Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Sunday, April 30, 2006
Bush: Igoring the law
One of the principle pledges of the president of the United States is that he will "faithfully execute the laws of the United States" and uphold the Constitution. What is clearly emerging with the Bush administration is a sentiment that they need do neither, and that the president can instead claim for himself unlimited war powers that supersede the Constitution, and make the laws passed by Congress irrelevant. What the difference between such a belief and dictatorship is difficult for me to see. From the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

''There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. ''This is really big, very expansive, and very significant." ...
There's much more. Read the whole thing.

More on this chilling subject, with a hat tip to Crooks and Liars, from Arthur Silber, and Jacob Hornberger, whose "A Democratic Dictatorship" is this week's must-read. Says Silber:
In his bracingly clear and concise article, Hornberger debunks two common but utterly misguided objections to these statements of fact. The first objection is that Bush can be trusted and that, in effect, he "means well," that he's only trying "to protect us." Among many other problems, this ignores that every authoritarian leader in history has made the same claim: that his regime is concerned only with the good of his people, or the good of his country, or to further the will of God, or... Except for the rare cases of sadists who glory in their openly acknowledged cruelty, rulers and their henchmen always claim to have the best of intentions, at least in the beginning.

It is worth noting Hornberger's response to the second objection:

"Well, then, where are the mass round-ups, and where are the concentration camps?"

Again, people who ask that type of question are missing the point. The point is not whether Bush is exercising his omnipotent, dictatorial power to the maximum extent. It’s whether he now possesses omnipotent, dictatorial power, power that can be exercised whenever circumstances dictate it — for example, during another major terrorist attack on American soil, when Americans become overly frightened again.

I've made this point repeatedly over the last several years, and it is only a measure of the remarkably primitive quality of our national conversation that so many Americans seem incapable of grasping it.

To put the point the other way, which will hopefully penetrate the wall of resistance erected by so many people: the only reason you aren't in a concentration camp right now is because Bush hasn't decided to send you to one -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention. What is even worse than the loss of liberty is the fact that most Americans aren't even aware that the loss has occurred. If there are any national leaders who understand these issues and have the courage to fight for our freedom here at home, they ought to realize that the battle must be waged now. Given the hysteria that followed 9/11 -- and the hysteria that would certainly follow another terrorist attack in the U.S. of the same or even greater magnitude -- protesting against round-ups at that point would be entirely futile, and would come far too late.
[Emphasis mine.] The bottom line question really is, if you trust the Bush administration so coompletely that you're willing to permit that in theory, he could jail you without trial, but you assume he won't do so because 1) he's a "good man" and 2) you're an "innocent" American, then you've already lost your grip on the bottom line values of democratic citizenship. Unfortunately, when I listen to about half the callers on C-SPAN or read folks like my friend AJ Strata, whose cheerleading and propagandizing for the Bush administration and its blatant seizures of power takes on an almost 1930s Bavarian quality, I really do fear that it is already too late, and that many well-meaning Americans, like AJ, are all-too ready to give their liberties away, on Bush's word alone -- and worse, to cheer and applaud as the Constitution is swirling down the drain.

And at least people like AJ are talking aobut it. Most Americans are watching this country lose its representative democracy and they don't even know it's happening.

Tags: freedom, government, civil liberties, Politics,
posted by JReid @ 4:24 PM  
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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