Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Time Has Come to Censure the King

Until late last week, I was opposed to censuring -- let alone impeaching – King George Bush. I believed that while both actions were justified, they would provoke a backlash from a fractured Republican base that would backfire badly on a Democratic Party that has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time.

But my love of America has trumped concern about any political considerations and I now wholeheartedly support censuring the dirty bastard.

The revelation that Bush himself was the key leaker in the Wilson-Plame scandal put me over the top.

* * * * *

First, some background, foreground and a few disclaimers:

I have no particular fondness for the Democratic Party because it has become a clone of the Republican Party in too many respects.

I also have no fondness for Joseph Wilson, a former State Department official who is a self-serving windbag and the husband of Valerie Plame, who was outted as a CIA operative as a result of the Bush-instigated leak.

Nor do I give a damn about the recipient of the leaked information, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who did her dash by sucking up to Lewis “Scooter” Libby and other White House insiders to such an extent that she surrendered any pretence of objectivity.

Most every president since George Washington has played hardball. All have leaked.

Despite its claims of unsullied virginity when it comes to leaking, the Bush administration has aggressively played the leak game, including orchestrating a coordinated campaign of leaks early in the Iraq war to bolster its shifting rationales for going to war.

That said, I am unaware of any instance in recent administrations where the motivation was as malignant as George Bush’s in leaking classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq in order to set in motion a campaign to discredit Wilson and out Plame.

I do not necessarily disagree with the notion that once a president divulges classified material it is no longer classified, which is the defense Bush’s attorneys are using to justify the leak. Note, however that the CIA remains adamant about keeping the overall NIE classified nearly three years after the leak, so the attorneys’ blasé reasoning is suspect and all the more so because of recent revelations that the leaked NIE information already had been discredited at the time the Wilson-Plame blame game got into gear.

Finally, the post-9/11 world is uncharted territory and this president -- any president -- must be given greater leeway. But neither is this brave new world and its bastard child, the war in Iraq, comparable to World War II as our reprobate secretary of defense is fond of saying, and neither is it a war in the historic sense.

* * * * *

No American is above the law, and that includes the President of the United States. But as King George has made clear and his attorney general and other key administration officials have all but said in the bluntest of terms, he believes himself to be above the law – all laws.

The consequences of this historic power grab are threefold:

* The president has made a mockery of the separation of powers, one of the foundation principles of the United States of America and the bedrock on which federal governance functions.

* The willingness of the president to suspend civil liberties up to and including habeas corpus, as well as neutralize the Supreme Court’s role in habeas corpus, is deeply alarming.

Habeas corpus is a writ issued by a judge ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court so it can be determined whether he is being imprisoned lawfully. It is not some bleeding-heart concept used by liberal judges to spring evildoers. Like the separation of powers, habeas corpus is a foundation principle -- one of the pillars on which the American criminal justice system stands -- and has served the nation well in times of war and peace.

* The willingness of the president to go outside the law even when it is not necessary to do so.

Exhibit A in this regard is the National Security Agency's secretly approved domestic spying program, which bypasses long-established safeguards approved by Congress. The rationalizing and obfuscation of Attorney General Gonzalez regarding the president's powers in this case has been positively Orwellian.

* The president himself has become the greatest threat to national security.

I do not make these statements lightly or without considerable forethought. This includes a recent rereading of The Federalist Papers and an essay by Charles-Louis de Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu, a brilliant French political theorist who first articulated the concept of separation of powers, and wrote:

Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not
always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power. But constant experience shows
us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it
will go.

To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a
check to power.

When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body
of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same
monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.

Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and
executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be
exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.

There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the
nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing
the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.

Allow me one more quote, this one from Federalist Papers No. 48, an essay so important that it bore the signatures of all three Federalist authors -- Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison:
An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.
* * * * *

The last major assault on the Constitution was during the Great Depression when President Roosevelt rammed his sweeping New Deal economic recovery program through Congress. That action resulted in many legislative powers being vested in the executive branch, and that remains intact today. You see, the passage of a law is, in effect, merely an authorization for a presidential administration to write the regulations to implement it, a precedent that the Bush administration has taken to extremes.

FDR should be mentioned in another context – war.

The FDR presidency, like the Bush presidency, is spoken of as an “imperial presidency” because FDR greatly expanded presidential powers during his four terms, the latter four-plus years of which coincided with the U.S. entry into World War II and defeat of the Axis powers.

Like George Bush, FDR approved a parallel judicial system composed of military tribunals with expanded powers not permitted in civilian courts.

Unlike George Bush, FDR worked closely with Congress regarding formal declarations of war, which is one of the constitutional mandates that the current president has ignored regarding Iraq.

Unlike George Bush, FDR did not try to repeatedly fetter civilian courts and force Congress to abdicate its constitutional authority.

And so, beyond surface similarities, there is little in common with the “imperial presidencies” of FDR and George Bush. When it comes to power mongering, unrestrained lying (and spending), sophistry, hypocrisy and hubris, it's no contest. George Bush wins in a walk.

Today our intelligence agencies can monitor Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. When the opportunity arises, our military can try to take preemptive action against them. But who can take action against a president whose penchant for secrecy and accretion of powers has emboldened him to rule like the absolute monarch that the Founding Fathers rose up against in the Revolutionary War and feared would fetter the new republic without safeguards they wrote into the Constitution – safeguards that George Bush now so blithely ignores?

Certainly not the voters, who returned a now lame duck president to office by a razor's edge following a first election that was stolen. (How ironic that George Bush cited the separation of powers in support of his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the Florida Supreme Court to allow hand-recounted votes to be included in the final result.)

Not a largely compliant Congress with a Republican majority and the aforementioned dithering Dems.

And probably not a Supreme Court that is drifting to the right and from the shores of reason in too frequently buying into the bogus claim that the president has the same power to interpret the Constitution as it does.

Even in the rare instances when George Bush has capitulated and signed legislation with which he disagrees, he has attached so-called signing statements in putting his signature to them.

This is a once in a blue moon provision with which I have no problem in principle, but George Bush has gone to this well repeatedly. In the last few weeks alone, he has attached signing statements to the McCain bill outlawing torture and a mildly watered down revision of the USA Patriot Act. Both signing statements say, in effect, that he is not bound by the provisions of either. Both are crass abridgements of the separation of powers.

* * * * *

King George alone cannot be blamed for this crisis.

Republicans and Democrats alike are willing to ignore the Constitution when it suits their political needs. And as noted recently at Kiko’s House, many more Americans can name the five members of the Simpson family than even one of the five freedoms articulated in the First Amendment.

As I wrote on the third anniversary of the Iraq war:

For many Americans, the war is background noise that only occasionally and inconveniently intrudes as they shop at the mall and catch a glimpse of a bloody street scene from Baghdad on the TVs in the window of an electronics store.

While we're out shopping, our core freedoms are being frittered away and will not be easily gotten back just because the Rovian quest for permanent Republican soverignty is turning to ashes and the king will be giving up his crown in a few years.

Indeed, King George has been allowed to come perilously close to gutting the very meaning of American democracy under the guise of fighting a War on Terror that, while too few of us have been looking, has become a war on our core values.

A censure motion would be a symbolic act. It has no chance of passing.

But as symbols go, it would be a potent one – in fact, the first such motion to be introduced in Congress in 172 years -- and would be right up there with some other symbols like the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence. Oh yes, the American flag, too.

1 comment:

doomsy said...

This is important and thorough information; thanks a lot.

By the way, I know you're frustrated with the Democrats, as I am also at times, but I thought you'd want to read more about Russ Feingold's motion for censure.