King George

Andrew Sullivan’e2’80’99s essays at the back of TIME magazine are often the best part of the whole 75 pages. A week or so ago (Jan 23) he wrote ‘e2’80’9cWe Don’e2’80’99t Need a New King George’e2’80’9d, which you can access, sort of, on the TIME web site. But since it appears to need a subscription, here’e2’80’99s part of it, retyped for you by my very own hard-working fingers. It concerns a little-known (at least, until this inhabitant of the White House) attachment to new laws called a ‘e2’80’9csigning statement,’e2’80’9d in which the President, when unable to veto a law because of the number of votes by which it has passed, is able to attach a sort of minority report which says, in effect, that he has no intention of actually obeying this law he’e2’80’99s just signed.

Now, I may be wrong, but as I remember my high school civics lessons, the president is the head of the executive branch, not the legislative, not the judicial. He is sworn to ‘e2’80’9cpreserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’e2’80’9d He executes laws, he does not make them. However, in this looking-glass presidency, I appear to be mistaken about this.

In his essay, Sullivan is talking about the McCain anti-torture amendment, which passed by enormous veto-proof majorities in both House and Senate:

‘e2’80’9cSo Bush backed down, embraced McCain and signed it. The debate was over, right? That’e2’80’99s how our democracy works, right?

‘e2’80’9cNot according to this President. Although the meaning of the law was crystal clear and the Constitution says Congress has the exclusive power to ‘e2’80’98make rules concerning Captures on Land and Water,’e2’80’99 Bush demurred.

‘e2’80’9cHe issued a signing statement that read, ‘e2’80’98The executive branch shall constitute Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power.’e2’80’99

‘e2’80’9cTranslation: If the President believes torture is warranted to protect the country, he’e2’80’99ll violate the law and authorize torture. If the courts try to stop him, he’e2’80’99ll ignore them, too. This wasn’e2’80’99t quibbling or spinning. Like the old English kings who insisted that Parliament could not tell them what to do, Bush all but declared himself above a law he signed. One professor who specializes in this constitutional area, Phillip J. Cooper of Portland State University in Oregon, has described the power grabs as ‘e2’80’98breathtaking.’e2’80’99’e2’80’9d

Sullivan concludes, ‘e2’80’9cA President, Democrat or Republican, has every right to act unilaterally at times to defend the country. But a democracy cannot work if the person who is deputed to execute the laws exempts himself from them when he feels like it. Forget the imperial presidency. This is more like a monarchical one. America began by rejecting the claims of one King George. It’e2’80’99s disturbing to think we may now be quietly installing a second one.’e2’80’9d

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  1. Becca on February 9, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Al Gore, in his speech on MLK Day, mentioned this, as well as the sheer number of signing statements. If you have the time (I think it’s about an hour) it’s really worth listening to or watching. Links to video, the prepared text, the delivered text, and other goodies can be found here:

  2. Melissa on February 9, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    From an article on this subject by Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn at Knight Ridder Newspapers:
    “In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush’s use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.
    Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.”

    King George? How about F’c3’bchrer?

  3. Anonymous on February 9, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    There are too many people snug in their SUVs and 4 bedroom/4 bath homes to pay attentention to what is happening in the White House! Bush has played the ultimate politician–whatever you are for, he’s for. His actions may be different, but he’s for you. I know many people who say they support the president and do not have a clue who or what they are supporting. My favorite bumper sticker is a red, white, and blue ‘ribbon’ reading “just pretend, everything is ok.” I have to ask what happened to all those 1000s of people who demonstrated so effectively during the 1960s?

  4. Anonymous on February 10, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you (seriously) for reminding us how foolish we as voters are when we vote for a person based on one issue. GWBush has done more damage to the office of president and this world than any president before him. But his supporters look at one issue (be it war, terrorists, abortion, religion, tax cuts) and pay no attention to his other acts. I label myself a religious person because I do not want to be associated with any group that supports this man.

  5. CaptMair on February 10, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Anonymous asked “where are all those 1000s of people who demonstrated in the 60’s?”. Well. they are snug in their 4 bedroom, 4 bath homes pretending it’s not happening. I live in awe of this America, standing quietly by as our rights are so blatantly taken from us. I continue to wonder when, if ever, people will wake up and see what’s happening. I continue to pray it will not be too late.

  6. Anonymous on February 10, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    I hope I haven’t posted this comment before ….

    I was talking with a man about politics today, and said that the White House’s consolidation of power and apparent contempt of the other branches, reminds me of Germany in the 1930s. He had an unsettling reply: that he knows someone who lived in Germany in the 30’s, and that person said it is *exactly* like Germany.

    (Please note this has nothing to do with anti-semitism; it has to do with consolidation of power in one person and in his “minions” in the administrative branch.)

  7. sparrow on February 10, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    Speaking of unsettling parallels… I just saw “Good Night and Good Luck”. The very pointed comparison they were making between the current state of affairs and the McCarthy era was very frightening: the use of television to entertain rather than to inform, the dangers of speaking out in protest (the good old, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”) and the earnest assertion that everything is being done to protect the country from a vague, yet terrifying other.

  8. Anonymous on February 11, 2006 at 12:33 am

    Maybe AARP should mount a crusade of us baby boomers (60s demonstrators) to get out there and make some waves. The ones left (if any), I mean, who didn’t drop their membership when AARP sold out to Bush’s big pharmaceutical pirates. I fear we may be having our cocoa together soon in some undisclosed location after this blog is monitored by advocates of the Patriot Act and found to be an anti-Bush (i.e. anti-American) enclave.

  9. Carole on February 11, 2006 at 8:48 am

    But you don’t understand–‘he’s a regular guy that you could drink a beer with.’ I guess that’s more important than having a president who could actually deal with emergencies like Katrina, wouldn’t invade a country to finish Daddy’s war, and could put together a sentence in English.

    The most dangerous thing about Bush is that he really believes that God chose him to be president. Apparently that’s how he explains the 2000 election.

  10. elisa on February 11, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Our president got elected, and stays in power, by resonating with our greed and fear. He won in 2000 by telling everyone that they, too, could own this economy. While 5% actually are very wealthy, at the time of the 2000 election 30% believed they either were or would soon be in that 5%. In 2004, he played that song again, while amping up his image as the macho protector of the country. That combination “discredided” the traditional working class asperations that most Democratic candidates can hook into. Who wants to admit they’re working class and struggling when Bush tells them material comfort is available to anyone, just for the taking. So much of politics is image, not substance, for those who choose not to look below the surface. Gasolene prices dropped during the December holidays and I’d guess that helped keep people’s outrage in check because the price of gas didn’t add to the usual stresses of that time of year. It would be nice if Bush really was who he says he is. But, just like Reagan, he isn’t. What he’s doing is really frightening. What we’re not doing is as well.

  11. Maer on February 12, 2006 at 5:30 am

    sparrow wrote:

    (about Bush’s lies and foreign policy) “…the earnest assertion that everything is being done to protect the country from a vague, yet terrifying other.”

    Um…how ‘vague’ was 9/11? I don’t understand. Is this ‘vague’ like those who are convinced that the Holocaust didn’t happen? Or that the Apollo moon landings are nothing but a Kubrick-esque special effects fraud? I don’t get it.

    How *do* you nail down a small group of people from the rest of the world’s population, when those people can move about at will and hide, are armed, and make no bones about sacrificing themselves in their efforts to eradicate what they see is a threat to their ideology/way of life? Talk about searching for needles in a very big haystack. I personally can’t think of an effective method that doesn’t require turning on a metaphorical electromagnet to draw the needles out of hiding, i.e. making a big fat target of our own country. So how do we hunt down and bring to trial the people responsible for/enabling the terrorists who wage war on our country and our way of life?

    It’s a complicated problem, one that is a controversial topic to pursue. But I have to admit, the use of the word ‘vague’ did strike me as, well, odd.

  12. Carole on February 13, 2006 at 6:19 am

    Well, Saddam certainly had a ‘vague’ connection to 9/11 . . . if any at all.

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