is why we have our laws regulating surveillance and detention. And because President Bush does not understand this simple fact, that is why he is not fit to serve as President.
One positive out of this, though: Sens. Specter and Leahy have promised to ask Samuel Alito about this issue when he comes up for confirmation in January. At least some of that confirmation battle might be about important stuff.