Monday, May 01, 2006

Refinishing

Refinishing

Refinishing (1999)

If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.
--George W. Bush, CNN.com, December 18, 2000

And, yes, by his own actions, he is one.

From yesterday's Boston Globe:

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.

Let that soak in for a moment. Our president claims he is above the law. His gut perception of the Constitution supercedes anything passed by Congress or anything ruled on by the Supreme Court. Father BushCo Knows Best. The Constitution is more than a living document to Bush; it's an ongoing Mad-Lib.

And this assertion of selective obedience to law is not an isolated incident. Bush has asserted his subjective interpretation of the law over 750 times.

This reminds me of the horrifying ceremony in Chapter 7 of Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau where the grey figure and his fellow beast-men induct the narrator into the vagaries of The Law:

“I am the Sayer of the Law,” said the grey figure. “Here come all that be new to learn the Law. I sit in the darkness and say the Law.”

Are we not chimps?

The Island of Doctor Moron?

[Cartoon by Mike Luckovich]

But wait. It gets better. Back to the Boston Globe:

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.

How convenient. Bush can go through a charade of signing a bill while wining and dining, and then, later, like the grey figure, he can sit in darkness and use a "signing statement" -- a makeshift line item veto -- to grant him regal authority to disregard enforcing any law he decrees to be unconstitutional. And who's to know? Congress? And which laws are relevant and which aren't? And if Bush can erase bits of bills he signs, why not black out pieces of existing laws, too? Why not? He's the decider. He's the Sayer of the Law.

And, according to the Globe, here is how he does it:

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

''He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.

This is absurd. Imagine trying to get away with such manipulative shenanigans in your own life.

In marriage: Oh. Sorry, Honey. I guess you forgot about my signing statement exempting fidelity.

In college: Back off, Professor. Aren't you aware that my signing statement dictates that your ban on plagiarism is non-binding.

While driving: I believe you're out of line, Officer. Stapled to my registration is my signing statement that I find stop signs to be unconstitutional.

During childhood: No way, Dad. I am the sayer of the law, and under the reconfiguration of my signing statement my bedtime is...

Absurd, yes. But not funny. Back to the Globe:

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over ''the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.

''Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said.

Nothing is sacred. Bush can turn a blind eye to any laws he chooses -- on education, on science, on the environment, on the use of the military, on international treaties like the Geneva Convention, on anything because he believes his response can simply be this:

Let them eat yellowcake...

A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it.
--George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

[Image seen on la.indymedia.org]

But, rest easy, peons. Surely, we can count on the Roberts' Supreme Court to watch our backs, right? The Globe thinks not:

Bush has also challenged statutes in which Congress gave certain executive branch officials the power to act independently of the president. The Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed the power of Congress to make such arrangements. For example, the court has upheld laws creating special prosecutors free of Justice Department oversight and insulating the board of the Federal Trade Commission from political interference.

Nonetheless, Bush has said in his signing statements that the Constitution lets him control any executive official, no matter what a statute passed by Congress might say.

[...]

Golove said that to the extent Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of the Supreme Court's precedents, he threatens to ''overturn the existing structures of constitutional law."

A president who ignores the court, backed by a Congress that is unwilling to challenge him, Golove said, can make the Constitution simply ''disappear."

Even the High Court can't help us. How did Bush ever come up with such an insidious idea? The Globe knows:

It was not until the mid-1980s, midway through the tenure of President Reagan, that it became common for the president to issue signing statements. The change came about after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese decided that signing statements could be used to increase the power of the president.

When interpreting an ambiguous law, courts often look at the statute's legislative history, debate and testimony, to see what Congress intended it to mean. Meese realized that recording what the president thought the law meant in a signing statement might increase a president's influence over future court rulings.

Under Meese's direction in 1986, a young Justice Department lawyer named Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a strategy memo about signing statements. It came to light in late 2005, after Bush named Alito to the Supreme Court.

In the memo, Alito predicted that Congress would resent the president's attempt to grab some of its power by seizing ''the last word on questions of interpretation." He suggested that Reagan's legal team should ''concentrate on points of true ambiguity, rather than issuing interpretations that may seem to conflict with those of Congress."

Uh-huh. Well, I doubt the Supremes will be much help in curbing the prezdent's royal reach.

But, seriously, someone needs to step on the hand that holds the scepter.

Nothing -- nothing -- Bush has done to date is more deserving of impeachment than this slap-in-the-face disregard and perversion of the Constitution. Our elected representatives take an oath to defend the Constitution "against all enemies, both foreign and domestic." Well, roll up your sleeves; there's one at your elbow. He's lacquering a refinishing glaze over the ideals and principles of the Founding Fathers. High crimes? Over 750 of them -- and counting...

As Reagan never said: Knock down his drywall.

~/~

Thanks to Charlie Savage and the Boston Globe and for this amazing, terrifying story. Now where is the rest of the lapdog press? Too bushed after being shocked by Stephen Colbert's truthiness knockout punch?

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