The surreal government of George Bush

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    Nov 11, 2007 8:00 PM GMT
    Check out this paragraph from Frank Rich's column this morning. It's referring to the confirmation of Mukasey as attorney general by Democratic Senator Schumer (and Diane Feinstein). It is a frightening summary of life with George Bush:

    "In a Times OpEd article justifying his reluctant vote to confirm a man Dick Cheney promised would make “an outstanding attorney general,” Mr. Schumer observed that waterboarding is already “illegal under current laws and conventions.” But then he vowed to support a new bill “explicitly” making waterboarding illegal because Mr. Mukasey pledged to enforce it. Whatever. Even if Congress were to pass such legislation, Mr. Bush would veto it, and even if the veto were by some miracle overturned, Mr. Bush would void the law with a “signing statement.” That’s what he effectively did in 2005 when he signed a bill that its authors thought outlawed the torture of detainees."

    The entire column is here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/opinion/11rich.html?hp
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    Nov 11, 2007 8:09 PM GMT
    President Bush's claims to executive power are really stunning. If it has anything to do, at all, with limiting his wartime powers, President Bush has a penchant for issuing a signing statement so as to avoid public scrutiny. While signing statements aren't new, of course, the ways in which Mr. Bush uses them are far more expansive than previous presidents.

    It's unfortunate that there's really no outlet for it. With Bush's cronies now on the SCOTUS, I have the feeling that any signing statement would be upheld--although, admittedly, Kennedy might not be so kosher with them.

    Living in this country is going to be a lot less frightening with Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are gone. Unless, of course, we have Giuliani as president, in which case it won't be a whole lot different as far as I can tell.
  • GQjock

    Posts: 11648

    Nov 11, 2007 8:38 PM GMT
    We are walking with this President on a fine line that is between incompetency and criminality....
    Do you really see him as a wartime President?
    We're at war with what should have been an international police action...not a war with occupying forces in two different countries with a broiling insurgency going on in each of them
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    Nov 11, 2007 9:46 PM GMT
    GQjock,

    You make an excellent point. I, personally, don't accept the validity of the GWOT; however, our government at large does. In that sense, he is unfortunately a wartime president until such time as there is a significant change in attitudes in how we approach terrorism, away from a wartime mentality and towards an international police enforcement mentality.
  • Squarejaw

    Posts: 1035

    Nov 11, 2007 9:59 PM GMT
    I've just begun Charlie Savage's "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy." Savage won the 2007 Pulitzer for National Reporting.

    It's pretty amazing. So far it portrays Bush as an empty shell and Cheney as a man devoted to reversing the post-Watergate restrictions on presidential power. The War on Terror is presented as an opportunity for Cheney to fulfill ambitions he held long before 9/11. The book's very detailed and its sources are thoroughly referenced.
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    Nov 11, 2007 11:07 PM GMT
    I've read reviews of Savage's book. The depiction of Bush is frightening -- an empty-headed, petty man with little natural curiosity who thinks his intuition (and access to god) is an adequate substitute for intellect.

    I'm not so sure I agree, Chewtoy, that the displacement of Bush and Cheney is going to make a huge difference, even if the Congress goes more strongly Democratic.
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    Nov 11, 2007 11:22 PM GMT
    OW,

    That's fair, and I think you especially have a point considering the current direction of the SCOTUS, with its emphasis on the priorities of executive power. That being said, it's possible that, with a Democratic president, the SCOTUS may be more likely to assert its jealously guarded authority on constitutional interpretation. Let's not pretend that there isn't some degree of partisanship--if less than other branches--even within the SCOTUS.

    One of the most important aspects of beginning to limit executive authority will be a change of mentality in how terrorism is addressed. I hope that a Democratic Congress and President will influence that, but given the Democrats' penchant for attempting to look "tough" on defense, there's a strong argument to be made that we're SOL on that front.
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    Nov 12, 2007 1:49 AM GMT
    Chuck is my senator. And he is my favorite senator of the two.

    But this was disappointing. It sounds like every nomination the Dems have promised to fight but just backed off on. If Harriet Myers was slightly more qualified (that is to say, remotely qualified at all) she would be on the SCOTUS. Was anything other than lip service payed to actually fighting this guy?

    And Diane Feinstein... Christ what a waste of space she is.

    Head of the Rules and Administration committee and she is sitting on her laurels about Ted Stevens despite Veco CEO Ted Allen's testimony that he gave Stevens all sorts of bribes.

    OH! my head hurts now just thinking about it.
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    Nov 12, 2007 4:12 AM GMT
    I seriously doubt that we will see any real change in the direction that the Federal government takes regardless of which political party/regime is in charge.

    This current Congress is just as bad if not worse than the previous 'do-nothing' crowd. Every politician can stand up and make all the right or wrong soundbites but when it comes down to the rubber meeting the road neither side has the balls to make a decision and stand by it or see it through.

    Congress (oh yes, what are they supposed to be, the third branch of government...the legislative branch...the check and balance to the judiciary and the executive branches) has lost countless opportunities to exert their authority and responsibilities of Congressional oversight because of a lack of leadership.

    Sorry, just fed up with the whole beltway crowd right now.icon_evil.gif
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    Nov 12, 2007 4:26 AM GMT
    "Sorry, just fed up with the whole beltway crowd right now."

    As are the great majority of Americans but the idiotic Congressional Democrats don't seem to get that.

    Glenn Greenwald, my favorite blogger, eviscerates the corrupt Diane Feinstein here:

    http://tinyurl.com/372sxh
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    Nov 12, 2007 5:31 AM GMT
    Karl Rove has created a climate of self-entitlement for Republicans, and Democrats have allowed themselves to be pussy-whipped with it. They are under a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't climate. They should stand up against the appointment but if they do we know that they will be portrayed as only being obstructionist to government. This isn't an excuse for them, but an explanation. If they took the offensive and became proactive about their reasoning they could succeed at beating the Republicans. It's why the Republicans HATED Bill Clinton so much.

    It was this form of climate that the Democrats pussed out to in the launch of the Iraq War. Rather than being labled pro-terrorist and anit-American, they voted for the war. So what were they going to say at election time when it became evident the war was a sham? "I voted for it before I voted against it." Or words to that effect.

    I've been looking at Savage's book at Borders, though I haven't yet bought it. And he was on Bill Maher's sublime show last week. He confirms many of our worst fears and gives us some new ones.

    Did anyone else see the Frontline about Cheney and his desire to push the power of the presidency? That's a passionate effort being put into something that could result in a Democratic President. But then again I am guessing that they assume Democrats wouldnever exert that kind of power.
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    Nov 12, 2007 5:52 AM GMT
    You're assuming there will ever be another Democratic president. With the electronic voting machines are rigged up, Cheney wants the presidential power reinforced because he's still going to be in power at Haliburton when he walks out of the oval office and the next guy in will know that he's a puppet on a string for the RNC/military industrial complex.

    The Democrats have got to be willing to dig up the EVIL and put some sunlight on it. They are currently way to timid. I smelled complete complicity when Pelosi took impeachment "off the table".

    Impeachment hearings would have put some of the nasty stuff out in the open. Once the public gets the full story then it becomes more difficult for the Republicans and even they have to vote to put Bush out. The same piercing investigation into voting is the only way to straighten out that mess too. But I don't recall ever hearing about all the programming staff at the manufacturers of the voting machines being subpeonad to testify about any knowledge of voting fraud or intentional programming loopholes designed into the system.

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    Nov 12, 2007 6:09 AM GMT
    I don't think it's timidity. I think they don't get it. I think Bush's administration represents what has become business as usual in the Beltway, particularly the way politics have taken priority over ethical governing.

    Not impeaching Bush and Cheney DOES make political sense but the deferral ignores the common good and is a principal reason Congress' ratings are in the tank.

    I don't really expect the Dems to claim the White House unless the Republican saboteurs are out of business, which I doubt. Remember: Kerry had a real lead in exit polls, but they were mysteriously "wrong." And manipulation of voting in Florida, with the cooperation of SCOTUS, gave Bush his initial victory.

  • NickoftheNort...

    Posts: 1416

    Nov 12, 2007 7:19 AM GMT
    I have to get back to my pol.sci. books on this one (hence, there will be quite a few "seems" as I do not have the references to back myself up here), but one thing that has bothered me for quite some time is:

    During the 20th Century there seems to have been a shift in the social appreciation of the executive branch within the United States public. The idea of a strong president as opposed to a strong Congress seems to have gained ever more ground, and is likely related to the development of communication technology (primarily radio and television). To piggyback on the thread "Information Overload," it is significantly easier to relate to a single President or to the cast of executive administration than it is to relate to the 400+ members of Congress.

    This idea is not merely something contained within the US public; rather, each president during the 20th Century has embodied this idea, claiming more political authority and mandate with each election. In part, what makes the Bush administration so startling is how successfully arrogant and presumptuous it is in its assertion of its new political powers. Its, at-times absurd, claims to powers and privileges (such as Cheney's claim that the Vice-Presidency is not part of the executive) have no place within a democratically accountable United States.

    The US Congress reinforces this idea by idly standing by as its power is neutered in favor of the president.
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    Nov 12, 2007 8:22 AM GMT
    Nick,

    I view this in a different way. This trend that is occurring right now towards excessive executive power is by no means a new one. It has happened to varying degrees, and as far as I can tell they have all been correlated with times when America felt that its security was immediately threatened.

    The first widespread broadening of executive powers probably occurred under the administration of President John Adams, with the Alien and Sedition Acts. While passed by Congress, the Acts broadly expanded the power of the President to accuse and convict citizens; justification for the Acts was based on an undeclared naval war underway with France.

    During the Civil War, President Lincoln famous suspended habeus corpus in Maryland to prevent Washington D.C. easily falling into the hands of the South. This was an act still unprecedented by any other administration, though the current administration echoes it in limited circumstances--circumstances that admittedly could be defined more broadly, unfortunately.

    President Woodrow Wilson was responsible for a massive repression of free speech activities during World War I. The spread of propaganda through government sponsored communications was probably at its highest during this time.

    President Roosevelt, of course, was a master of expanding executive powers. His use of signing statements was extensive and the degree to which he was able to crush Congress under his thumb when it came to passing laws and placing judges on the SCOTUS was incredible. And then, of course, we have the internment of Japanese citizens that occurred.

    After all these administrations there were wanes in the degree of executive authority, as citizens became disenchanted with broad executive powers or as political leaders lost their grip on the cohesiveness necessary for a political party to maintain such power. The current administration is only one in a long line of waxes and wanes in the extension of executive power, and I think that it's likely, given time, that it will wane again. It may take some time, however, until the country is able to distance itself from the GWOT, which is bound to fail given its broad objectives. We unfortunately have to live through it.
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    Nov 12, 2007 8:52 AM GMT
    Chewey,

    The difference this time is that much of the expansion has been done in secret. This is why it is so terrible that Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table. Once the executive branch has expanded with this many new tools at its disposable, it will be very, very hard to take back. And then there is the privatization of the military along with the real threat of martial law in the event of some "emergency." I fear the coup has already happened.
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    Nov 12, 2007 5:16 PM GMT
    Woody,

    I wouldn't be so sure of that. Between 1917 and 1921 President Wilson secretly unleashed the FBI, created 9 years prior in 1908 and then called simply the Bureau of Investigation, during the Red Scare. The FBI was tasked with a broad directive to investigate and spy (for all intents and purposes) on anyone suspected of being in league with communism. The Bureau was used in combination with the broad propaganda being spread to quell dissent and secretly maintain order; the FBI would subsequently be used in this way for years afterwards to spy on innocent Americans, most famously during the civil rights era under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover.

    While I am very concerned by this administration's extension of executive power, I just don't think that it's unique in most aspects. There's a historic trend of expansion and contraction of executive power during perceived crises in the US and I would predict that in the coming years that power will begin to retract again as Americans fade from a crisis mindset. This may take a while, but I believe it will happen.
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    Nov 12, 2007 5:40 PM GMT
    Chewey,

    My point exactly. Expansion of powers is not unique. We find out about these secret manipulations of power after the fact, but they then continue, as with the FBI.

    And will we recede from a crisis mentality? We already know that the terror alert system has been used to manipulate the public for political gain. I am not all that convinced we know, or ever will know, the truth of events on September 11, plus a war on terrorism isn't a war against a particular enemy. It is like the war on drugs, and we know how well that is working.
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    Nov 12, 2007 6:14 PM GMT
    Woody,

    The FBI was significantly brought back under control after the Hoover days. While I have no doubt that it's currently being abused again, it doesn't have nearly the power that it used to. Hoover used to be impermeable from criticism and people feared his power within the FBI. No such cult of personality exists at this point in time. While the FBI likely does engage in activities that many of us would consider questionable, it is now a rather bumbling agency and is subject to a lot more oversight than it used to be. I have little doubt that its abuses of power have waned because of federal regulation, even if they've taken on a resurgence in the past 8 years.

    I do think we will eventually recede from a crisis mentality, and I think the war on drugs is actually a supporting point (though a dubious one, as I will explain further). While the "war on drugs" has never been "undeclared," so to speak, it has also lost all salience as a "war." Like the US stance on drugs, the US position in regards to terrorism isn't going to change. The American government will always "officially" be against terrorism, but the policies that will be able to be justified will decrease with time as people either no longer feel immediately threatened or learn to live with the threat. The "threat level" is largely useless in moving public opinion. A survey taken in August of 2004 polled peoples' reactions to the threat level after it was raised to high. While 23% of respondents reported being more careful in response, a whopping 73% reported that they went about business as usual. The threat level doesn't seem to have much of an effect after being used so often following September 11, 2001 (1).

    Most importantly, however, is that the GWOD (global war on drugs--I'm totally coining a new term by ripping off a current one) is, to a large degree, not an expansion of executive power--it is an expansion of federal power as a whole. While it's true that the policies that have come out of the GWOD have been maintained, to a degree, they are more an example of all branches of government extending their power in opposition to the power of the states. When the federal government broadly expands its powers, the policies that come from that expansion are more likely to be maintained. When, however, one branch of government expands its powers, those powers are less likely to be maintained because of the jealous guarding of powers by the other branches. This is less true when one party controls the Congress and the White House, but that situation rarely lasts for long. If the Democrats extend power in Congress and win the White House in 2008 you'll likely see a further use of that executive power; however, that situation is unlikely to last long because of swings in public opinion towards the minority party.

    (1) Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas. August 31, 2004. Time/SRBI Poll. Accessed via Lexis-Nexis, November 12, 2007.
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    Nov 12, 2007 6:55 PM GMT
    Has it occurred to anyone that the real reason the Democrats do not want to limit the powers co-opted by our drunk, drugged-out president is that they want the powers for themselves once they are in office.

    The problem with our legislative branch - and particularly the HOR - is that they think in the short-term - as their election cycles happen every two years. Thus, they have to constantly raise money and constantly make promises and constantly protect themselves from being voted out of office - rather than doing what they are supposed to do, which is be representatives of the people.

    At the current time, it seems inconceivable to the Democrats that they might actually lose the election of the presidency. With this disgusting presumption of inevitability for the WH, the Democrats are seeking this new power for themselves - in 12 months.


    A couple people have talked about the low approval ratings for the president, vp and for congress. Yet every election, 90% to 95% of all congressional representatives are re-elected.

    I would submit that the real problem here is not our congressional, executive or judicial representatives. The problem is the public. It's time to get off the couch and demand a return to our rights.

    But sadly, I think Americans are just too fat and content on the couch to do anything. Maybe our upcoming economic disaster and the writer's strike in hollywood will get people thinking more seriously about the country.
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    Nov 12, 2007 6:59 PM GMT
    As long as the supermarket shelves are stocked with potato chips, cookies and ice cream, things won't change. A fat, incapable citizenry is a perfect target for stealing rights, like taking candy from a baby.
  • NickoftheNort...

    Posts: 1416

    Nov 12, 2007 7:03 PM GMT
    Chewey,

    Yes, the executive absorbtion of powers waxes and wanes, but I see it as a two-steps-forward-one-step-back development rather than an elastic band being pulled one way and then the other, eventually reaching an original equilibrium.

    The importance of precedence in US politics allows for future executives to use the actions past executives to support further establishment of increased political powers.

    The major arena is within the executive's war powers, where current presidents enjoy the ability to deploy troops without Congress' approval (due precedence in the interpretation of "commander-in-chief"). The executive bureaucracy, as established by FDR, is another example of a remaining institution brought about by executive power creation & interpretation.

    Adams, at the very least, engaged Congress in the matter; to me, that is significantly different from acts such as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase.

    Granted, coming from a legislature-heavy state (Norway), I am much more at ease with a strong legislature than I am with a strong executive.

    Oh, how I miss college and being much more prepared for pol.sci. discussions...

    ***

    growingmuscnyc,

    Yes, it has occurred to me and it is one of the issues that mars my opinion and trust in the Democratic Party in terms of restoring the powers of the legislature.
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    Nov 12, 2007 7:47 PM GMT
    Growingmusc,

    Excellent point, and as I noted earlier it's likely that in the short term the Democrats will continue with the use of executive power. It will take a divided Congress to really begin to check the power of the executive.

    Nick,

    I suppose you and I see things differently here. What I see is not necessarily an expansion of executive power as the precedent, but an expansion of federal power more broadly. All branches of federal government have expanded their power at the expense of the states. The federal legislature, judiciary, and executive have extended their prerogatives. To me, this is an important distinction because it means that the sole power of the executive will eventually be checked as other branches of government jealously guard their own power in the long term. The two-steps-forward-one-step-back effect is really based in the powers of the federal government as a whole. In this sense, if you really want to limit the power of the executive, you have to give power back to the states and not simply rely on the federal legislature; this, of course, brings us into a whole other area of debate, but I firmly believe that the more important power dynamics are concentrated on a federal-state competition. In the long run, legislative-executive-judicial competitiveness necessarily leads to a general waxing and waning effect in various branches at various times.
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    Nov 12, 2007 8:37 PM GMT
    McGay,

    I think this restates what you said well.

    wc211.gif
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    Nov 12, 2007 8:52 PM GMT
    whether it is an expansion of the executive branch at the expense of the other branches, which I believe it is, or an expansion of federal powers at the expense of the states doesn't really matter as much as it is an eroding of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and liberties and the implementation of the carceral state.