Of Laws and Men, and Would Be Monarchs
Dan Froomkin has been asking all the right questions the last couple of days, including a fantastic column today on NeimanWatchdog on the issue of Presidential Signing Statements:
There are crucial questions for the White House, for Congress, for Congress to ask the White House, and for reporters to ask every Congressional candidate before the November election.
"I think one of the important things here is for reporters to apply their journalistic instincts to this story," says Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University public administration professor. Cooper’s seminal scholarly article on signing statements appeared in the academic journal, Presidential Studies Quarterly, last fall.
Cooper wrote that the Bush White House "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress."
In fact, many of the objections the White House has raised in signing statements seem to be less about the specific legislation at issue and more about consistently resisting any limitations on executive power. For instance, any bill that requires a report to Congress sets off a signing-statement tripwire.
This is exactly right, and these questions desperately need asking by each and every reporter on the beat — and by everyday Americans who ought to require answers from their elected representatives and from their President. Froomkin documents the paltry coverage given this issue by other news organizations, beyond the substantial digging that Charlie Savage has been doing for the Boston Globe. (For which he deserves Pulitzer consideration for keeping this issue alive in the face of so much malaise from the rest of the blinders-on media crowd.)
There has been a lot of work on this issue in the blogs, but not so much in the media, and I would love to know why that is. Because it’s a difficult issue to explain to people without a legal background? Nah, I don’t think so — we talk about it here all the time, and we have hordes of non-legal readers. Because the media sees it as a non-sexy story? Maybe. But isn’t it worthy of digging when the issues of separation of powers and the Constitution are threatened by continued assault and the pressing of a unitary executive theory above and beyond any prior Presidential power grab? I think so…but then, I’ve blogged this issue a lot in the past.
Froomkin’s WH Briefing today includes a fantastic quote from Bruce Fein, former Assistant AG in the Reagan Administration and no liberal (I can recall wanting to throw things at the teevee whenever Fein was on testifying during the Reagan years, frankly). In this, though, Fein is spot on:
Bruce Fein, a Republican legal activist, who voted for Bush in both Presidential elections, and who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, said that Addington and other Presidential legal advisers had ‘staked out powers that are a universe beyond any other Administration. This President has made claims that are really quite alarming. He’s said that there are no restraints on his ability, as he sees it, to collect intelligence, to open mail, to commit torture, and to use electronic surveillance. If you used the President’s reasoning, you could shut down Congress for leaking too much. His war powers allow him to declare anyone an illegal combatant. All the world’s a battlefield — according to this view, he could kill someone in Lafayette Park if he wants! It’s got the sense of Louis XIV: ‘I am the State.’ (from a New Yorker piece not yet available online)
"L’Etat, c’est moi." That’s exactly what we fought to get away from during the American Revolution and I, for one, am not eager to go back to it.
The Bush Administration is vociferously protesting the belated revelation of the banking surveillance program that may be the worst kept secret in history, given how much the Treasury Department and the AG’s office were trumpeting money tracking capabilities in the wake of 9/11. What they mean to say, is that they are sorry that it has been fully exposed to public scrutiny and sunshine, because it is but one further example of this Administration digging into American’s private records, without assuring that privacy considerations were also being protected adequately. Again, from Froomkin:
As far as I can tell, all these disclosures do is alert the American public to the fact that all this stuff is going on without the requisite oversight, checks and balances.
How does it possibly matter to a terrorist whether the government got a court order or not? Or whether Congress was able to exercise any oversight? The White House won’t say. In fact, it can’t say.
By contrast, it does matter to us.
This column has documented, again and again , that when faced with a potentially damaging political problem, White House strategist Karl Rove’s response is not to defend, but to attack.
The potentially damaging political problem here is that the evidence continues to grow that the Bush White House’s exercise of unchecked authority in the war on terror poses a serious threat to American civil liberties and privacy rights. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that an American president used the mechanisms of national security to spy on his political enemies.
The sum total of the administration’s defense against this charge appears to be: Trust us. Trust that we’re only spying on terrorists, and not anyone else.
But what if the trust isn’t there? And what if they’re breaking the law?
That’s why it’s better to attack. It makes for great soundbites. It motivates the base. And perhaps most significantly, it takes attention away from Bush’s own behavior.
Exactly right. Which is why TRex’s post was so on-the-money the other day. To Dems who are wondering how to respond to this idiocy, I have but four words: Attack. Attack! Attack! ATTTAAAAAACK!!!!
There is no monarch in this nation, simply a citizen who is elected to the Presidency for either four or eight years, and then to return to regular citizenship. We would all do well to remember that — and to treat George Bush accordingly. He is not a King. And we should not treat him as such.
The laws apply to everyone. And no amount of Rovian smokescreen can obscure this fact: the nation is not so happy with George Bush at the moment. So let’s tie the albatross that is the stinking Bush Administration and the do-nothing Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, with all their attendant corruption and cronyism, around the necks of every member of the GOP up for election this fall.
(I found this illustration on ReidBlog, and it’s hilarious. The Tony Blair jester holding the King’s robes is priceless.)
UPDATE: Counterterrorism Blog has more. The ACLU has some information up on the Congressional hearings on Presidential signing statements. Glenn has more on the GOP press lynch mob for political posturing.