Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pressuring Dems on Presidential Powers

If you thought that eventually common Americans would rise up in protest at Bush's totalitarian power-grabs, think again. "Respectable People" think everything's O.K. because the government would never use those powers of the King-President against them, only against those awful terr'ists. Independent Institute fellow Robert Higgs recently attended a discussion in St. Louis which opened his eyes somewhat:
My expressions of disapproval in regard to the government's recent invasions of liberties, in particular, elicited expressions of stunned disbelief. I had said that the government's announced claim is that the president may, at his sole pleasure, arrest, incarcerate, and punish, even put to death, anyone he describes as a terrorist, wholly denying due process of law to the accused terrorist. One lady adamantly insisted that I say exactly whose rights had actually been so violated. When I replied that the leading case concerns a U.S. citizen named Jose Padilla, I thought she might expire from apoplexy. No sooner had I uttered Padilla's name than she half shouted, half sputtered indignantly "a terrorist!" "How do we know," I replied, "if he does not receive due process of law? Are we to accept the government's claims solely on its officials' say-so?" Well, for this lady and for most of the others in the room, of course, we were to accept all such claims on the government's say-so. These respectables are simply incapable of imagining that the government they so blindly and enthusiastically support might do anything to harm THEM or, by extension, any other similarly respectable persons in the United States – clearly, the only people who matter.
This kind of "us and them" myopia, so carefully fostered by Rovian fearmongering, is why although I respect his writing greatly I think for once Glenn Greenwald is on the wrong track when it comes to his explanation for the Great Democrat Wimp-Out on the nomination of General Hayden as CIA director - and on just about every other issue connected to the rise of the King-President. Glenn believes that the Dems are simply used to operating "from a place of fear and excess caution" and will continue to do so even though they (subtext) know they should speak up. He believes that Dems on the Hill think they have a comfort zone now and can think to themselves:
President Bush is a lame duck who is out in 2008, and so it doesn't matter what he got away with or what he did. Conducting investigations into these intelligence and ”anti-terrorist” scandals will be depicted as obstructionist and weak on national security, and will jeopardize our chances to re-take the White House and will cost us House and Senate seats. It is best to look forward, not to the past, and not be seen as conducting vendettas against the lame duck President. What matters is taking the White House in 2008 and so there is no reason to attack the President on these matters of the past.
And he concludes:
I think Congressional Democrats will be more cautious and passive, not less so, if they take over one of the Congressional houses in 2006. People who operate from a place of fear and excess caution become even more timid and fearful when they have something to lose. The Democratic Congressional Chairs are going to be desperate not to lose that newfound power, and they will be very, very vulnerable to the whiny whispers of the consultant class that they should not spend their time and energy investigating this administration or vigorously opposing them on national security matters...there is no reason to believe they will be any better than they are now (and have been for the past four years) if and when they take over one or both Congressional Houses. One could make a compelling case that they will be even worse.
Glenn and I agree that the Dem leadership will only change their tune if forced to do so by a vocal and insistent message from their base - but Glenn thinks the current wimping is due to fear while I think it is due to a satisfaction with the status quo which is handing the next Dem majority and a Democrat President a massively greater power than they ever had before. In other words, I think the Democrat leadership knows the mood of the "Respectable People" and is just fine and dandy with the precedent Bush and the G.O.P. are giving them for ever more power to the incumbent party.

There are some who agree with me. Last week the St. Petersburg Times ran an op-ed from their regular columnist Robyn E. Blumner which nailed the danger.
the changes that George W. Bush has made to our nation's constitutional firmament may not depart with the first family's bags. His disregard for the separation of powers has so dramatically distorted the office of the president that he may have engineered a turning point in American history.

...Bush has taught tomorrow's leaders that, if there are no consequences for ignoring legal constraints on power and if no one stops you from conducting the nation's business in secret, you don't have to be accountable. He is ruling through the tautological doctrine of Richard Nixon, who told interviewer David Frost that as long as the president's doing it "that means it is not illegal.''
Blumner points out that some rightwing voices have been more vocal than the Democrats in Congress on the issue:
I challenge anyone to read an important new report by the libertarian Cato Institute ( and not be chilled. "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush" is an unblinking 28-page analysis of our slow devolution into autocracy. Its message can be summed up with this quote: "Under (the president's) sweeping theory of executive power, the liberty of every American rests on nothing more than the grace of the White House."
Blumner, like Greenwald, realises that someone has to hold future leaders accountable and that Bush has handed those future leaders a dangerous new method of governance.
Being answerable to another is humbling. It makes you more careful in your actions. It requires that you consider how you will defend your decisions. George Bush has freed himself of this constitutional imperative and is showing the next president, and the next, how it is done.
If, like many Democrat supporters, you blthly assume that a new Dem-led Congress or a Dem president will roll back the new Bush Doctrine of presidential power, I fear you are sadly mistaken in your optimism. Glenn Greenwald, like many other progressive commentators, seems to realize that his optimism may be misplaced but other than a vague call for pressure has no tactic to force the issue.

However, there is a way, as I have previously written. Just ask the damn question. It is a simple question and one which is, at base, unfair. It is:

Will you, if elected, pledge to roll back the Bush vision of total Presidential executive power?

Its unfair because, if the answer is no, then the candidate - and I mean for President, Senator, Congresscritter, Governor, whatever - has to launch into an explanation of why he or she thinks Bush's vision of utter power vested in the Oval Office is a good idea. I can't see any Democrat (or Republicans for that matter) being able to carry that one off in a way that will do them any good at all. The soundbite quotes it would hand their political opposition would be devastating. If the answer is "yes" less explanation is required and the soundbites will all be about balance of power and the vision of the Founders - good PR stuff - and then the pressure is there to act as if they mean it.

I feel so strongly about this that I am going to keep saying it in the hope that others pick up the idea and do something with it. I repeat:

Just ask the damn question.

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