Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The President As Monarch

This is not a post about a breaking story. If you expect only cutting-edge news from your blogs, blame Teresa Nielsen Hayden for not adding this story to her Particles section until yesterday. If my other regular reads posted about the issue, it slipped past me...

...Which is odd, all by itself. Or maybe it just seems odd to the quaint, naive part of me which imagines that, if the President of the United States were to openly and repeatedly state that he was not bound by laws, people would be so appalled that the story would be front-page news until the man was stopped.

Glenn Greenwald has a good sense of the gravity of the issue:
It is not hyperbole to say that these actions and theories are as antithetical to democracy as can be. [...] It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process.
What I find most dispiriting is the paltry defense the Administration's supporters presented to the Globe reporter, Charlie Savage. There was no effort to outline a constitutional argument for Bush's behavior, or to engage, even glancingly, with the concept of checks and balances. Instead, the administration response to Savage reeks of smug contempt for the very idea of accountability.
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who until last year oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for the administration, said the statements do not change the law; they just let people know how the president is interpreting it.

''Nobody reads them," said Goldsmith. ''They have no significance. Nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statement. The statements merely serve as public notice about how the administration is interpreting the law. Criticism of this practice is surprising, since the usual complaint is that the administration is too secretive in its legal interpretations."
Sheesh, this liberal media. They complain when the Administration violates the law secretly, and they complain when the administration announces its plans to violate the law. What on earth would satisfy them?

As far as I can tell, by "nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statment," Goldsmith must mean that the President is prepared to set aside laws with or without advance notice to the American people. And the only solace we are offered, as citizens who are ourselves bound by the rule of law, and who believe ourselves to be living in a democratic republic?
Defenders say the fact that Bush is reserving the right to disobey the laws does not necessarily mean he has gone on to disobey them.
The king has absolute power. How grateful his subjects should be, that he sometimes refrains from exercising it!

Or, you know, not.

What's incredible here - okay, wait; one of the many incredible aspects here - is that the laws he is setting aside were entirely crafted by his own people. The Republicans have a stranglehold on Congress:
Republican leadership has sidelined legislation unwanted by the Bush administration, even when a majority of the House seemed ready to approve it, according to lawmakers, lobbyists, and an analysis of House activities. With one party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, and having little fear of retaliation by the opposing party, the House leadership is changing the way laws are made in America, favoring secrecy and speed over open debate and negotiation. Longstanding rules and practices are ignored. Committees more often meet in secret. Members are less able to make changes to legislation on the House floor. Bills come up for votes so quickly that elected officials frequently don't know what's in them. And there is less time to discuss proposed laws before they come up for a vote. [...]

Longtime Congress-watchers say they have never seen the legislative process so closed to input from minority-party members, the public, and lobbyists whose agenda is unsympathetic to GOP leadership goals.
And still Bush has felt it necessary to set himself above ten percent of the laws passed during his presidency. Clearly, it isn't even about content: it's the naked exercise of power, and nothing more.