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Yoohoo, Where's Congress?
Left-wing columnist Jim Hightower takes on the executive branch power-grab, and calls on Congress to take on its constitutional role and do something already. (There's supposed to be "separation of powers, not napping of powers.):

Constantly waving the bloody flag of 9/11 and swaggering around in commander-in-chief garb, the BushCheney duo are usurping authority from Congress, the courts, and the people, while also asserting arbitrary power that does not belong to the presidency. Their coup is changing our form of government, rewriting the genius of the founders by imposing a supreme executive that functions in secret and insists that it is above the law, unaccountable either to congressional oversight or to judicial review.

As Al Gore pointed out in a powerful speech he gave last year (read it here), the BushCheney push for imperial power is much more dangerous and far-reaching than other presidential excesses for a couple of big reasons. First, the Bushites make no pretension that they want these powers only temporarily, instead contending that a super-powerful presidency is necessary to cope with a terrorist threat that they say will last "for the rest of our lives." Second, they are not merely pushing executive supremacy as a response to an outside threat, but as an ideological, right-wing theory of what they allege the Constitution actually meant to say.

Called the "unitary executive theory," this perverse, antidemocratic construct begs us to believe that the president has inherent executive powers that cannot be reviewed, questioned, or altered by the other branches. Bush himself has asserted that his executive power "must be unilateral and unchecked." Must? Extremist theorists aside, this effectively establishes an executive with arbitrary power over us. It creates the anti-America.

The list of Bushite excesses is long...and growing:

* Their sweeping, secret program of warrantless spying on Americans -- in direct violation of a long-standing federal law intended to forestall such flagrant intrusions into people's privacy.

* The usurpation of legislative authority by attaching "signing statements" to laws passed by Congress, openly asserting Bush's intention to disobey or simply ignore the laws. He has used this artifice to challenge over 1,150laws, even though the Constitution and the founders never conceived of such a dodge (signing statements were concocted by Ed Meese, Reagan's attorney general, and were pushed at that time by a young Reaganite lawyer who is now ensconced for life on the Supreme Court, Sam Alito).

* Suspension of habeas corpus for anyone whom Bush deems to be an "enemy combatant"-allowing innocent people to be detained indefinitely in prison without charges or civil trial, subjected to abuse and even torture, and denied access to judicial review of their incarceration (thus usurping the power of the courts). The routine and illegal assertion of "executive privilege" to stonewall Congress's legitimate efforts to perform its constitutional obligation of executive oversight and to prevent the questioning of top officials engaged in outright violations of American law.

* The assertion of a "state secrets" doctrine to prevent citizens and judges from pursuing legitimate lawsuits on the spurious grounds that even to have the executive's actions brought before the court would endanger national security and infringe on executive authority.

* An ever-expanding grab bag of autocratic actions, including using "national security letters" to sidestep the courts and spy on American political groups and individuals with no connection at all to terrorism; censoring executive-branch employees and government information for political purposes and using federal officials and tax dollars to push the regime's political agenda; and, of course, outright lying to Congress and the public, including lying for the most despicable purpose of all -- putting our troops, our public treasury, and our nation's good name into a war based on nothing but hubris, oil, and ideological fantasies (including Bush's latest blatant lie that "progress" in Iraq warrants the killing and maiming of additional thousands of American troops -- none of whom comes from his family).

Democratic capitulation

What we have is a lawless presidency. But our problem is not Bush. He is who he is -- a bonehead. He won't change, and why should he? He's getting away with his power grab! So he has no reason to step back, and every reason to keep pushing and to keep trying to institutionalize his coup.

Rather, our problem is those weaselly, wimpy, feckless members of Congress who have failed to confront the runaway executive, who have sat silent or (astonishingly) cheered and assisted as their own constitutional powers have been taken and their once-proud, coequal branch has been made subservient to the executive.

In the first six years of BushCheney, the Republican Congress operated as no more than a rubber stamp for the accretion of presidential power, shamelessly surrendering its own autonomy in a burst of mindless partisan zeal. Too many Democrats just went along, either buying the lies or being cowed by the unrelenting politics of fear and intimidation whipped up by Bush and Cheney. (The Bushites are still using these bullying tactics, as when they demanded this past summer that Congress legalize their illegal domestic spy program and CIA chief Mike McConnell warned publicly that "Americans are going to die" if Democrats failed to pass it.)

Posted by aalkon at October 30, 2007 9:28 AM

Comments

1) Hightower overstates the case.

2) Most members of Congress don't mind more power in the Executive, because a) they imagine themselves there one day b) they imagine their Party there one day c) more power to the government is good, no matter which branch.

Posted by: doombuggy at October 30, 2007 6:24 AM

They live in fear of the "O" word: Obstructionist. But now is the time when they *should* be obstructing some of this shit! Rather than take a stand, they stand for political expediency.

Posted by: deja pseu at October 30, 2007 6:25 AM

The thing is, if you just put it to the Republicans that Hillary will have unlimited powers, they live in fear.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 30, 2007 6:30 AM

The big question for me is why? Most of the individuals in congress are there for the power and prestige. Not one of them give a shit about any of the voters, just getting re-elected. Why are they letting it happen. Also, the republican have got to know they have little chance of winning the next election. Why would they boost the powers of the executive branch?

Posted by: vlad at October 30, 2007 6:33 AM

"Not one of them give a shit about any of the voters, just getting re-elected. Why are they letting it happen."

Because they don't want to stand out. They want to be known by their constituents as a valuable guy who brings the pork home.

Right now, all the pay offs are for getting reelected. There are very few upsides and lots of downsides to taking leadership.

That has to be changed somehow if we want leadership and courage. (See the old "On the folly of rewarding for A while hoping for B")

I think part of rejiggering the incentives would be instant runoff voting, none of the above voting, proportional voting, and yes, some constitutional version of term limits.

This is also a good reason to have more public funding of elections and get rid of a) the long election cycles, and b) the massive amounts of fundraising needed that can only serve to corrupt the system.

Until then, I fall back on my dad's advice, which I only realized the value of a few years ago, "always vote the incumbent out."

Posted by: jerry at October 30, 2007 7:19 AM

Hightower has no case. Read the Constitution and the Federalist papers. Then tell me what powers the president is usurping.

If Congress really thought they had a case, they could and would impeach.

Posted by: MarkD at October 30, 2007 8:07 AM

Hightower loses me when he starts to quote the Goracle. The presidency is too small a roll for Gore, he would put himself at the head of a global government and still want more power.

A book by Denson is excellent, Reassessing the Presidency : The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom
Denson shows the trend has over the past 150 years been all in one direction. The rise of the Executive (presidency), to the detriment of freedom.

I imagine Hightower is really just covetous of the power and wishes it were in the Lefts hands where they would use it better.

There is little difference, unfortunately, between the Left and the Right. They are both statist at heart, and each with their different God.

Posted by: newjonny at October 30, 2007 9:46 AM

"Also, the republicans have got to know they have little chance of winning the next election."

Vlad, I'm not sure if this is true anymore. We all had high hopes that when the Democrats took over Congress after the midterm elections, that things would finally change. Instead, it seems like the Democrats have just bent over further to accomodate the president and his loyal followers in Congress. I think our best bet would be to follow Jerry's father's advice and vote out the incumbents, regardless of party, and see if that finally brings some changes.

Posted by: Amy at October 30, 2007 11:06 AM

Doombuggy and Deja make great points, and Newjonny nails an important one:

> presidency is too small a
> roll for Gore, he would
> put himself at the head of
> a global government and
> still want more

If you think Newjonny's wrong about this, go to your coffee table and open An Inconvenient Truth. Count the number of photographs of somber Gore and his nonthreatening, antidepressant-swallowing missus cuddling through various life stages (The college years! The congress years! The senate years! Number One Observatory Circle!) Many are in printed in tasteful, nontoxic monochrome.

The core weakness of my own Democratic party crystallizes here:

> our problem is not Bush.
> He is who he is -- a
> bonehead.

Nothing, nothing, nothing means more to Dems than believing that Bush is stupid. Partly this is because their Party is built around unionized schoolmarms and cleverer-than-you lawyers. Another reason is that the liberal impulses twitches quickest in youthful egos, which are notoriously insecure. If you know of even more reasons, be sure to share.

But meanwhile, this stupidest of all Presidents evar, a figure flirting with historical lows for Executive popularity, is still held in greater esteem than the House and Senate which Dems claim to rule. This rancher without cattle has 'em all tied up.

The one thing Democrats can't do is reach out to other voters... It would mean they'd have to stop looking down on them. That's going to make 2008 into an ugly year. Politics aren't fun anymore.

Posted by: Crid at October 30, 2007 12:25 PM

"The thing is, if you just put it to the Republicans that Hillary will have unlimited powers, they live in fear."

Amy - this is unfair. Back in the day, Newt's Congress gave the Presidency a line-item veto (before the Supremes struck it down) even though the immediate beneficary would have been Bill.

Then again, today's Republican party seems to revile Newt in any role other than media personality. Maybe you're right after all.

Oh, and for the last time to anyone listening - Signing Statements have NO LEGAL WEIGHT whatsoever. They are nothing more than one administration's view on the application of a new law. We should be thanking Bush for his transparency, not irrationally fearing his overthrow of the Constitution.

Posted by: snakeman99 at October 30, 2007 12:45 PM

The authors favorite president in Reassessing the Presidency - was...

Martin Van Buren - for keeping us out of two wars, with Canada and Mexico - even though popular opinion wanted blood. He sought free trade, peace with the neighbors, and a limited government treasury in the face of economic crisis. And he did this in the face of popular discontent. He stuck to his policy - politics be damned. He didn't come close to winning a 2nd term.

You would never see that today. The nanny state can fix anything. And it is from both sides of the aisle. And look at any top 10 presidents poll. You will likely see a minimum of six of the ten "favorites" presiding over a war.

good book - though a bit dry

Posted by: newjonny at October 30, 2007 1:51 PM

"Also, the republicans have got to know they have little chance of winning the next election."

Three words - electronic voting machines

And then there is the fact that bush gave himself the power to declare martial law - kinda out there but a possibiity none the less

Posted by: lujlp at October 30, 2007 2:59 PM

> kinda out there but a
> possibiity

lujlp, we need you to promise, cross your heart and hope to die, that you're going to think about this and worry about it as much as possible until January 20, 2009... Pull your hair out, snap at the wife, bark at the kids... Be afraid!

Y'know what people like?

People like drama. They can't get enough.

Posted by: Crid at October 30, 2007 3:51 PM

**Nothing, nothing, nothing means more to Dems than believing that Bush is stupid. Partly this is because their Party is built around unionized schoolmarms and cleverer-than-you lawyers. Another reason is that the liberal impulses twitches quickest in youthful egos, which are notoriously insecure. If you know of even more reasons, be sure to share.**

I've noticed that the left-blogs recite Bush-is-stupid like monks chanting their morning Doxology. I find it a little curious, since Bush is quite intelligent by conventional measurements. And besides, beyond a certain IQ level, there is no evidence that more intelligence makes one a better leader.

I'm reminded of the writer who surveyed utopian literature, and found that through history most peoples did not imagine a utopian society, but they always imagined a utopian leader would be raised: a wise King, an all knowing Maharaja, the crafty Caliph, were all a cut above everyone else in the brain department. So I see it as linear thinking applied to the desire for a hero to save us from extra curricular troubles.

Posted by: doombuggy at October 30, 2007 5:27 PM

"And then there is the fact that bush gave himself the power to declare martial law"

And Amy says Liberals aren't funny.

I don't hate liberals, but I do hate alarmists.

Ah, the heck with it, Crid already out-snarked me on this one. Typical.

Posted by: snakeman99 at October 30, 2007 6:24 PM

I don't know that Bush is stupid. I do know that he sounds stupid. I would have had a lot more confidence that he knew what he was doing if he could speak intelligently. At this point in time, whether he is dumb is irrelevant. He has done so many dumb things that I could care less - he is clearly functionally stupid, whether by lack of intellectual firepower or (more likely) stubborn bad judgment.

Posted by: justin case at October 30, 2007 7:01 PM

snakeman and crid:

lujlp was exaggerating but this was the presidential directive being referred to. Some people are worked up because, e.g., they won't let members of the Homeland Security Committee in Congress know everything contained in it.

Posted by: justin case at October 30, 2007 7:11 PM

> exaggerating but this was
> the presidential directive

OK, so play it where it lies. It's bad! Bush is bad! And he's aggressively working to expand his power in bad ways!

So why exaggerate? Listen, Snakeman's right, I'm dark-spirited snarktard of the first order. But we can't walk around telling people the end of the world comes at dawn... After a week, people start dressing for breakfast anyway.

Posted by: Crid at October 30, 2007 11:38 PM

lujlp -

This from your link: "While similar executive security directives have been issued by previous presidents, their texts have been kept secret; this is the first to be made public in part."

Again, you may think he's a fear-mongering demagogue, but at least he's a transparent fear-mongering demagogue.

And once more, Presidential Directives, Executive Orders, Signing Statements all have one thing in common - they're not laws.

Posted by: snakeman99 at October 31, 2007 7:24 AM

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